Prepare for ‘Gustav spots’ in lawns

Thomas J. Koske  |  9/10/2008 10:52:00 PM

News You Can Use Distributed 09/10/08

One sure vestige of a hurricane or bad blow is a large, dead area of the lawn. It usually is located near curbside where yard debris is piled up for many days.

LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske calls these dead areas “Gustav spots” – a twist on his other term, “dog spots,” for urine burns.

“Our grasses actively grow in this September heat and require light and air to survive,” Koske said, noting that the grass will soon die without those two elements.

“And I always say, ‘what’s dead is dead’; it’s not coming back from dead material,” he remarked.

“What will come back are weeds and other grasses from seed,” the horticulturist said. Some aggressive turf species may run back in from the edges of the dead spots, but this kind of replenishment is not typical for larger areas from brush piles.

If the piles are small, you might push them to the left or right about every four days trying to get the declining spot to recover, Koske said. Most homeowners, however, will not or cannot go to this trouble.

One strategy Koske is strongly against is piling debris in the street. Doing so creates new problems. It blocks traffic, may damage cars and slows or stops drainage. Similarly, don’t toss hurricane debris into ditches. Again, you’ll cause drainage problems.

If debris collection takes a couple weeks, be resigned to a Gustav spot. The remedy is for the grass to be reestablished.

Seeding this late in the season, however, is not a good way to reestablish the lawn. Seeding warm-season grasses this late will produce juvenile turf that will go into dormancy with very little chance of surviving winter freezes unless it’s quite close to the warm areas near the Gulf.

Research shows that even fast-establishing, seeded Bermudas will most likely fail to over-winter after an August seeding. If seeding is required, consider postponing the planting of permanent grass until next late spring. At that time, kill off the weed vegetation, prepare a seed bed and seed it.

For recovery now, Koske says vegetative material is the surest route. Solid sod is a great choice, but plugs or sprigs are also options if you can stand the wait.

When planting pieces of grass, you still need a good seed bed that is free of weeds. Press the sod or plugs to where their stolons (runners) are about level with the soil surface. This avoids a future lumpy lawn. Vigorous sprigs with roots also can be stuck into the ground to root. With sprigs and plugs, the closer you space them, the faster the coverage. Mow the plugs and sprigs regularly at the higher-recommended cut for that species.

If not solid sodding, watch for weeds this fall and next spring. A preemergent herbicide appropriate for your grass can keep weeds at bay or keep the spot clean all winter. Otherwise, be prepared for a postemergent cleanup in mid- to late spring.

For related gardening and landscape information, click on the Lawn and Garden link at the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com. Also, contact the county agent in your local parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Contact: Tom Koske at (225) 578-2222 or tkoske@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or mclaesgens@agcenter.lsu.edu

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