What winter?

What winter?

Features - Weed/Disease/Insect Control

The mild season provided LCOs with surprising sightings in lawns.

April 23, 2012
Brian Horn
Industry News

Record high temperatures have been set across the county, causing weed and insect pressures to show up a month early in most regions. We spoke to LCOs from Florida to California about how they’ve dealt with the season rush.

Chad Diller, Tomlinson Berger,
Lancaster, Pa.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? We’ve seen a lot more winter annual weeds in the lawns and earlier germination on some weeds than typical. Our first visit we usually (use) fertilizer and crabgrass control and we usually add weed control into that mix probably about halfway through the round. Of course that’s probably going to come into play a little bit earlier than typical. So maybe it will happen a couple of weeks earlier than what we’ve typically done it in the past.

Have you seen anything unusual involving pests in lawns? We are noticing, because we did not have a whole lot of snow cover, there’s definitely a reduction in mole traffic in lawns. Where as that is usually one of the things that generates a lot of leads for our pest control side. But because there hasn’t been much activity because there wasn’t as much snow cover, we’re not seeing as much disruption in lawns from that. As far as tree and shrubs go, I know from just going out and scouting that there is definitely more over-wintering activity on a lot of landscape plants, things like scale. Mother Nature usually kills off a certain percentage of those in the winter. There is definitely more population this early in the season than we’re usually seeing. A lot of pests that are multi-generational, (people) are probably going to see more of abundance in that first generation, which will probably make more in the subsequent generations throughout the year.

Chickweed has been a problem in many parts of the country.

Overall, how has it affected your business? As far as forecasting, it’s hard because we’ve never seen a winter like this that I’ve been in here. But, it’s pointing toward the potential of having more lawn care leads this early in the season than we normally have because of having the amount of weeds in the yard. Maybe helping sales efforts if it stays warm like this. It’s usually when people go out and poke around in the landscape when it’s nice, that seems to be when the phone starts ringing.

Steve Okros, Heron Lawn and Pest Control,
Orlando, Fla.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? The winter annual weeds were not as bad this year. We blanket sprayed all of our properties with a post-emergent weed control assuming we would have another hard winter when in fact it was very mild. 

Have you seen anything unusual involving pests in lawns? I am noticing chinch bug damage is already starting to be seen on many new starts we take on.

How are you treating these unusual happenings in lawns? We have a very aggressive proactive program that takes in consideration all potential problems and we treat preventively for them.

How has the mild winter affected your business overall? We have signed on more customers than we did last year because the turf around town is not brown from frost.

Joe Weiss, Green Rx Lawn & Pest Solutions,
Cottleville, Mo.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? We have seen a lot more of spring weeds, winter weeds and fall weeds in customers’ lawns this season on our first visit due to the mild winter. Fall henbit and chickweed has been really bad. To add to this, we started seeing dandelions and clover popping up the last week of February. In the St. Louis/St. Charles metro areas this usually does not happen until April when we see the majority of spring weeds. Typically on our first round of treatment here in Missouri, we apply a dry application of pre-emergent/fertilizer with very little spraying of weeds required. We have already started using our spray tanks to spray lawns with post-emergent herbicides on our first round of treatments. 

Have you seen anything unusual involving pests in lawns? A typical winter here will usually have enough freezing weather, and ground temperatures usually drop low enough to kill off most pests. This did not happen in the past winter season. Mole activity has been also running rampant. In addition to pest calls, we have been getting calls to take care of customer’s mole issues in lawn starting in February.

Fall henbit

Our technicians are seeing mole problems in February and March that have been as bad as they are in their peak season. The mild winter has allowed several pests to stay alive, active, and it seems that Mother Nature has allowed them to start reproducing in early this season.  We even had one customer that called the first week of March to have us come out and treat their property for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are normally not a problem until late spring, early summer here in the St. Louis metro area. Snakes have also been very active starting in February. We normally do not see them active on lawn until about April.

How are you treating these unusual happenings in lawns? The additional spring weeds that have appeared in February combined with the fall and winter weeds that have thrived are causing us to adjust our treatment programs. Instead of just spot spraying weeds and applying a dry pre-emergent on the first visit to customer’s lawns – end of February/March – we have been pulling a hose and doing a lot of blanket sprays on lawns and taking the extra time to spray weeds.

We have even been getting calls all throughout February and March to spray the dandelions, clover and other spring weeds in people’s lawn. This usually does not happen until April. One of our technicians said he even saw a lawn where some crabgrass had already started growing in a lawn. Crabgrass germinates in our area in February/March, but does not appear until July/August in a normal year.

How has the mild winter affected your business overall? The mild winter has kept us busier than normal all season long. In the winter months our pest division is out treating clients’ homes, but not really seeing any activity or getting new calls.

Clover mite is here earlier.

This season the calls began a little in January, and by February we were at almost the same level of call volume as we are in April and May when we see an increased level of pests. Our mole control division has experienced the same activity and we are now seeing additional mole activity on about 38 percent of our customer’s lawns. Our lawn division is also experiencing a higher volume of calls at an earlier timeframe this season.

We usually are getting calls for weeds in lawns in April, and this started in February with the extra fall henbit and chickweed, by the end of February the spring weeds like dandelions and clover have been appearing and now our call volume has increased greatly compared to what is normally is around this time of the year.

We have adapted to the mild winter weather this spring by adding new options on our pest control programs to accommodate for the milder conditions and not really getting any freezing weather for long enough periods to minimize pest populations.

Our lawn fertilization programs have also been adjusted to address concerns of additional weeds in lawns. Our mole control division is busier than ever so we have also added new programs for people on this service to stay on top of controlling the moles in lawns.

