VI CONTROL: Overview  Acute  Cultural  Redesign


Control of Chinch Bug Without Pesticides
and Other Ecological Lawncare Practices

     Control by
  1. Seeding Diverse Grasses

  2. The Clover Option

  3. Mosses!

  4. Natural Succession

  5. New Lawns, Complete Soil Renovation, Soil/Compost Topdressings

  6. Landscape Diversification

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  • Redesign involves more fundamental changes than those entailed by acute and cultural controls. The common benefit of the different components of redesign is to make the lawn system more self-sustaining and naturally resistant to pests and diseases generally — not just to chinch bug. [V42] Redesign commonly involves some change in the aesthetics of a property (e.g., associated with clover in the lawn or placing garden beds or shrubs in the driest areas). Redesign could involve single, large steps, such as complete renovation of the lawn, or more gradual processes, such as diversifying the botanical composition of the lawn by repeated overseeding. Five components of redesign are discussed in this section.

    1. Seeding Diverse Grasses

    Many turfs in temperate North America are established from sod which is 80% or more Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and Kentucky bluegrass is often the sole or major component of seed mixes for 'high end' lawns. There is good reason for the focus on this species. It is very winter hardy. Below-ground rhizomes enable it to grow quickly into bare patches and to survive adverse conditions such as extreme summer drought. However, maintaining pure or close to pure stands Kentucky bluegrass requires a lot of inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, watering). Such regimes tend to be pest susceptible, as discussed in Section IV of this website. Kentucky bluegrass is also a high thatch producer, which is conducive to chinch bug.

    Using diverse grass mixtures to establish a lawn, or diversifying an existing lawn by overseeding with a diverse grass mixture, is a key step in making the system more self sustaining and resistant to pests. Diverse stands of grass can more readily adapt to different site conditions and pests than can low diversity stands. They are also more competitive with broadleaf plants (weeds), and require less fertilizer and water to maintain a thick, healthy sward.

    Spring Lawns: Species Diverse (left),
    Kentucky bluegrass (right)
    Click on image for larger version.

    Lawns that are species diverse have a different appearance than lawns that are pure Kentucky bluegrass; they tend to be lighter green and exhibit a mosaic or blend of greens. Kentucky bluegrass lawns tend to green up earlier than species diverse lawns, perhaps making them more appealing for about 2 weeks in early spring. However, the better maintenance of cover by species diverse lawns through midsummer with little or no watering and their resistance to weeds and pests often results in their being clear winners in side by side comparisons with Kentucky bluegrass lawns.

    Fine-leaved Fescue Lawns


    Fescue lawn at end of August.
    Click on image for larger version

    Fine leaved fescue mixes are being promoted as alternatives to the classic Kentucky bluegrass lawns, especially to reduce water use and mowing. (Note that "Tall fescues" are an entirely different, wide leaf type). I overseeded fine fescues into a partially shaded lawn which does not maintain clover well. After a couple of years, the fescues predominated and by mid-summer form a thick carpet that "lays over" (see photo at left). It requires little or no mowing - in fact it is difficult to mow it short with a reel mower because of its habit of laying over. It stays green through droughty periods and seems to compete well with broadleaved species. Use of fescues in shady areas is a well established practice; what's new on the scene are fescue mixes that function much as above in well sunlit areas also. See, for example, The Fescue Alternative. Some commercial sources in Canada for low maintenance, fescue mixes: Eco Grass , Eco-Lawn

    Best Time

    The best time for seeding or overseeding is spring or late summer/early fall. Seeding can be conducted between those times, but requires a lot of watering.

    Bare patches created after removing weeds or by other disturbances can be overseeded anytime, but daily watering may be required for a period to ensure the seed germinates and establishes well. To seed small patches, rake the patch or pull thatch out by hand and loosen the soil surface. Mix seed into the soil (or add some premixed soil and seed), and press it down to encourage capillary (upward) movement of water into the newly seeded soil.

