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Yehaa!.....its ski season once again and we can all go playing and enjoy New Zealand's great outdoors! It doesn't matter if you're heading to ski fields in the South Island or the North Island as long as you're out there doing it!........and it's great to know that the cold and wet of winter at least has some upside!
 
The trouble is that whilst you're in the mountains carving tracks with your planks your grasses back home on your front lawn are not enjoying these cooler and wetter conditions at all!.  These conditions are taxing on these turf grasses and in particular the warm season grasses such as couch and kikuyu which struggle to adapt to these conditions.  So here's a few tips for this month to help your lawn cope with these conditions;
  • Continue moss control treatments using either a proprietary product or sulphate of iron as a liquid.
  • If you struggle to get cleanly cut leaf blades over winter because the grass is soft then apply muriate of potash at 2.5kgs per 100m2 and this problem will be alleviated. Ensure that this product is well watered in otherwise it will burn the grass.   
  • Couchgrasses will still retain their colour over winter in warmer areas particularly if they are treated with small amounts of gibberelic acid and liquid nitrogen..
  • July is a good month to selectively remove weeds from your warm season lawns such as couch an kikuyu. I recommend using Atrazine @ 25mls per 100m2 to remove most broadleaf weeds and Kerb at 20mls per 100m2 to selectively remove pao annua and other foreign annual grasses
  • Watch out for any signs of the fungal disease red thread which is often prevalent at this time of the year. If observed then immediately supply a nitrogen rich standard release fertiliser such as Turf Supreme.

Species Watch: Ryegrass


This month I want to discuss the general attributes of Ryegrass ( Lolium  perenne L.)
 
This species is characterised as having bright green, keeled leaves that have a very shiny underside. A distinguishing feature is the purple or reddish emergent sheath at the base of the plant.  This turf grass is often referred to as amenity ryegrass or dwarf ryegrass to distinguish it from its cousins, the pastoral ryegrasses as it does not grow nearly as quickly as its agricultural relatives.
 
The first dwarf ryegrass cultivars were introduced to the market place in the early 1970's and since this time they rapidly garnered popular support for use in domestic lawns and sports fields globally because of their fast establishment rates, rapid rates of recovery, attractive colour and high wear tolerance. Plant breeders have continued to make significant progress in the development of this plant with the new varieties retaining some of the key characteristics such as speed of germination but they now include traits such as slower growing, darker green colouration and more resistant to fungal disease, particularly “red thread” which blighted some of the earlier cultivars such as “Elka” and “Imagine”.  There are now more that 200 registered dwarf ryegrass cultivars and they vary significantly in their performance features. Those that are bred for sports-fields tend to grow faster in winter and have a stronger vertical growth habit.  PGG Wrightson Turf dominates this end of the spectre producing varieties with Mediterranean genetics whilst the latest varieties out of Europe and the USA tend to have higher tiller densities, finer leaves and grow less rapidly.  This later group from the US based plant breeders in particular also tend to have a darker green colouration.  Ryegrass is the subject of a great deal of effort by plant breeders both locally and internationally and vast advances in the quality have been achieved. Even in the last decade the improvements have been highly tangible.
 
In Australia it’s predominant use today is in sportsfields or for use as a cover crop for the establishment of warm season grasses. It is also used to over sow warm season fields in autumn to provide an appropriate winter sports surface at a time when warm season grasses are less prominent. This technique is most common in the cooler parts of Australia but it is also used in New Zealand. 
Dwarf ryegrass displaying the characteristically bright glossy leaves.
 
