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Lawn rust and biting insects

By John Fulton

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[August 01, 2013]  This week, I noticed the first patch of rust in the lawn. This happened to be on an area with some sand underneath, but the problem is at hand.

Rust appears as an orange or yellowish-orange powder (spores) on grass leaf blades, especially in late summer to early fall when the weather is dry. Overall, the turf may assume a yellow, red or brown appearance. Close examination will reveal the pustules, which easily rub off on your hand. Rust spores can easily be tracked into homes.

Rust typically develops on lawns growing very slowly. Low fertility (in particular, nitrogen) and low water availability slow down turf growth, allowing rust to develop. Seasons with excess rain may have rust outbreaks due to loss of available nitrogen. Cool nights with heavy dew and light, frequent rainfall add to the ideal conditions for rust to develop. Warm, cloudy, humid weather followed by hot, sunny weather also favors rust development on lawns. Rust spreads through air, water, shoes, equipment and sod.

Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are all affected, depending on cultivars. Rust may weaken turfgrasses and make them more susceptible to other problems.

Control rust through sound turf management. Begin by choosing a quality blend of turfgrass seed. Resistance to rust can vary according to the race of the disease present. Maintain lawns through sound watering, mowing and fertilizing. If you are watering, water early in the day so the grass dries quickly. Manage problem thatch. Increase vigor with an early fall nitrogen application, but don't overdo it. Check soil phosphorus and potassium levels through soil testing. Also assure good airflow and light penetration over the site by pruning trees and shrubs in the area near the lawn.

When rust occurs at this time, improved growth conditions of early fall often get lawns growing more vigorously, and the rust fades away. Early September is a key time for fertilization. If conditions are dry, irrigation is also needed to increase the growth rate of the lawn.

Fungicides are rarely suggested for rust control on home lawns. Focus on the cultural practices described above.

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Biting insects

They're back, and almost a month earlier than normal. During the late summer, small insects known as insidious flower bugs and minute pirate bugs become real pests by producing painful bites on people. They are about 1/5 of an inch long, with black and white markings on the back.

They are beneficial insects most of the time while feeding on small insects and their eggs. They are present all summer in area fields, flower beds and other landscape areas. Then they become quite the nuisance when their regular food source runs out.

Their painful bite is caused by their beak breaking your skin. These insects don't suck blood or inject venom like mosquitoes. People differ in their response to the bites. Some people react to the bites like mosquito bites, with swelling and itching. Other people have no reaction at all.

Control of insidious flower bugs and minute pirate bugs is not practical. They are mobile, and the populations change greatly. Wearing dark clothing may help, as the insects seem to be attracted to light colors.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension]

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