    Kentucky bluegrass sod can be overseeded in the early spring and/or early fall. Talbot[L16] advises that turf established from Kentucky bluegrass sod 'should be overseeded that same fall with a diversifying mixture of fescues and ryegrass to remain healthy and organically sustainable".

    More Information on the Web
    • Species, Cultivars and Diverse Grass Mixtures
      This page on our website suggests seed mixes for establishing species diverse lawns in the Maritime region.

    • The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns (http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF/index.html). University of California IPM Online, Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      These pages provides detailed information for "home gardeners and managers of parks, school grounds, and other low-maintenance turf", including non-chemical options for Lawn renovation and establishing new turf (Prepare the site and plant turf ).

    • Wildflower Farm: Eco-Lawn
      (www.wildflowerfarm.com). This ecologically oriented landscaping service close to Orilla, Ontario, sells a grass mix calles "Eco-Lawn"".. a blend of carefully selected fine fescue grasses developed by Wildflower Farm. Eco-LawnȘ grows in full sun, part shade and even deep shade! Eco-LawnȘ is highly drought tolerant once established, and has a beautiful green colour. Eco-LawnȘ does not require fertilizing and can be mown like a regular lawn or left un-mown for a free-flowing carpet effect."

    • Easy Lawns: Low-Maintenance Native Grasses for Gardeners Everywhere (www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/sustainable/handbooks/lawns/). Brooklyn Botanical Gardens Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      This is a multauthored book; several chapers or portions of chapters are available no the web, e.g., John Greenlee on Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape

    • Debunking Endophytes (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/endophyt.htm).

      Mycelium of an endophytic
      fungus in grass tissue
      (Courtesy of USDA)

      Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Spons.; P. Charbonneau, Auth. (2003, July. Viewed 16 May 2007).
      Endophytic grasses are recent innovations on the turf scene. They contain fungi in their tissues that ward off or kill plant-eating insects including chinch bug. They are being widely distributed and promoted as a way of combating lawns pests.

    • Endophytic Grasses for Turfs: full speed ahead or proceed with caution?
      A commentary. Currently, there are several reasons for suggesting some caution in promoting endophytic turf grasses and in using them. These include the toxicity of endophytic grasses to livestock, their potential to become invasive species, loss of endophytes in stored seed, and possible poor performance of endophytic turf grasses compared to alternative cultivars and species.

    This healthy, multispecies lawn shown in spring will NOT be susceptible to chinch bug damage.

    2. The Clover Option

    Before herbicides came into common use in the 1950s, white clover (Trifolium repens) was a common, natural and desired component of temperate region turfs. It was eliminated from many lawns by the regular use of herbicide.

    When white clover reinvades lawns naturally, it develops in patches which can look unsightly. If the lawn is managed to encourage clover, it will eventually be distributed throughout the lawn, forming a thick turf and a pleasing mosaic of leaf textures. To accelerate this process, or to establish clover if it is not present, Dutch white clover can be overseeded into a turf or included with the initial seedmix for turf.

    There are many benefits to a grass/clover lawn .
    • Clover and other legumes are infected by soil bacteria which form nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots. Nitrogen fixation is the process by which free nitrogen gas in air (N2), which plants cannot use, is converted into a form they can use. In HRM lawns, this process can contribute the equivalent of 2 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet annually (1 kg N/100m2 ).[L25] Combined with mulch-mowing this is enough to supply most of the turf's needs for nitrogen.

