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Fall armyworms are grass eating caterpillars that, as their name indicates, move in large groups and can cause significant damage to lawns, especially if new sod was recently installed. Find out more about fall armyworms, how to identify them, and how you can get rid of them if they are dining on your grass. 

What are Fall Armyworms?

The fall armyworm is the most common cause of damage in turfgrass on golf courses, athletic fields, and home lawns. The fall armyworm arrives in the southern United States  almost every year and can rapidly damage previously healthy grasses.

Armyworms are the caterpillar (or larvae) of a small brownish-gray moth that moves north from Florida each spring and summer. 

Since the armyworm can not survive even mild winters, it reinfests the southern states of the US all over each year.  It takes time for generations of these moths to spread from south to north, which is why armyworms typically appear in late summer and early fall, hence the name fall armyworm.

fall armyworm on blade of new sod

*Be sure to pay close attention to your lawn for armyworm activity every year from July until the first frost.  

Armyworm Life Cycle

armyworm life cycle chart
 

Armyworms have four stages of life: egg > larvae > pupae > adult

Stage 1: Egg

armyworm egg mass on a leaf

Adult armyworm moths fly and mate at night. The female will lay eggs in batches of a few dozen to several hundreds. The eggs are small, white and laid in clusters. 

The female does not discriminate when choosing a place to lay her eggs. Eggs are known to be to be found on just about anything; the underside of tree leaves, fences, bleachers, water coolers, light poles, even golf flags.

Stage 2: Larvae

After only a few days the eggs hatch and the caterpillars (larvae) feed and grow for 2-3 weeks. Armyworms feed throughout the day but are typically most active early in the morning and late in the evenings . 

The larvae phase is when the caterpillar cause damage to grasses and plants. 

armyworm larvae on a green leaf

Stage 3: Pupae

armyworm pupa on a leaf

Once the larvae are full grown they will burrow into the soil 1-2 inches and form the pupal stage. The pupal stages lasts between 11 to 13 days. Pupae are smooth and reddish brown in color. 

Stage 4: Adult Moth

Adults then emerge to mate and lay eggs. Adults typically live about 2 weeks. There will be several generations each year. 

armyworm moth in lawn

How to Identify Armyworms

  • Fall armyworm caterpillars range in color from yellow-green, green, or shades of brown to grey.

  • Newly hatched armyworms are lighter in color, but darken at they mature.

  • Their most identifiable trait is a light colored inverted Y between the on the head. 
armyworm identification
fall armyworm identification
  • Armyworms have a broad, pale band along the top of its body, contrasted with dark bands along its sides. 
 
Still not sure if you have armyworms?

 If there is any doubt whether armyworms are present in your lawn, pouring soapy water on the grass (1/2 oz. dishwashing soap/gallon water) will bring armyworms to the surface quickly. If present, the flush will irritate the caterpillars, causing them to leave their hiding places in the thatch to escape the irritant, and will become visible in about 30 seconds.
 

Armyworm Damage

Armyworms can cause serious damage to turfgrasses. The damage caused by fall armyworms is usually very distinctive, but not always. Armyworms cross the grass as a group and therefore will create a noticeable line between damaged and undamaged grass. 

Typically damaged areas will begin around where the egg mass has been laid and radiate outwards.

damage to a lawn caused by armyworms

Damage caused by fall armyworms often appears browned or burned patches resembling drought stress. If you have distressed patched of grass in your lawn, be sure to go take a closer look.  

While armyworm damage may seem to appear overnight, it is likely the larvae have been feeding for a week or more before noticeable damage appears. Newly installed sod is highly attractive to fall armyworms because it is well fertilized and well watered, and therefore is more susceptible to damage. 

Damage to established grass is mostly aesthetic, but newly sodded areas can be severely damaged or even killed by armyworm feeding.  If armyworms are identified and controlled early, grass recovery is expected without the need to replace the sod. 

