In the overall context of common-sense golf turf maintenance, the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) have been a stellar guiding force for more than 40 years.

First utilized to combat the cotton boll weevil, growers in all areas of agriculture have relied on IPM techniques for decades to set the tone for reasoned pest control.

Scouting, perhaps the most important component of IPM, sometimes goes overlooked by turf managers in a hurry to address pest concerns. For long-term success, though, the key process of identifying the host and pest species, as well as estimating some sense of the level of infestation, must be part of the pest control equation.

The alternatives – either “spray and pray” one-trick ponies or a completely predetermined spray schedule – may work in the short run, but the classic approach of identifying the pest, determining the level of infestation or infection, consideration of all available control options, and selection of the best combination of all methods simply can’t be beat.

Scouting, monitoring, inspecting

  • The words scouting, monitoring and inspecting are often used interchangeably, and they mean the investigation into potential damage from insect pests and disease organisms. However, drawing fine-line nuances can be helpful in terms of effective pest control. Specifically, the differences are:
  • Scouting – simple but effective daily and weekly explorations.
  • Monitoring – pretty much the same thing but over time. Usually a regular set of scouting operations.
  • Inspecting – the physical act of looking closely and performing diagnostic procedures to determine if pests are causing damage.

Abiotic causes always should be considered as well as living ones. Depending on the time of year, non-living agents can cause just as much damage as actual pests.

Use historic occurrences to help guide scouting activity. So, if brown patch started becoming a problem on a certain week in 2013 and 2014, then extra attention should be paid to the locations on the course where and when those events occurred if the conditions are similar in 2015.

Contents of a scouting “go bag” — hand lens, soil probe, screwdriver, knife, 5-gallon bucket, note pad and even a chisel for hard to dig sites.PHOTO BY JOHN FECH

How do you know about historic occurrences? Keep a diary, either electronic or old-fashioned paper. This localized record of pest activity is valuable in predicting future pest outbreaks.

Tools of the trade

On the insect side, a cup cutter, sturdy pocket knife, 10-20 x hand lens, 5-gallon bucket, lemon-scented dishwashing soap and a portable chair are essential tools.

Each has its purpose. The cup cutter and pocket knife are used to pull chunks of sod out for closer examination. The hand lens makes it easier to detect insects that tend to be quite hard to see and distinguish from each other.

The soap can be used in a detection solution; create it by mixing 1 cup of soap in 4 to 5 gallons of warm water, then gently pour it over 1 square yard of affected turf. Now the purpose of the portable chair becomes evident, as it can be used to sit and wait for certain insects to be irritated by the solution and come to the surface to escape the annoyance.

Many of the same tools can be used for disease detection, particularly the knife and hand lens. Considering that leaf lesions, rotten roots and raised pustules are being sought, seeing what’s small up close is always a help.

The other dual tool of the trade is the 5-gallon bucket, in that, if a certain malady is present at first glance, the bucket makes a great carrier to transport the plug back to the maintenance shed for a closer look.

Photo sheets, diagnostic textbooks, web pages and smartphone apps are a third type of tool. Mostly used indoors, these can be invaluable when it comes to parsing out small differences between pests that can make a big difference, such as between the various species of white grubs.

Root and shoot examination can be conducted in the maintenance shop.PHOTO BY JOHN FECH

Seasonal classics

Turfs and pests alike tend to be favored or discouraged by temperature and other weather-related factors. As the following are considered, match the observed conditions in the field to the heading, attempting to arrive at a possible cause. These symptoms develop in cold weather, usually in later winter or early spring.

  • Winter desiccation – bleached or dead grass, especially in windy areas.
  • Spring frost – new leaves killed back following freezing temperatures.
  • Water/ice damage – follows drainage patterns.
  • Snow mold – wet grass covered with white, grey or pink mold. Several species can be involved.