    • Weeds "disappear" in a clover lawn. See examples
    • Providing nitrogen inputs via legumes and recycling of residues (grass clippings) reduces leaching of all nutrients; requirements for lime may be reduced by 75% or more.[V40, V41]
    • Grass/clover turfs maintain greenness through mid-summer droughty periods when straight bluegrass turfs go into dormancy unless well watered.[L6, L25].
    • Clover competes effectively with other broadleaf plants, reducing the amount of manual-weeding required.[L6]
    • An appropriately managed grass/clover turf forms an aesthetically pleasing sward which masks the presence of many types of weeds, i.e., the weeds blend into the sward, rather than stand out.
    • A mixed grass/clover sward tends to be more resistant to pests and diseases, and is less wasteful of nutrients than is a straight grass sward.[L6]
    • A mixed grass/clover/small-leafed-flowering-dicot sward supports pollinators!
    • Clover is reported not to scald, as grass does, when dogs urinate on it. [L31]
    • Last but certainly not least: a clover lawn increases biodiversity, especially by supporting pollinating insects.
    Turf on slopes after long droughty period
    Without clover

    With clover
    Click for larger version.

    Best Time for Overseeding

    The best time for overseeding clover into an existing lawn in HRM is late March/April, followed by May to early June. Late summer/early fall is an alternative time, but is not as good as the spring because the less developed plants (compared to spring-seeded plants) are more likely to be winter-killed. If it's late summer and you're anxious to see some clover on the lawn, seed it then and again in late May or early June of the following year if you don't see good establishment of the fall seeded clover. See Establishing White Clover in Lawns

    Clover lawns were once in vogue

    Gardening Life says clover lawns are in vogue.
    Read More

    and they are again!    
    White clover is an important species in temperate and subtropical pastures worldwide.[V39] In the turf industry, however, it is viewed as a weed. An 805 page volume on turfgrass science published in 1992, mentions white clover only twice, and only as a weed.[L24] It was not always so. Dr. R. Milton Carleton, who introduced the herbicide 2,4-D to the turfgrass industry, made the following comments in 1957:
    "The thought of White Dutch Clover as a lawn weed will come as a distinct shock to old-time gardeners. I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained. The higher this figure, the better the mixture...I can remember the loving care which old-time gardeners gave their clover lawns. The smug look on the face of the proud homeowner whose stand was the best in the neighborhood was really something to behold." (In New Way to Kill Weeds by R. Milton Carleton, 1957. Arco Publishing Co., N.Y.)

    A minimally managed, but healthy, expanse of turf by "The Motherhouse" during the droughty days of August, 2003.
    Regardless of its low status in turfgrass science, naturally seeded white clover still shares the stage with grasses in mowed parklands and in institutional and residential settings where herbicides have not been used regularly. These great expanses of turf receive little watering and little or no fertilizer yet hold their greenness and withstand the trampling of many feet. The robustness of these systems is in large part due to the presence of both grass and clover and the synergistic interactions between them.

    More Information on the Web

    3. Mosses!

    Some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Nova Scotia are moss-covered forest floors under old growth mixed forest.
    Wildflower Farm in Ontario sells "
    Moss Milkshake" for establishing moss cover. From their website:
    Do you have a damp, shady spot where nothing will grow? Would you like to create a rock garden, a water feature or enhance your woodland garden?

    Moss is unparalleled in its timeless beauty. This lush green plant, used in many Japanese Zen gardens, is capable of creating a serene, tranquil atmosphere in ways others cannot. For centuries the Japanese have known what we are finally realizing - gardening with moss adds an amazing degree of serenity and timeless beauty to any garden.

    4. Natural Succession

    Letting nature takes its course!
    Left to its own and no care except regular mowing, nature will select a resilient blend of grasses and herbs, including clover. In more stressed areas, the sward may tend towards a monoculture of a certain species such as hawkweeds on shallow or sloping soils. Before eliminating these species, stand back and have a second look. Some are really very attractive, and maintain greenness though droughty periods when straight grass does not, or maintain cover in areas where it is difficult to maintain grass.

    A natural association of grass, clover and yarrow

    An almost pure stand of 3-pointed cinquefoil on shallow, sloping soil on Citadel Hill, Halifax.
    Click on image for larger version

    Best Time

    Any time is the best time to do nothing!