Fall Armyworm Control

It is often said that knowledge is power. Knowing what when and what to look for is the first step to controlling armyworms. Look for signs of lawn and plant damage often, especially areas of your lawn that have recently turned brown.

If you spot the brown adult moth form of the armyworm, it is highly likely the armyworm caterpillar is nearby feeding on plants. Spotting armyworms early is critical in controlling the amount of damage they cause.

Natural Enemies

Preventative insecticide treatments are not practical since outbreaks of fall armyworms tend to be random. Natural enemies, such as birds, paper wasps, and ground beetles are quite good at controlling armyworms. Using unnecessary insecticide can eliminate those natural enemies and potentially cause a worse armyworm problem. By spot treating instead of blanket treating, armyworm’s natural enemies can be conserved.  

Insecticide Treatment

Proper timing of insecticide applications results in the best control. Normally, insecticide control is warranted when an average of three or more armyworms are present per square foot. 

Sevin, Dursban, Orthene or Conserve are effective insecticide treatments. Please be sure to read the label carefully and follow the directions. 

  Insecticide Application Tips: 
  • Time of Day: Treat in the early morning or late afternoon, when the caterpillars are most active.
  • Lawn Care: Mow before you treat if possible and then do not mow for three days after treatment.
  • Follow the Label: Be sure to read and follow all insecticide instructions carefully for targeted pest. 
  • Repeat: Armyworm reoccurrence is common, so even after you have treated it is important to diligently check for armyworm damage. You may need to treat multiple times to break the armworm life cycle. 

Summary:

 

  • Fall armyworms typically appear in Northern Georgia from July until the first frost 
  •  Inspect your lawn daily for armyworm activity from July thru the first frost 
  • Understanding the armyworm lifecycle informs best management practices
  • Control is easy and inexpensive from multiple products
  • If identified and controlled early, damaged grass caused by armyworms is expected to recover

Additional Resources:

For more information please visit our other resources

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 Atlanta’s connection to nature is inescapable, from its vast canopy of trees, to the gentle meandering of the Chattahoochee River through the city. Life outdoors in Metro Atlanta is a given, if not a uncompromised requirement. While the elements of outdoor design, like earth, fire and water are constants, the way those take shape changes over time. Of course, the first step in creating, or even recreating, an outdoor oasis is an inviting welcome mat. 

Rollout the Welcome Mat

“Grass is your usable space, it feels open and welcoming and draws you out,” says Kerri Hallahan, operations manager at Outside Landscape Group and NG Turf client for more than 10 years. The lawn is your foundation for your outdoor space, so Kerri suggests a foundation of premium sod.

outdoor living space surrounded by premium sod

Zeon Zoysia

marvel zoysia sod, sod for sale near me, NG Turf, Atlanta GA

Zeon Zoysia is known as the barefoot grass because of its soft texture underfoot, and it’s versatile. Zeon boasts a dark, rich color and a fine leaf blade, it is also thick and lush, which means weeds will struggle to get through it. It is also very traffic tolerant, making it perfect for outdoor entertaining. 

“Zeon is so soft to the touch,” Kerri says. “It is probably our favorite grass from NG Turf. We’ve used it on projects for several years now.”

 

Fescue

Some winters in Georgia can be mild, which means enjoying the outdoors can be a year-long adventure. With that in mind, consider Fescue, an evergreen grass, for your welcome mat. 

While other lawns go dormant in the late fall, cold season grasses like Fescue thrive in the winter. Rebel® Supreme Fescue is medium blade grass that should be maintained at 2 – 3 inches in height; that gives it a thick, almost bushy texture. It is also very shade tolerant, making it a perfect match with Atlanta’s abundant trees.

Setting Boundaries

After creating a lush, verdant foundation, use hardscapes – non-plant material – to create boundaries and flow. Stone pavers provide a path to conversation points in a yard. Integrating stones into the lawn itself remains a classic design because it leads people from one area to the next – a patio to a pool, a garden to a grill.

