What Did We See in 2023?

As 2022 was coming to a close, we did a quick synopsis of what we had encountered that growing season. The general feeling was that it was a very unique year and we were hopeful that some of the problems we found wouldn’t become new traditions. The good news is that insect issues were not nearly as bad in 2023, and that was a major concern of ours heading into this season! The bad news is that the periodic stretches of dry weather from 2022 turned into a near season-long drought in 2023.

Drought Stress Continues...

A relatively mild, dry winter started our year off with a moisture deficit. That deficit never went away, as every month of the growing season failed to provide the amount of moisture we needed to return our lawns and landscapes to a state of proper hydration. Without additional irrigation, plants lacked color and vigor. Flowers were sparse and small, and scenic landscapes lacked their usual “wow!” factor. Depending on species, some mature shade trees showed various signs of drought stress all season.

On lawns, the prolonged drought showed itself in a number of ways. The vibrant green color of spring was faded and lawns came out of winter more slowly. It is usually a battle to keep the lawn mowed in the months of May and June, because the grass is growing very fast. We did not have that problem this year, and the lack of growth meant thin or bare areas never fully healed. Lawns were battling dormancy all summer, resulting in a thinning of the turf and increased susceptibility to compaction, traffic, and insect damage. A reduced turf canopy opened the soil to warmth and sunlight, which gave weeds an avenue to break through. Luckily, some timely rains in the later part of fall helped hydrate the soil and give our plant life much needed water to help restore some of its lost luster. The late rains also gave us a clear picture on areas that may require seeding in the spring.

The Unexpected Culripts

Another issue that was frustrating to us and our customers involved the increased amount of raccoon damage that was seen for a few weeks in October. Whenever we see animals digging through turf, our immediate reaction is to assume that there is a problem with insects. Even after using a product that kills grubs and other surface insects, the raccoons were still digging! Why? Well, we learned a few things! First, raccoon populations have exploded across the state of Iowa over the last 15 years. The price for fur has gone down considerably, and fewer people are trapping them as a source of income. Due to several dry years in a row, it is becoming more difficult for them to find food in their natural habitat. As a result, they are searching around homes and in urban areas for something to eat. Second, they don’t care if their food is alive or dead. We found a few grubs on properties that were dealing with raccoons, but they were not white or lively. Those grubs weren’t damaging the turf, but a hungry raccoon doesn’t care. Third, raccoons are great at finding anything to eat. It turns out their presence doesn’t indicate an insect issue at all. The problem was the raccoons themselves. There are simply too many of them and the only solution that was found that had a positive impact was to trap or eliminate them. The state of Iowa has changed its laws around dealing with raccoons, and our hope is that their populations come under control and they stop being such a nuisance for our customers.

Identifying White Grubs in Your Iowa Lawn

white grubs iowa lawns

There are numerous insects and weeds that can affect a stand of turfgrass, whether it be a home lawn, a golf course, or an athletic field. They all are unique in their timing, damage, and what we can do to control them. Few things, however, can take out a vast area of turf like white grubs can. One infestation of white grubs is all that is needed to know that they are something worth treating for. If you haven’t had them in your lawn, the odds are that you know someone who has. We’ll look at how to identify them, the damage they cause, and what can be done to control and prevent them.

What Does White Grub Damage Look Like?

White grubs are the larvae of several types of beetles. These adults lay eggs in the summer, and these eggs hatch in the early fall. These larvae are really hungry and need to eat a lot in order to prepare for overwintering and metamorphosis (when they change into adults). They eat the roots of turfgrass right below the surface of the soil, causing the plants to dry out, wilt, and eventually die. Labor Day is usually when we start to see grub damage, and it can persist into October. If grubs are suspected, there’s a very easy way to find out. When the turf is grabbed and pulled, it peels back like carpet (as shown on the left). The picture on the right shows grub damage a few days after infestation.

This damage in and of itself is incredibly damaging. What can be absolutely devastating, however, is the damage caused by animals looking for these grubs. Skunks, raccoons, possums, and other four-legged friends will turn the grass over and dig to find these grubs. That damage is pictured above on the left and below. These animals are all nocturnal, so they’re doing their feeding at night. We can repair that damage by putting everything back down in its place, but if there are still grubs in the soil, the same areas will unfortunately be dug up again. Once the turf is put back, it will take fertilizer and a healthy amount of water to get things to root and fill in again. It is not an enjoyable process. In most cases, areas that have been damaged by grubs eventually need re-seeded or sodded.