    More Information on the Web
    • TheMondayGarden.com
      (http://inmygarden.org/) Sue Sweeney, Auth. (Viewed 16 May 2007)
      Essays and photographs by Connecticut gardener Sue Sweeney on the integration of nature and gardening. In Rethinking Lawn: Mowable Meadow? she suggests: "Test this for yourself: Walk across a field of blooming clover interspersed with violets and Johnny jump-ups; find some tiny white, yellow and purple wildflowers you can't identify. Check out the butterflies. Now, check your heart rate and your mood. Feels nice, huh? If you don't have such a space near by, close your eyes and pretend. Alternatively, if you happen to own a yard, you can make this happen (yes!)."

    5. New Lawns, Complete Soil Renovation, Soil/Compost Topdressings

    Chronic pest and disease problems often start with a poor soil. The soil may simply be too thin to support a good stand of grass; it could be too quickly draining or too poorly draining; the soil chemistry could be highly imbalanced; or it may be a largely sterile, low organic matter medium which cannot break down thatchy material quickly or carry out other ecosystem functions properly.

    Chinch Bugs & Soils, 2003

    In the HRM Report on the Pesticide By-Law for 2003. it was noted that "Areas of high permit requests [to control chinch bug] coincided with areas of what appeared to be poorer quality and/or insufficient soil and new construction areas where insufficient soil was often the case. This practice appears to be widespread in new developments throughout the HRM."[H1]

    Mowing high and recycling lawn clippings will, on its own, help to improve soil and build it up over the long term. However a faster fix may be appropriate, especially if a lawn has been seriously damaged by chinch bug and poor soil quality and/or limited soil depth are important contributing factors. There are basically two options:

    • A total lawn renovation, i.e., tear up the sod, rotovate, add soil and compost, and re-sod or seed a new lawn.

    • Applying topdressings of soil or soil and compost annually for several years. This is not a quick way to build up the total volume of soil, but improvements in the health of the turf will be seen almost immediately, especially when combined with higher mowing, recycling of clippings and overseeding diverse grasses &/or clover. Soil topdressings are one of the best ways to accelerate the breakdown of excess thatch.[L13]]

    A manufactured topsoil

    Make Use of HRM's Compost, and Landscape Nova Scotia's Soil and Compost Use Guidelines.*

    In nature, soils improve over time through the accumulation of humus which is a byproduct of the recycling process. It is a fine, jelly like material that coats soil particles and gives the soils a dark color. It has many beneficial effects on soil structure and nutrient holding capacity, and directly and indirectly, on the health of the plants and the soil biota. Compost is the closest we can come to creating humus independently of the soil, and adding compost to a poor soil is the single, most effective way of improving soil quality quickly.

    In HRM, we are fortunate to have a large local source of compost, that being the compost produced by the HRM recycling program which has been in operation since 1998 (and to which we all contribute!).

    Because compost has not been routinely used as a soil-building material in urban regions, there is not a lot documentation of how to use it for lawns. As well, the quality of compost coming from compost plants can vary considerably. As experience is gained and markets are developed and catered to, better and more consistent compost products become available. In 2003, Landscape Nova Scotia published a set of Soil and Compost Use Guidelines. Amongst other things, these guidelines provide specifications for
    • using compost for establishing lawns, e.g., the guidelines specify the amount of compost to use when constructing new lawns, and desired values for different compost quality variables such as pH, and moisture;
    • using compost in soil/compost topdressings for lawns and sport fields, e.g., the guidelines specify appropriate ratios of soil to compost and the amount of soil/compost mixture to apply;
    • the quality and depth of soils for new lawns (or lawns that are renovated).

    The guidelines are available as a downloadable PDF document from the Landscape Nova Scotia (LNS) website. (See Links under More Information, below).

    Thanks to Gregor MacAskill for providing materials about the Soil and Compost Use Guidelines. In 2003 Gregor was Coordinator for development of Soil and Compost Use Guidelines by Landscape Nova Scotia, the Resource Recovery Fund and HRM.