Pavers provide form and function. Whether you place the pavers yourself or have someone do it for you, Kerri says homeowners will want to make sure the stones are level with the grass for easier maintenance. You should be able to take the mower right over them with no issues or use a weed-eater if the area is small.

https://atlantahomeimprovement.com/backyard-balance/

Life by Fire

Fire and water continue to be staples of backyard living, but there are some trends landscape architects are noting. “We’re seeing lots of patios and fire pits, but not as many fireplaces or cook stations,” Kerri says. Once constructed, fire pits require much less maintenance than a fireplace or a second kitchen and they allow for that “sit around the campfire” feel. Fire pits also can be constructed right in your lawn, creating a natural mix of hard and softscapes.

Swimming pools or fountains can transform a backyard and can also help balance hard stones with soft, barefoot grass. The sound of cascading water can create a calm, serene feeling, that calls you back to nature.

Layer Up!

Lastly, layer up your yard for that perfect outdoor sanctuary. After your sod is laid, start adding borders of low flowers, taking into account when they bloom and how long those blooms last. Then, add taller shrubs and finally trees. This layering guides the eye and creates interest and even conversation pieces that will keep the party going well into the night.

NG Turf's one year warrant logo

For more information on creating a thick, luxurious welcome mat for your yard, contact the Certified Turf Professionals at NG Turf at 770-832-8608 or ngturf.com.

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Despite their intimidating size, cicadas cause surprisingly little damage to landscapes. If they haven’t already, your maintenance team will probably soon begin complaining, however. Every 17 years, an oversized generation of cicadas helps keep the species strong by overwhelming their predators with massive numbers. This is one of those years.

Trillions of cicadas, dubbed Brood X, are emerging out of the ground, stretching from North Georgia to New York. In some areas they may number an astonishing 1.5 million per acre. Since the insects are more annoying than problematic, a few tips can help your team weather the swarm.

Nuisance Factor

Unfortunately, cicadas often mistake the sound of lawn equipment for a potential mate, so your team may inadvertently attract the amorous bugs while they work. Luckily, cicadas don’t bite or sting, although their feet may feel prickly when they land on bare skin.

For the next few weeks, your lawn maintenance teams may want to keep skin covered, wear hats, and possibly even drape netting over their face to prevent the cicadas from making unwanted contact.

cicada on human finger, doing bite or sting causing little damage

Noise Pollution

If your crew doesn’t already wear ear plugs, they may want to start, especially when working in treed areas. A single cicada’s song can reach up to 100 decibels, louder than the average lawn mower. Imagine the sound from a million-insect choir.

Tree Damage

cicada on tree, cause some damage to small trees

Some saplings may need protection. Female cicadas can cause damage to the young trees when they dig V-shaped holes in the branches and lay 200 to 400 eggs—each. Protect trees under four feet with garden netting, securing at the trunk to prevent cicadas from flying up into the tree. Larger trees can tolerate the intrusion without suffering serious harm.

Odor Control

Once above ground, mature cicadas live only for four to six weeks. They make some noise, mate, lay eggs and die. In areas with especially large populations, the simultaneous decay of thousands of bugs can result in a rather unpleasant smell. The offending carcasses may need to be raked up and buried or discarded with yard waste. They can also be composted.

Bug Benefits

Believe it or not, there are actually a couple benefits to Brood X. The holes they leave behind when they emerge from the ground act as aeration for the lawn—particularly helpful for clay soils. Also, when this generation dies away in a few weeks, their remains will provide food in the form of nitrogen for grass and other plants. It’s the circle of life.

 
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After an unexpectedly brisk selling season across the green industry in 2020, warm season turfgrasses may be in shorter supply this spring than in years past. According the 2021 Sod Producers Report, recently published by the University of Georgia (UGA), lower inventories of zoysia, Bermuda and centipede may continue to push up prices, depending on spring sales this year.