These damage symptoms develop in cool weather, usually in mid-spring or late fall:

  • Spring dead spot (bermuda) and zoysia patch – patches of dead grass 2 to 10 feet in diameter appear as turf breaks dormancy in spring.
  • Powdery mildew – milky white to grey mold, commonly found in shade, turf thinned.
  • Stripe smut – gray to black streaks in leaves, leaves often split into ribbons, turf thin.
  • Red thread – pink to reddish cottony growth on leaves and sheaths extending beyond the leaf tip.
  • Bipolaris/Dreschlera leaf spot – leaves with purplish to brown spots, crown rot and thin turf.
  • Septoria leaf spot – yellow to gray-green or brown spots, mostly at or near leaf tips.
  • Ascochyta leaf spot – purplish to chocolate brown spots that enlarge and become tan to straw-colored. Usually worsened with drought conditions.

Rust pustules are visible with a hand lens.PHOTO BY JOHN FECH

These damage symptoms develop in warm weather, usually in late spring or early summer or early fall:

  • Dollar spot – whitish leaf spots with brown or reddish-brown borders. White cottony growth present in morning hours.
  • Pythium blight – sunken, straw-colored patches, leaves matted down.
  • Necrotic ring spot – tan to reddish-brown patches or rings with blackened stem bases and roots.
  • Fairy rings – large rings/arcs, outer edges usually contain darker green grass.
  • Powdery mildew – milky white to gray mold, commonly found in shade, turf thinned.
  • Rusts – bright yellow or orange-reddish pustules present.
  • Slime molds – turf leaves laden with superficial blue-gray, ash-gray or black powdery structures on leaves; easily wiped off.
  • Bipolaris/Dreschlera leaf spot – leaves with purplish to brown spots, crown rot and thin turf.
  • Bluegrass billbugs – leaves straw brown, leaves pull loose from crown with a light tug, are often hollowed out inside with a powdery frass present.
  • Septoria leaf spot – yellow to gray-green or brown spots, mostly at or near leaf tips.
  • Ascochyta leaf spot – purplish to chocolate brown spots that enlarge and become tan to straw-colored. Usually worsened with drought conditions.
  • Sod webworms – thinned turf, presence of tunnels, silken webs and webworms below crowns.

These damage symptoms develop during hot weather, usually in summer:

  • Pythium blight – sunken, straw-colored patches, leaves matted down.
  • Dollar spot – whitish leaf spots with brown or reddish-brown borders. White cottony growth present in morning hours.
  • Summer patch – straw-colored patches, centers often remain green and commonly appear during droughts.
  • Brown patch – light brown, grass blades usually not matted, irregular blotches appear on leaf blades.
  • Fairy rings – large rings/arcs, outer edges usually contain darker green grass.
  • Bipolaris/Dreschlera leaf spot – some symptoms previously mentioned, with advanced thinning and crown rot.
  • White grubs – roots of turf eaten or missing, turf pulls back like a piece of carpet when tugged.
  • Bluegrass billbugs – leaves straw-brown, leaves pull loose from crown with a light tug, are often hollowed out inside with a powdery frass present.

Seemingly ever-present possibilities

Certain maladies occur without regard to season. When making observations of a particular problem area, be sure to consider previous weather, traffic and usage factors that may have impacted turf appearance.

Current conditions are usually the ones to consider first; however, in many cases, weather or other previous activities on the turf are responsible. Keep an eye out for:

  • Iron chlorosis – interveinal yellowing of younger leaves, chlorosis of older lower leaves.
  • Nitrogen deficiency – stunting of older growth, older leaves lose green color, thin stand.
  • Chemical or mower burn – usually appears in streaks, patches or bands.
  • Fertilizer burn – bands, streaks or irregular patterns, turf is stimulated at margins of pattern.
  • Scalping injury – entire area or patches over slight elevations or corners are yellow to brown.
  • Dull mower injury – leaf tips are shredded, appear gray, then tan.
  • Thatch – thatch in excess of 5/8th inch, drought symptoms occur.
  • Algae – greenish to brown scum that forms a black crust.
  • Moss – small green plants that grow on soil in slight mounds.
  • Compaction – soil hard in heavily trafficked areas.
  • Drought, uneven watering – turf dry, bluish green, wilts, thins, turns brown.

Persistence and follow-up

Fighting the good fight, staying the course, due diligence, being persistent, whatever you want to call it … make it a part of the weekly regimen, especially if heavy-duty pests have been an issue. It’s easy to let scouting slide once observations have been made and treatments applied. But, really, following the routine of look and look again is really helpful in keeping insects and diseases at bay.

COVER PHOTO BY JOHN FECH