    Seeding with Diverse Grasses

    Establishing a good soil base will do wonders for the lawn. To take full advantage of the potential for making the lawn a more self-sustaining system that is naturally resistant to pests and diseases, follow soil construction or renovation with seeding or overseeding or a diverse grass mix (cf 1, above). If sod composed predominantly of Kentucky bluegrass is used, overseed it with diverse grasses.

    Best Time

    The best times to establish new lawns, renovate or apply soil topdressing are the spring, and late summer/early fall. Moisture stress is lowest at those times, and there is still time for newly seeded grass (or grass and clover) to get well established before the stress periods of mid-summer or winter. New installations, renovations and topdressings can be done in mid-summer as well, but daily watering may be required and the grasses do not grow as vigorously as during the cooler times of year.

    More Information
    • Soil and Compost Use Guidelines, 1st Edition (guidelines.landscapenovascotia.ca). Landscape Nova Scotia, Resource recovery Fund, Halifax regional Municipality, Spons. G. MacAskill, Auth. (2003. Viewed 16 May 2007). Unfortunately, the full publication seems not to be available online in 2007. The next listing provides equivalent information.

    • Sustainable Turf Manual (http://www.nbhta.ca/english/sustainable_turf_manual.html) The Landscape New Brunswick Horticultural Trades Association, Spons. Jack Wetmore and Ken Browne, Auths. (Viewed 16 May 2007). Individual chapters are available online as PDF documents. See CHAPTER 2. STARTING WITH SOIL.

    • Specification Forms for Seeding, Sodding, Topsosil, and Trees and Shrubs (www.landscapenovascotia.ca/specs.php) Landscape Nova Scotia, Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      These forms can be used when contracting a job. The forms list various requirements; users must fill in specific values, e.g. for the amount of soil, and can refer to the Guidelines for the relevant information.

    • A Few Comments About
    • Landscape Standard, First Edition (www.horttrades.com/displaynews.php?n=283) Landscape Ontario, Spons. (2003. Viewed 16 May 2007) A comprehensive set of landscape standards. In relation to new lawns and overseeding, see Chapter 7 (Lawns & Grass) Chapter 8 (Turfgrass Sod)

    • Steps For A Perfect Lawn (PDF document) (www.evergreenseed.ca/pdfs/perfectlawn.pdf) Evergreen Seed, Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007)
      As the title implies, this document describes the steps involved in constructing a new lawn and some things to look out for.

    • Caring for your lawn — drainage (http://www.diyfixit.co.uk/nflash/gardening/lawndrainage/lawndrainage.htm) DiyFixIt (U.K.) Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      If a lawn is excessively wet, consider installing a drainage system. This article describes several types of drainage systems for lawns.

    6. Landscape Diversification

    "If pests are to be dealt with, they must be designed out of your yard."

    Carole Rubin in How to Get Your Lawn & Garden Off Drugs, 2nd Ed. 2003.
    Many of the properties affected by chinch bug in 2003 were in new developments where there were as yet few trees and often, minimal landscape diversification. Trees, shrubs, garden beds and alternative ground covers can used very effectively in these situations to
    • eliminate turf areas subject to severe drying out (and chronic chinch bug problems);
    • reduce winds and soil drying;
    • increase habitat for natural enemies (wildlife that eat pests) and other wildlife;
    • contribute to conservation of biodiversity;
    as well as to enhance the beauty of the property overall.

    Take the focus off of the grass

    Botanist and gardener Anne Huestis of Dartmouth, N.S., offers this simple principle for solving chronic grass problems: use trees, shrubs, garden beds and alterative ground covers, she says, to take the focus off of the grass and the need for a picture perfect lawn. With a little diversification, the eye shifts to these other features, and the imperfections of a less than perfect lawn are hardly noticed.

    But, think before eliminating grass altogether!

    Often, getting totally rid of grass is advocated, however it has some good points. Some elderly neighbors on my street replaced a small front lawn with a mix of groundcovers, gravel and shrubs. It was aesthetically very interesting and pleasing, required very little maintenance and served their purposes well. They sold their house to a young couple with two small children.