White Grub Identification

White grubs are the larvae of several different beetles that are common in this area of the country. As the name suggests, they have a white, fleshy body and an orange/brown head. They have three pairs of very small legs near their head with an elongated body. They are usually found curled up in the shape of a “c”. There are nine different insects that give rise to white grubs. The most common in our area that lead to white grubs are the Northern Masked Chafer and Japanese Beetle. The bluegrass billbug is also a culprit, but their timing is different and that is discussed in another blog post. Here is a picture of the different beetle species, and a picture of the various grubs that hatch from these adults. They all have the same general appearance but are different in their size and the pattern of the hairs on their hind end.

Controlling White Grubs

Luckily, white grubs can be controlled with a single application in the summer. There are a few different insecticides that can be applied to turf that will make the roots toxic to these grubs. The product that we use at UltraLawn is applied in the summer when adults are in flight and laying their eggs. This will need watered in so the plant can fully absorb the active ingredient. Preventative measures are the best, most economical way to treat for grubs by a wide margin.

Curative measures are available if an infestation has occurred. The active ingredients to these products are different, and they are typically more expensive. In order for these products to work, they need to be thoroughly watered in immediately after application for the product to work its way through the turf down to the grubs. Even if the response is prompt and the product is properly applied and watered in, there is no guarantee that our animal friends will stay away. Depending on how hungry they are, they may still eat grubs that are dead.

Grubs are the most damaging pest to bluegrass, and in order to protect your lawn, they must be treated for accordingly. If you would like some assistance, please contact us here at UltraLawn. Our trained professionals will gladly help!

Our Evergreen Partnership with the Cedar Rapids Kernels

Being in business for 38 years has allowed UltraLawn to cultivate a bevy of incredibly rewarding relationships. People have trusted us with all sorts of projects of all sizes dealing with an array of problems requiring solutions. Whether it’s controlling weeds in a small front lawn or helping to rebuild lawns and landscapes devastated by a natural disaster, the satisfaction of a job done well never gets old!

One of the unique partnerships that’s been created is with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. In 1890, the Cedar Rapids Canaries took the field as part of the Illinois-Iowa league. Nearly 120 seasons later (there were a few breaks in the action), the Kernels are still playing ball! There is a deep connection between the city of Cedar Rapids and this baseball team, and that support and passion was recognized in 2021. Major League Baseball restructured its minor league system, which resulted in dozens of minor league teams being disbanded. The Kernels were elevated to “High A” status in the rebranded Midwest League, showing just how great a job Cedar Rapids has done hosting professional baseball! We couldn’t be more excited or proud to be a small part of the experience they offer fans and players!

In 2008, we entered an earnest partnership with the Kernels to assist in taking care of the playing surface. The field there, consistently ranked among the best in the Midwest League, is under the outstanding direction of Jesse Roeder. Jesse has been recognized by the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association as its Manager of the Year, and the field he maintains has also been awarded as the best playing surface in the state, regardless of sport.

High level athletic fields are a unique, delicate environment to care for. The field at Veterans’ Stadium is a premium blend of Kentucky Bluegrass grown on a sand-based medium. The field is fully irrigated and is mowed between 1” and 1.5”. UltraLawn does NOT recommend trying to replicate those conditions at home! The bluegrass blend used there is comprised of specific varieties of bluegrass that can withstand low mowing heights, do a better job holding up to traffic, and are more resistant to diseases. The interior of the infield is mowed with a 21” walk-behind “reel-to-bedknife” mower, the rest is cut with a 3-reeled unit commonly called a “triplex”. These types of mowers are specially designed for precision cuts on the highest quality of turf, and also make it possible to accomplish the striping and designs that you see when you put a baseball game on TV. Roeder and his staff mow the field several times a week, which helps keep the playing surface thick, fast, and consistent. Since there are heavy rollers on their machines, mowing directions do need to be alternated to keep the grass growing as upright as possible.

