GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Brown patch fungus leads to turf issues

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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Dear Neil: I spent a ton of money having my St. Augustine sodded again two years ago. This winter it developed a bunch of brown circles. I used a product from one of the big box stores, but it didn’t really help. I’ve raked the circles and applied weed and feed. I can’t afford to do all of this again. What caused it, and what can I do to stop it?

That was brown patch fungus that hit your St. Augustine late last fall. It’s going to be a problem all across Texas every fall. Once temperatures start to drop the disease will spread quickly, especially if we water at night or if we get rain at night. It’s always in circles. Eventually the circles may overlap like ripples on a pond when you throw a handful of pebbles in simultaneously. The fungus only attacks blades. It does not damage runners or roots, so your lawn will bounce back this spring and summer. Watch for it to come back in late October or November and then treat when the blades first start to turn yellow. Don’t wait until winter. By the way, be very careful using weed-and-feed products. I prefer to do the two processes separately so I can avoid damage to trees and shrubs.

Dear Neil: My young mountain laurel is struggling badly. It is losing branches and tip growth. I’m at a loss as to what might have caused it and what I could do to correct it. Help!

This is really serious damage, but I’m not sure what might have caused it. It looks like mechanical injury that could have been the result of an insect’s chewing or even a rodent’s gnawing. In some cases it might be hail damage. What might tell you more would be if there is new growth trying to emerge from the base of the plant. If so, then the damage is confined to the stems and top growth. If not, then there may be a major root problem, either from the transplanting three years ago or from poor drainage or some other environmental concern.

Dear Neil: I have a 10-foot red brick wall and I’d like to soften it visually. Would Sky Pencil holly or Japanese yew be considerations? Our HOA does not allow attaching anything to the wall.

I am just not a fan of Sky Pencil hollies. They splay out so badly as they grow that you have to keep circling them with plant ties to keep them vertical. Japanese yews work well in perfectly drained areas where it’s not too cold in the winter (southern half of the state). But they can also grow rather wide and even quite tall. I don’t know if the 10-foot measurement is length or height. Columnar junipers and Italian cypress have developed problems with cankers that kill branches out and leave them unsightly. So I’m left with very few of our upright plants. Idea: How about constructing a really nice lattice out of 2×2 pressure-treated lumber on maybe 8-inch or 12-inch spacings and then training a twining vine to grow up and over it? Depending on the exposure and the full size of the support, something like Carolina jessamine, cross vine (yellow form) or Lady Banksia rose could be really nice.

Dear Neil: You recently mentioned that we shouldn’t be adding phosphorus to our soils. What about potassium? You also mentioned that we should buy a fertilizer with half or more of the nitrogen in slow-release form, but all I can find is far short of that. I’ve shopped primarily at the big national chain stores. Can you help me?

Let’s start with a soil test. What does the test show that your soil needs? My comments were merely based on what we’ve seen from a majority of soil tests across Texas over the past several decades – that most of our soils (especially clays) are excessively high in phosphorus (middle number of the three-number analysis). Having too much phosphorus adversely affects uptake of other nutrients. Most independent nurseries will have fertilizers that are tailored to their local communities, so I always encourage people to start there. And many have their own house brands that do have high levels of slow-release nitrogen. As for potassium, it’s not critical that it be added in most cases, but it’s not as detrimental as phosphorus.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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