    Pesticide-free lawns are a great place to play
    To my (initial) horror, one hot summer day they hired a landscaper to tear up this this 'lawn alternative' and sod the area. Why I wondered? They wanted a place for the baby to play!

    Some of the benefits of a lawn area:
    • An area of grass functions as a fire barrier.
    • It's a great play area for children (when pesticides are not used!).
    • Grass does not exclude sun.
    • Grass takes up water more efficiently than soil in garden beds and hard surfaces, thereby reducing excess flow of water into storm sewers.
    To make gardens more wildlife friendly, Jenny Steel's Top Ten Tips to get started are
    1. Relax!
    2. Go organic!
    3. Plant some wildflowers.
    4. Make a nectar border.
    5. Plant a tree.
    6. Plant a hedge.
    7. Make a meadow.
    8. Make a wildlife pond.
    9. Put up a nest box.
    10. Be tolerant!!
    Once an ecologically sound lawn is established, all that it really requires is weekly mowing; if the mowing is conducted with a reel (manual) mower or scythe, there are really no downsides to grass. It's all a matter of balance!

    How the landscape is diversified is very much a matter of personal aesthetics, and there are are hundreds of options and as many garden books and articles to consult on this topic. There are a number of features that should be included in a garden area to enhance the habitat for wildlife, including natural enemies of pests (see box at left).

    Plant native species for pest resistance AND wildlife conservation

    Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) in mid-October. The berries of this hardy native shrub provide winter color and food for birds. See MacPhail Woods.
    When selecting species for diversification of existing plantings, especially trees and shrubs and groundcovers, consider species that are native to the region. The native plant species are more pest resistant and less demanding of special care than most introduced species. Just as important, growing these species contributes to conservation of wildlife that use them as food or shelter.

    As for any planting, it's important to situate native plant species appropriately in relation to the sun, wind and soil moisture conditions. Also, note that many shrubs and trees in Nova Scotia grow on low nutrient, acid soils and do NOT need (and sometimes are harmed by) the super fertile soils and lime on which many garden and crop species thrive.

    More Information
    • Pest Control: Growing Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects (www.colo state.edu/Depts/CoopExt/4DMG/PHC/benefici.htm) Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Spons.; F. Birdsall, and C.Wilson, Auths. (Viewed 16 May 2007).

    • SOME LANDSCAPE DESIGN TIPS (http://www.csll.ca/lands.html) Clyde Snobelen Landscaping Ltd. (Victoria, B.C.), Spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007)
      Lots of useful concepts

    • LessLAWN.Com (lesslawn.com/index.html) Evelyn J. Hadden, Auth., Maint. (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      Lots of concepts and specifics about alternatives to lawns, including going part way ("SHRINK your lawn").

    • MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project (www.macphailwoods.org) (Viewed 16 May 2007)
      Situated in P.E.I., the work of the MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project is very relevant to the whole of Atlantic Canada. The site offers practical details on how to propagate, situate and grow tree and shrubs and a few understroy wildflower species native to the Maritimes and about their value in wildlife conservation.

    • Gardening for Wildlife
      (www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/wildlife/). Brooklyn Botanic Garden, spons. (Viewed 16 May 2007)
      A page of links to "information on how to attract birds, butterflies, and other lovely creatures to your garden."

    • Wildlife gardening with Jenny Steel
      (www.wildlife-gardening.co.uk). (Viewed 16 May 2007).
      Jenny is a botanist and well known advocate of wildlife gardening in the U.K. Although the species she refers to are those of the U.K., we share many of them (or closely related species), and the basic principles - as in her Getting Started - Top Ten Tips - are the same.

    VI CONTROL: Overview  Acute  Cultural  Redesign

    Site posted 5 Apr. 2004
    Page posted 18 May 2004
    Links updated 27 Mar. 2010