Whenever turf is grown and maintained in such conditions, it is under increased amounts of stress. Even though the field at Veteran’s Stadium is lush, green and perfectly manicured, there are extra steps necessary to keep it that way beyond what a homeowner must do to keep their own lawn in good shape. Regular irrigation is necessary to keep the grass hydrated, but in the heat of summer, it can create an environment where the turf is under disease pressure. This is one aspect where we’ve assisted the Kernels, applying preventative fungicide treatments there for several years. Depending on weather conditions, we will alter the products used to treat the disease that is the biggest threat at the time. Our equipment allows us to achieve superior coverage, done in a manner that ensures no compaction to the field from heavy spray equipment.

In addition to a disease control program, we also assist Mr. Roeder with insect diagnosis and treatment, as well as helping with problematic grasses that infiltrate the playing surface. At the beginning of each growing season, we come up with a plan with Jesse to make sure the needs of his field are being addressed, we’re responding to issues that may have crept up the previous season, and doing whatever we can to let him and his crew show off their excellent work.

We are a small cog in a smooth rolling wheel, but it’s a great source of pride that we can assist in taking care of the baseball field that belongs to OUR city’s team!

Chinch Bugs in Eastern Iowa?

So we found Chinch Bugs in your lawn…

For many years chinch bugs have been a pest problem on southern lawns. In recent years they have become common in eastern Iowa communities like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. We now see them at several properties every year.

Chinch Bug Damage

At first glance, chinch bug damage looks like drought-damaged turf. Chinch bugs have small piercing mouth parts. They begin damaging the turf by sucking moisture out of the plant, then inject a poison into the plant that will eventually kill it. This causes the plant to turn yellow/brown, and this damage spreads rapidly across the lawn. Once it is determined that this is not drought, a close inspection of the turf at the outer edges of the damage may reveal the culprit. Chinch bug damage is most prevalent in the hottest, driest stretch of the summer; usually July and August.

Identification of Chinch Bugs

Chinch bugs can be very difficult to find because of their size and color. They are damaging at any stage of life, so it is possible to find them in the same area, but of varying sizes and colors.

Controlling Chinch Bugs

Once a diagnosis of chinch bugs is made, timely control is crucial. Their numbers can be plentiful, and they spread quickly. Chemical control can be achieved, but these products should be handled and applied by licensed professionals. Even with the best products on the market follow up treatments may be necessary.

Dead Grass in Your Lawn? You May have Bluegrass Billbugs

Throughout the course of a growing season, grass can be affected by several damaging insects. One of these is the bluegrass billbug. It gets its name from the long snout or “bill” that it uses to chew on leaves and stems. However, it is the larvae of these insects that cause considerable damage. Adult billbugs are usually seen in spring, and then again in early fall. Damage from their larvae usually appears in July. This damage begins as discolored, irregularly shaped patches. These patches turn yellow/brown, and when the damage is most severe, the turf can be lifted out of the soil with ease. To better understand the when’s and why’s of billbugs and their damage, it’s good to understand their life cycle.

Identification & Life Cycle

Adult billbugs are about ¼” long, with a brown/black body. The distinguishing characteristic is the long, curved snout and bent antennae. The larvae of the bluegrass billbug looks very much like the dreaded white grub, only they are considerably smaller. They have a white, fleshy body with a small orange/red head.

Adults emerge from “hibernation” in the spring and chew small holes in the leaves and stems of turf plants. This damage is not harmful to the plant. They will then lay their eggs in these holes. Those eggs hatch in June/July, and these larvae are voracious eaters. They will chew their way through the plant down towards the “crown”, which is an area near ground level where growth originates. 

Here are a few pictures of the damage caused by billbugs, up-close and from a distance:

Control of Bluegrass Billbugs

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies when dealing with these creatures! The best way to treat them is with a preventative insecticide aimed at eliminating billbugs in their larval stage. The product that UltraLawn uses for its grub preventer is also effective on the larvae of bluegrass billbugs. Should you or residents in the Cedar Rapids or Iowa City area have any questions or concerns, feel free to give the experts at UltraLawn a call and we’ll be happy to assist you!

Common Questions or FAQs about Our Lawn Care

Lawn Care FAQs

Do you do any granular applications?

We apply 4 granular applications and 2 liquid. We choose the application method based on what is most effective for the time of year.

What’s the difference between liquid and granular applications?