 

Current Statistics

In the report, UGA Professor and Turfgrass Extension Specialist Clint Waltz points out that only 44% of producers, surveyed by the Georgia Urban Ag. Council, estimate an adequate to excellent inventory of zoysiagrass going into spring. And only 55% estimate at least adequate inventory of Bermudagrass and centipede. “The inventory levels coming into the first part of the year — particularly for Bermudagrass and centipedegrass — are a little worrisome to me,” Waltz said. “We certainly haven’t seen those two species that low before.” While overall inventory is thin heading into spring, some producers are prepared to meet demand. “Our goal is to always have a premium quality product available for our customers,” said NG Turf Vice President of Business Operations Jutt Howard. “During peak demand periods many sod producers are forced to harvest before the sod is fully mature and the sod can fall apart, resulting in more labor and product to do the job. We might not be priced the same as some commercial grade sod in the market this spring but we should have sufficient supply of quality product.”  
man laying fresh sod rolls, increase in home improvement projects during pandemic concept

The Sod Producers Report also indicated anticipated increases of on-the-farm and delivered prices prices of 2% to 8% this spring as compared to 2019. (No survey report was released for 2020 due to an insufficient sample size.) Centipede and zoysia on-the-farm prices will see the biggest increases, up 7.9% and 7.7% respectively, followed by St. Augustine and tall fescue delivered prices, up 7.2% and 7.1% respectively. (See Table 1. on page 2 of the 2021 Sod Producers Report)

“It’s just basic economics,” explains Waltz. “When demand gets high and supply gets low, prices are going to go up.”

But Waltz went on to say that the actual increases could rise beyond the estimated numbers in the report. “Whenever I present the data from this sod survey, I use those prices as the floor. I think prices on Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are both likely to go higher this spring or early summer, especially if sod sales are strong.”

The upside is that some grass is going to mature and come on the market in mid to late summer, so things may ease.”

 

External Pressures

The pandemic and resulting shut down in early 2020 led to an unanticipated spike in home improvement projects. People spent more time working, schooling and recreating at home, and a record number of homeowners decided to invest in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

“That’s not inconsistent with previous trends within the green industry,” Waltz explained. “When we’ve seen economic downturns in the past, several studies, especially on the horticultural side, have shown that when people can’t travel to the beach or the mountains on vacations, they will invest back where they are.”

“COVID inadvertently changed people’s way of living, with people transitioning to virtual and remote working,” explained Ken Warlick, president of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association. “They’re spending more time outside, and they’re doing more around the house. Nursery inventories are depleted because everyone is doing weekend projects and finally doing home improvements and additions they’ve been putting off for years just because they never had the time.”

He pointed out that Home Depot reported a 20% increase in earnings in 2020. “Who would’ve thought a company would have an increase like that in a year when a pandemic was shutting everything down? It’s mind boggling.”

 

In addition to invigorating home improvement, the pandemic has prompted an unexpected increase in home starts and sales, which affects the green industry as well. Demand for housing was already high prior to the COVID outbreak due to low interest rates. “It was just the perfect storm,” Warlick said. “With interest rates so low and people transitioning to virtual and remote working, they’re moving from their city apartments or small homes to larger homes with more amenities.”

home with for sale sign in front, increase in sale of homes following pandemic concept

Warlick says that many people are also moving out of expensive areas of the country to states like Georgia. “The cost of living is a lot less in Georgia than nationwide, so we’re seeing more and more people moving here because they can get more bang for their buck.” Previously experts had predicted the population of Atlanta would double by the year 2050. “COVID has certainly helped expedite that growth and the demand for housing in Georgia.”

Along with all this housing demand, a shortage in both supplies and labor has resulted a rise in prices. “Costs are alarming,” Warlick said. “That’s the thing I’m most worried about. As we’re having this boom in housing demand, we’re also having external forces of rising lumber prices and supplies across the board, with everything from cabinets and appliances to doorknobs and bath hardware.”