It prefers moist, fertile soils and as a lawn species persists best when irrigated and when receiving regular and generous nitrogenous fertiliser applications. The absence of both water and sufficient nutrients often sees the plant population decrease through the summer months leading to lowered plant density and an open lawn full of gaps and holes.  This problem is more of an issue in the northern regions where chewing and biting insects also impact on plant populations. Following a dry summer this can often result in a necessity to either over-sow or under-sow new seed to replenish the sward density.  Patently, this is easy to do in a sports-field situation, but is less convenient in a residential lawn environment, where the size of the area restricts the ability to get around with bulky machinery.  Secondly, home owners regard their lawns as permanent fixtures and the thought of regular reinstatement has led many householders to look at alternative species that do not have the same limitations. In the warmer regions of New Zealand both Black Beetle (Heteronychus arator) and grass grub (Costelytra zealandica) can do significant damage to this species. The larvae of these insects reside in the root zone and chew on the roots of ryegrasses and other susceptible species. The outcome is that the plants have less root mass and this resultant decreased ability to uptake moisture in hot and dry conditions  can result in desiccation and death. So whilst ryegrass can produce a magnificent lawn it is essentially a high performance species requiring high levels of inputs and in many instances this results in dissatisfaction from many homeowners as their beautiful ryegrass lawn can deteriorate relatively rapidly. It grows relatively quickly over the spring months and at this time it is important to increase the mowing frequency to develop and maintain sward density. This is particularly true from September through to November, when tiller activity is at is highest.  Removal of litter at this time is also important to avoid wet litter lying on the plants and creating holes in the sward.  It can be difficult to keep free of foreign grass weeds, unless a regular program of pre-germination herbicides is employed.  The difficulty being that once these foreign grass species become established they are difficult to selectively remove them.  This is particularly true for other grasses such as Yorkshire fog( Holcus Lanatus L.), agricultural ryegrasses (Lolium perenne L.) and annual subtropical summer grasses. Because ryegrass lacks the density characteristic of many of the other amenity species it can be prone to becoming invaded with annual winter grass (Poa annua) in particular. The seeds of this species tend to be endemic in temperate soils and the light green colouration of this grass complete with its characteristic white seed heads ensures that it appears quite prominent when set against the relatively dark green colour of ryegrass plants. Whilst it can be removed selectively from a ryegrass sward by using ethofumosate the easiest solution is to avoid its occurrence in the first instance by using this product as a pre-germination application. Poa annua normally germinates after the occurrence of rains and decreasing soil temperatures in late autumn so therefore applications of ethofumasate prior to that time act as a good preventative method of control.
 
As a result of these issues the popularity of ryegrass as a turf species in the residential arena has decreased in New Zealand over the past decade with other species such as Tall Fescue in particular now being a more preferred species.  Ryegrasses are still extremely popular as a sports field species because of a rapid rate of establishment, high availability, relative cheapness and fast rate of recovery. 
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More recently plant breeders have released cultivars of ryegrass that display a degree of stoloniferous growth.  This is a major improvement for this species as this growth habit allows the re-colonisation of areas where plants have been lost through the activities of either insects or disease. Note that these stolons are relatively short when compared to truly stoloniferous varieties such as couch or kikuyu and as a result will only creep in the order of 25mm – 50mm.  The  big advantage of the creeping characteristic is that it allows the plants to re-colonise areas that have been vacated as a result of either damage or wear. The introduction of this cultivar is a vast improvement on standard ryegrasses as it avoids the necessity of having to re-introduce seed into the ryegrass lawn to ensure recovery after summer. Finelawn has grown SRL creeping ryegrass for the past couple of seasons and we have noticed a significant improvement with this variety.  Unfortunately, we have struggled to secure seed supplies for this cultivar as a result of rolling waterside stoppages on the western seaboard of the USA over the past 8 months and will not be able to offer this as a turf option until autumn 2016.
 
Another cultivar known as GlyRye has also been released recently.  This cultivar has been selected for its resistance to the herbicide glyphosate which is the active ingredient in products such as Roundup. From a management perspective this means that it will tolerate concentrations of up to 600mls per hectare and at this rate some problem weeds such as poa annua will be selectively removed.  This is a significant improvement as this provides a far more environmentally friendly method to control these foreign species. However that specialist advice should be used prior to using these chemicals on this cultivar.  Finelawn has established a 2ha trial for this product and results to date confirm the data provided by the plant breeders. We expect to have this product available as turf this spring. 
 