Weed control is always best applied in liquid form as we can control exactly where the product goes.  Our fertilizer has slow release properties whether it’s in liquid or granular form.

What does your fertilizer consist of?

We use a different fertilizer each time we’re there.  We apply the proper amount of the proper nutrients throughout the season.

When do you apply the Grub preventer application?

During the same visit as our summer application.

Can I buy some of your fertilizer?

No, we do not sell our fertilizer. We provide the service of applying it for you.

Can I do some seeding after your first application?

No, the 1st application contains pre-emergent crabgrass control, which prevents seed to germinate. If you do wish to seed it is best to bring a layer of soil in to cover the area then do your seeding.  FYI, the best time of year to seed is August or September.

Do I need to water-in my applications?

Yes, if you would like the product to become active. Otherwise, it will become active once it has come in contact with moisture.

Will your first application kill the dandelions?

No. Typically, the 1st application is applied before dandelions are actively growing and therefore weed control at that time is ineffective.

Should I rake my lawn before the first application? (still have leaves from last fall)

Light raking is good before or after this treatment.  If there is matted down grass it is always best to rake lightly to help the surface breathe and allow for a faster green up.

Do you power rake? What do you do about thatch problems in lawns?

We do power rake, however, we recommend you aerate once a year as aeration does not cause stress on your lawn like power raking does. Aeration helps reduce thatch and compaction at the same time, and it’s usually cheaper!

What causes thatch problems?

It is natural for lawns to develop a thatch issue if aeration is not performed on a regular basis. 

I have children/pets, will this application be harmful to them?

Our applications are thoroughly tested and are approved for use where children and pets will be playing. The EPA performs roughly 120 tests on the products we’re using before they get approved for use. 

My application was just done, can my kids/pets be back on the lawn now?

We recommend you have pets/children stay off the lawn until the liquid applications that we apply have time to dry, which can vary from 1 to 3 hours depending on the humidity and so on. With granular applications you can re-enter the lawn immediately following our treatment.

I have a very narrow gate at my back yard, will your aerator fit through it?

Our aerators can only fit into a 36” gate.

I have moles, the master gardener said to spray for insects. Will insect spray eradicate the moles?

No, you will need to trap or try a bait for the moles in order to eradicate them from your lawn. A grub preventer is not a mole preventer. The main food source for moles is earth worms and you wouldn’t want to hurt them as they help your lawn.

My lawn is very bumpy. Do you roll lawns?

No, rolling of lawns counteracts the effects of an aeration. It makes your lawn compacted.

I have an acreage and can only afford 2 applications. Which ones should I take?

We would recommend a minimum of 3 applications so you will not have crabgrass, however, if this is not feasible then late spring and early fall would be the best options if dandelions are your biggest concern.  We can get limited control of crabgrass and dandelion control with the early spring and early fall treatments.

Does it cost more per application if I take three or less applications?

Yes, it does.

3 apps = an extra $5 per, 2 apps = an extra $10 per, and 1 app = an extra $20 per.

It rained right after my application. Now what?

If it was a granular applications, great! The rain will help the product become active. If it was a liquid application, a light rain will only help the nutrients get deeper into the soil.  If it was a heavy rain it is possible for the weed control to be affected; in this case remember we provide free service calls, if you have weeds that don’t die after a couple weeks please let us know and we’ll re-treat free of charge.

I know the square footage of my lawn. What is the cost to spray _____ sq feet?

Let us get that price for you. We will always measure your lawn for our own records.

I know I’ve missed the first application, but can I still prepay for the remaining applications and receive the discount?

Yes, you may. We can get you a total discount for prepaying.

I don’t believe in chemicals. Do you offer only mowing?

No, we do not offer just mowing. We do have two organic options for you, one that does provide weed control and one that is 100% organic which does not.

My lawn mower broke. Can you mow my lawn today?

Unfortunately, not today. Give us a call and we’ll see what we can do as quickly as possible.

My grass is over a foot tall & my mower can’t cut it. Can you mow my lawn?

No, we do not have the proper equipment to do this type of work.

Do you take credit cards?

Yes, we do accept credit cards for payment. We just do not accept credit/debit cards for prepayments due to third party fees. If you wish to prepay with a credit card, that’s fine however the discount will not apply.  Did you know you can set up auto pay?