Pat O’Bryan, Jamison Pest and Lawn,
Memphis, Tenn.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? Weed control has been a real issue here in the mid-South. Pre-emerges that are normally sound all winter are breaking down earlier due to constant germination pressure from the mild winter.

Have you seen anything unusual involving pests in lawns? We haven’t had any pest related issues here but have definitely had a lot of calls from homeowners concerned about “bronzing” on their boxwoods.

Chinch bugs have popped up earlier in Florida.

This stems from the warmer days increasing early tender growth on these evergreen species and then a cool or cold night burning that fresh growth.

How are you treating these unusual happenings in lawns? We have simply had to perform a lot more service calls than normal for this time of year.

How has the mild winter affected your business overall? Overall we are off to a good start. The season has definitely hit earlier.

This is good because it allows us to get a first full pre-emerge down before it is too late. In the post-MSMA world, this is huge for us and them.

We are seeing some signs of life economically here for the first time in a long time and that coupled with an early spring seems to have everyone energized about the coming year.

Peter Estournes, Gardenworks,
Healdsburg, Calif.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? Not particularly. Poa annua is a constant, although with the dry and cold weather most of the lawns we service were not as green as usual so the poa was and is more pronounced. It is still a bit early to tell if crabgrass will be an issue. We are waiting for soil temps to increase to apply pre-emergent.

How about pests in lawns? Anything unusual? Moles are showing up earlier than expected.

How are you treating these unusual happenings in lawns?  The warmer weather we experienced in January allowed us to get in a 21-0-0 application which has paid off well. 

How has the mild winter affected your business overall? We are moving through our backlog of installation work quicker than normal and are adjusting our sales efforts to compensate. 

Enhancement sales for our maintenance contracts are brisk because we can get to these projects quicker.

Eric Moroski Weisburg Landscape Maintenance,
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Have you seen anything unusual when it comes to weeds in lawns because of the mild winter? The winter annuals are a problem (henbit, downy brome, filaree sp.). Mostly what occurs is the thinning of bluegrass from successive years of drought giving way for opportunistic weeds.

Have you seen anything unusual involving pests in lawns? The West deals with spider mite issues when it comes to turfgrass.

I feel 85 percent of winterkill is associated with spidermite activity during the winter; they overwinter as adults and feed on nice days.

This leads to severe problems on south-facing slopes, especially around evergreens. Pueblo, Colo., has grub and cutworm issues but the elevation of Colorado Springs and Denver limits these issues.

How are you treating these unusual happenings in lawns? Turf plus drought equals mites. Add water to the equation and we can negate a need for miticides. We try to get our irrigation on as soon as possible – right now – to avoid the mite damage.

How has the mild winter affected your business overall? We performed some landscape projects that we never could have done because of the mild winter. The loss of snow clearing income certainly hurts and the landscape work can’t make up for that revenue.

We have had lower than average snowfall each of the last three seasons (last year was a record 10 inches all year here in Colorado Springs – normal is 38 inches) and we are still doing well in our business.

Technical Perspective

We asked technical managers for industry suppliers what they’ve been seeing in the field after this weird winter.

By Carolyn LaWell

One thing to consider this spring is that as soil temperatures have been elevated early you need to also start scouting for pests and even install traps to monitor their early activity. Don’t get in a hurry to make applications because of the weather outside, do your homework and locate where your pest problems are and make appropriate applications. It is possible to find a need to make an early pesticide application to control a pest population that is greater than in years past due to the warm weather and lack of ground frost. As with any pesticide applications, know what your target pest is and the best time to make applications to gain the desired outcome.

— Matthew Seibel, Arysta LifeScience, Midwest Region

Crab grass pressure is going to start a lot earlier, so lawn care operators in many parts of the country are going to need to make two applications. If they stick to a normal schedule, crab grass will already be visible when it’s time for some of the last applications in the spring. The broadleaf weeds will also get a jumpstart. Chickweed and other winter annual weeds are going to be more robust earlier in the season. Spring looks like it’s going to get off to a faster start. This might be a year where split applications are needed because the season is going to be longer than usual.

— Kyle Miller, senior technical specialist, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals

In general the mild winter in the Northeast and the warm weather in the last couple weeks has put many LCOs behind already. The need to apply early season pre-emergent products is already here and we are only in mid-March. This may mean weed and crab grass control will be an extra hard challenge this year. Multiple applications may be needed. Also the mild winter has minimized the revenue typically generated in ice melt and snow removal. So, the early spring will help generate much needed cash flow.

— Dave Dell, director of marketing, for LebanonTurf

With this unseasonably warm weather, lawn care companies are scrambling to get product into their facilities, and equipment and technicians ready for applications. Many of these companies start with a lot of new hires in January, and they may not have had time to get them trained, their routes defined and product in place before they are in the height of their application season.

Another thing they may be dealing with is annual weeds behaving more like perennial weeds. Because of the mild winter, annual weeds may be growing from roots rather than seed and will not be well controlled by preemergent applications. So LCOs may need to be prepared for more frequent and earlier timings for spot treatments with postemergent herbicides.

— Jamie Breuninger, technical leader, Dow AgroSciences Turf & Ornamental

The common theme across the country this year is that spring is early. I don’t think things are going to be different across different regions so much as the timing for everything is moved up by about a month. The weeds you see in your yard now are the ones you’d normally see a month from now; they’re just here a month early.

We’re seeing the same weeds we’d normally see. We’re seeing the same winter annual weeds with earlier germination. The mild winter has really given weeds and clover a jump.

Along with weeds comes pest pressure. In Florida and the Gulf states, for example, controlling pyrethroid-resistant chinch bugs will continue to be of major concern to LCOs. Grubs are also a problem throughout a large portion of the country.

— Jason Fausey, Regional Field Development Manager, Valent Professional Products


The author is an associate editor at Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at bhorn@gie.net.