This time of year there are many different things happening within the landscape and I often get many calls from people trying to determine what is going on. Sometimes they are just natural progressions in the landscape or it could be an insect, disease or environmental condition causing the issue.
Whenever you are trying to determine what is going on in your landscape, there are a few things that are important to know that can always help in making management decisions or diagnosing problems.
1. What type of grass, tree or landscape plant are you dealing with and how established is it? Different insects and diseases feed off of different plants and different maturity levels can determine how severe the issue is or is not.
2. What type of soil do you have? Sands, loam, clay, shallow soils, etc. Knowing your soil is very important because of root development of plants and water holding capacity. For example: many plants will not do well in shallow soils because the roots are not able to develop; sandy soils may lack the water holding capacity; or you could easily overwater plants in a clay soil, etc.
3. How often do you water your landscape? How much water do you apply and how? Many times landscape plant and turf issues are tied back to a management practice such as watering. Itís hard to believe, but more often than not, itís overwatering that is causing issues. Knowing how often you water is very important because it can help determine if plants are receiving enough water based off their needs. It is extremely important to know how much water you apply. Place some cans or rain gauges in the yard while your sprinkler system is running to determine how much water you are putting down in a cycle. This can also be a big help when diagnosing issues. Also, knowing the methods of application can make a huge difference. Automatic sprinkler system, hose and sprinkler, drip tape, soaker hose, etc.
4. Have you had a soil test completed? Soil tests are very simple to complete and are a low cost management practice that can be very helpful in making management decisions. Soil sample forms and bags can be picked up in the Extension office and you can submit samples to the soils lab at any time of the year. Knowing the nutrient levels of your soil and pH can be crucial in determining when and what types of fertilizers to use, as well as determining what may be causing certain symptoms in landscape plants and turf.
5. What other management practices have you implemented? How often do you mow your lawn, what types of herbicides or insecticides have been used and how and when where they applied, what types of fertilizer was used and when and how much was applied, when were the trees or shrubs last pruned, etc. Once again, management decisions can often be the cause of an issue. For example, over fertilization and infrequent mowing can cause stress on the turfgrass and allow disease to move in; pruning oak trees at the wrong time can increase risk for oak wilt, etc.
6. When did issues first start to appear and how have they advanced? Diseases and insect damage usually begins small. Document when change first appears and how the issue has developed. Examples include: yellowing in the yard--- did it start as a small circle and continue to grow, is it an irregular shape or pattern, is the entire lawn turning yellow? Each of the yellowing patterns relate to different issues. Being able to describe how the infected plants have changed over time can help in the diagnosis.
Dealing with landscape issues can often be frustrating, but documenting and being aware of what is going on in your landscape can make the process much easier when talking to a lawn care professional. Diagnosing plant diseases can be much like going to the doctor and receiving medical care. They are going to take your blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs, and ask questions about your medical history to help in determining what may be going on. It is no different with plants. Review the information above and the next time you have a problem in your landscape, knowing the answers to many of the questions above can make the diagnosis much easier for your lawn care professional, Extension Agent or anyone else helping you with management decisions.