In summary, dwarf ryegrasses can produce a magnificent looking lawn but they require high nitrogen and water inputs and must be protected from insect damage. Additionally, the newer cultivars show enormous improvement over the older cultivars.  
Establishment;                      Seed or turf
Sowing rate;                          35gms- 40gms/m2
Mowing height;                      25mm - 35mm

Red Thread (Laetisana fuciformis);

 
I realise that I have covered this issue off in previous publications but I think a revision of this disease is useful  now as it can be problematic on some lawns at this time of the year
 
This is also sometimes referred to as pink patch (although the causal agent for pink patch is indeed a different fungus) and is probably the most common and troublesome disease on domestic lawns. It is easily identified as reddish or pinky threads or fungal filaments attached to the top of the leaves of temperate grasses. These are called stromata and they can remain in the soil for up to two years. Red thread is most often a problem from late autumn until late spring. Once abated they leave characteristically brown circles of dead and decaying leaf litter making the lawn look as though it has had a case of measles! The causal agent is Laetisaria fuciformis and it is generally caused as a function of nitrogen deficiency during humid damp conditions. It can effect all grasses but can be particularly severe on rye grass and fine fescue lawns that are either shady, well sheltered or damp, though it tends to be quite site specific. Once the disease abates the plants will fully recover as only affects the leaf tissue rather that the crown or the root zone. 
 
Typical red thread infection on ryegrass plants.
 
A number of management practices are recommended for lawns that are affected. Firstly, add nitrogen in a soluble form and in certain circumstances additional potassium has also been known to be of assistance. Ensure that your mower blades are sharp and restrict traffic on the lawn until the disease has abated so as to avoid walking the spores around the lawn and thus acting to prevent the infection of other areas.  Mow when the grass leaf blades are dry and always remove the cut litter. It can be useful to mow at a lower height than normal to remove all of the spores and prevent further spread of the contamination. It is recommended that a second dressing of a slow release nitrogenous fertiliser is applied within a month of the first application to assist in preventing re-emergence if damp conditions prevail.
 
Remember that the predominant reason for red thread is nitrogen deficiency.  If these management practices are not working then a broad spectrum fungicide will need to be applied at label rates.  I regard fungicides as a tool of last resort, however, given that most turf grass plants are open prairie species the sheltered and shady environment that characterises many home lawns does provide a substantial challenge for these species and tools such as fungicides are occasionally required.  Fungicides are normally classified as poisonous and all appropriate care should be used with their application.

SPECTACULAR TRANSFORMATION

Now for a wee bit of unabashed self congratulations!
 
The installation team at Finelawn were proud to supply and install a FREE new lawn at the recently complted facility at the Hospice Waikato premises at Hillcrest last week.  The folk from Hospice do a fabulous job for our community and we were thrilled to be able to help out.  

TURF SUPPLY

 
You can keep up to date on the supply of our various turf products via our newly upgraded website www.finelawn.co.nz -  We update any supply issues on the “price guide page” 

Tall Fescue turf is extremely limited as a result of unprecedented demand. We anticipate that this situation will remain until the end of August.  Throughout this period supply will be restricting orders to "strictly existing clients only" basis for the duration of that time.
Fine Fescue turf is now available. 
Ryegrass turf available in spring. 
Common kikuyu and Regal kikuyu are now in dormancy and we do anticipate having any available until the new season which normally commences in the first week of December.
Couchgrass and Seashore Paspalum  are also now in dormancy and we expect these two products to be available again towards the end of October.

COMPANY NEWS

 
We've got a new edition to the Finelawn fleet.  This is our latest brand new truck complete with its flash new paint job and sign writing. It should be easy enough to spot it around the traps as it looks pretty loud !! So, give the guys on board a wave when you next see it!
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