In fact, a February article from the National Homebuilders Association reported that lumber prices had hit an all-time high, up more than 170% in the past 10 months. “And they just came out with a study where the average cost of building a typical home (in the range of $225,000 to $275,000) increased $24,000 from April 2020 to February 2021,” Warlick added.

Recent price increases for turfgrasses seem exceptionally modest in comparison to the extreme cost hikes for lumber and other construction materials.

 

What to Expect

Some experts predict a slight decline in housing demand nationally due to exorbitant costs during the next two years, but at least in Georgia, the current trend is likely to persist. “All the statistics and market studies show that housing demand is going to continue at the same pace that it’s been for the past 8 to 10 months,” Warlick said.

Since sod is an 11- to 13-month crop from seed to harvest, inventory takes time to replenish, and Waltz expects prices to continue to rise further, especially if sales remain strong.

“I’m an agronomist, not an economist, so this is just a guess based on the 19 or so years I’ve been doing this now,” Waltz said. “I could foresee sod prices going up in the spring and early summer while inventories are thin. As grass matures and comes on the market in mid- to late summer, I could see prices coming down some. Will they come down as far as they went up? Based on past experience, my guess is not.”

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If your company offers maintenance services, your goal is to keep your customers’ lawns looking their best. Often the employees with the least experience and education or training are on your front line, doing the weekly work your customers see. The more expertise you share with your team members, the better they can represent you and your company.

Thoroughly training your employees when they’re hired and then periodically brushing up on important info can increase customer satisfaction, and might even make the difference between keeping or losing a client. You can also advertise expert practices as premium services not offered by the average lawn company. 

The following tips will help your maintenance team contribute to beautiful, healthy lawns and happy customers.

Healthy Grass

Healthy grass does much more than just look better. It also performs better. Healthy grass does a better job of crowding out weeds, resisting disease and insects, and standing up to weather fluctuations than grass under stress. 

Proper care contributes to:

  • Deeper root systems for better nutrient absorption and drought tolerance.
  • Vigorous growth to crowd out weeds and resist insects.
  • Better moisture control to minimize disease.
  • Denser growth to shade soil surface for heat tolerance.
  • Stronger plants to tolerate foot traffic, harsh weather and foot traffic.

Grass Variety

The ability to correctly identify grass varieties will give your team a huge advantage when it comes to lawncare. Each variety has specific requirements for mowing height and fertility, and each tolerates shade, draught, excess water and foot traffic differently, so expert care starts with proper identification.

Most lawns in Georgia and the surrounding region consist of one of these popular grasses: Bermuda, Centipede, Kentucky Bluegrass, St. Augustine, Tall Fescue or Zoysia. 

 

Mowing Heights

Some maintenance teams set their mowers at the same height for every lawn, but for optimal vigor and hardiness, mower height  should be set according to grass variety. And no more than one-third of the grass blade should ever be cut in a single mowing, regardless of the recommended height.

Heat, drought, seasonal transitions and other factors should also affect mower settings. Training your team to adjust to weather and season changes as well as to variety can help minimize stress on lawns and keep them looking better as well.

Fertility Requirements

In addition to unique mowing recommendations, each variety of grass requires different amounts and timing for proper fertilizing. For example, centipede needs only one to two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet annually, whereas tall fescue requires two to four pounds. Also, warm season grasses should be fertilized during different months than cool season grasses. If your maintenance team fertilizes too much, too little or at the wrong time, it could significantly affect the grass growth, health and hardiness.

Sharp Blades

Dull mower blades rip the grass blades, leaving a raw, tattered edge rather than a clean slice. In addition to leaving a less pleasing appearance, the dull blades pull on the grass and cause stress to the plant. The jagged edges heal more slowly, as well, making the grass more susceptible to disease. Keeping sharp blades on your team’s equipment will go a long way toward keeping the grass they mow healthy.

Caucasian Gardener in His 30s Checking Lawn Mower Blades to ensure lawn health

Efficient Watering

sprinkler watering lawn in morning, efficient lawn watering for healthy lawns

Irrigation is best done in the morning before the dew dries to help ward off fungi and other diseases. Overwatering can also invite disease and eventually lead to root rot, so encourage homeowners to install rain sensors. Also train your maintenance team to troubleshoot or at least call attention to basic sprinkler issues, such as broken or misdirected heads.  

Soil Tests

If you want to set your lawn maintenance services apart from the competition, have your team take soil samples of each lawn and send them to the local extension office for testing. It’s inexpensive and gives you precise information that allows you to treat each lawn with the exact prescription for nutrients and minerals it needs for optimal growth. With a customized fertility plan, your customers will have the healthiest and best looking lawns in town.

Soil Testing. Lawn care worker taking soil sample for fertility analysis. Hands in gloves close up. soil testing for lawn health

Professional Resources

If a team member is new to the green industry, encourage them to subscribe to both our homeowner and professional blogs for a wealth of turfgrass information and resources. And our best resource is our team of Certified Turfgrass Professionals, available at 770.832.8608 or info@NGTurf.com.

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The cost of a pallet of sod depends on many factors. Are you purchasing a basic grass variety or a high performance variety? Is the sod GCIA certified? Is delivery included? What about a warranty? All these considerations affect the cost of sod, and even more important, they affect the ultimate success of your lawn.

Variety Matters

While varieties like Bermuda and zoysia are recognizable to many homeowners, fewer people are familiar with more specific names like Zeon® zoysia or TifTuf™ Bermuda. Registered and trademarked names like these represent years of research and development to cultivate premium varieties of high performance grass.

TifTuf Bermuda vs Zeon Zoysia sod, explanation of sod price differences

Using our two examples, Zeon zoysia offers significantly higher shade tolerance, disease resistance and traffic tolerance than other zoysia varieties.

TifTuf provides superior drought resistance compared to other Bermudas, maintaining quality and color while using 38% less water than other varieties. It also boasts higher traffic tolerance, quicker recovery time, and higher disease resistance.

It’s easy to imagine why these and other premium grass varieties carry a larger price tag and why they are worth the investment. High quality lawns start with high performance sod.

GCIA Certified Sod

There are no laws to protect consumers who buy sod, so how can you be sure you’re getting your money’s worth? Certification offers the only quality control in the industry.

A Georgia Crop Improvement Association (GCIA) “Blue Tag” Turfgrass Certificate indicates the highest quality sod available, guarding against contamination from weeds, pests and disease.

It also ensures a uniform grass variety that exhibits promised performance characteristics.

A wide range of Blue Tag Certified varieties allows you to find the right premium quality, high performance grass for the conditions in your particular yard.

blue tag certified sod certificate that goes with a certified green sodded lawn

Customer Service

The cost of premium sod often covers more than just the plants. It should also include stellar customer service. A premium sod supplier will deliver right to your project site, free within a several mile radius of the farm. If you buy cheaper sod, however, ask about hidden costs like delivery or forklift fees.

And what if you have questions about installation or maintenance? Purchasing premium sod from a trusted supplier like NG Turf gives you access to experts who are happy to share a wealth of resources, including how-to guides, blog posts and other pertinent information that will help you keep your lawn healthy.

NG Turf's one year warranty seal on healthy sod, representing one of the factors to the cost of sod

 

Sod Warranty

When you buy an appliance for your home, the price usually includes a warranty—not always true for grass. When you shop, check to see if the cost of the sod includes any kind of guarantee. Premium sod from NG Turf, for example, includes a One Year Warranty, helping ensure your lawn gets off to a successful and beautiful start.

If you’re in the market for sod, give our Certified Turfgrass Professionals a call at 770.832.8608 or email to info@NGTurf.com.