Lawn & Gardening Tips for December

Lawns:  Turf can survive 5 to 8 weeks of dry conditions without substantial thinning or death. However, poor soils, traffic, excess heat, low mowing and/or scalping and improper fertility (too much nitrogen fertiliser in spring, not enough in autumn) reduces the survival of turf during drought. Mow as often as needed and at the upper end of the optimum range of mowing heights for the particular species. Avoid heavy spring nitrogen fertiliser. Water deeply and infrequently, keeping the surface of the soil as dry as possible. Water thoroughly to wet the soil to the depth of the root zone and then don’t water again until areas of the turf turn a slight bluish-gray. Not only will this tend to encourage deeper rooting, it will also conserve water to help to make more water available later. Water early in the morning (between 4 and 9 am) and avoid watering during the heat of the day because much of the water is lost to evaporation. Consider aggressive aeration (coring) to reduce soil compaction and improve rooting.

Remember that frequent, light watering will result in shallow roots near the surface that are stressed on hot days. We then feel obliged to give the lawn additional water (waste after waste).

Grass webbing mite is active during warm, humid weather. The presence of these pests is not noticed until large bleached circular patches are noticed in the lawn. Get down on your hands and knees, and look. Various fungi and other pests can also cause similar dry patches. Normally grass-webbing mites leave a fine white web on the blades of grass, but it is only in very heavy infestations that this becomes so obvious that it cannot be missed. The mites are very small but may just be seen with the naked eye. As they are sap suckers the leaves have a silvery white appearance and the affected patch may look quite dry, as though the grass has not been watered.

Of all the beneficial predaceous insects, the ladybird beetles are perhaps the most important. Both adults and larvae feed on aphids, scale insects, and many other injurious species. Ladybeetles will devour up to 50 aphids a day as well as help control scale, mealybugs, and leafhoppers.  These beetles lay clusters of yellow/orange eggs that hatch into larvae. Lady beetle larvae are small, furry, alligator-shaped insects that feed voraciously on aphids and other soft-bodied insects and eggs.  Collecting ladybeetles for release on insect infested plants after sundown will reduce the number of beetles that fly away, since this is their feeding time.

Summer active weeds should be zapped with herbicide before they flower and go to seed.  Summer grass (Digitaria sanguinalis), a more or less prostrate weed with stout stems and hairy leaves, somewhat similar to Paspalum, is actively growing in many lawns.

SHRUBS: Marguerite daisies and Pelargonium (geraniums) should be trimmed back after flowering. Remove at least one third of the foliage to encourage a dense, bushy habit.

Deadheading, or removing the finished flowers, from roses is a good way to keep them reblooming. Don’t leave the old flowerheads to turn into rose hips. Remove those, and any faded flowers.  If there is a bud on the end waiting to bloom, leave this branch intact until it is d one. At that time, cut it back to a strong new shoot which will produce new buds. Then when this branch has finished it can be cut back even further into the bush and an entirely new branch will shoot out to give more flowers into autumn.

White Tailed Spider:  The white tailed spider has been found in Australia for many years. It is easily identified by its elongated shape, (1 – 2.5 cm body length), cylindrical lemon pip shaped abdomen and is velvety black with dirty white markings at the top of the abdomen and on the tip of the tail.

When found indoors, this common spider inhabits wardrobes, clothes left on the floor, bedclothes, bathrooms, laundries and behind curtains. It is normally nomadic, living in the garden under rocks, ground litter and other foliage and most active at night, living off small insects and spiders. Their nomadic nature leads them into homes where they are most commonly found during Spring to late Autumn. White tailed spiders are not web bound and catch their prey by predation. Being hunters, they are swift moving and scurry away when disturbed.

White tailed spiders only bite if provoked and are not normally aggressive to humans.  The spider is suspected of causing skin necrosis, (the decomposition of flesh) in 14 spider bites over the past 10 years. However, until recently, none of the victims could positively identify what bit them.

Common sense in the home is the best way to avoid spider bites. Be able to correctly identify the white tailed spider and be aware of the places they like to hide. If bitten by a white tailed spider the wound should be washed with disinfectant, and if painful an ice pack or anaesthetic cream applied. Try to find and keep the spider responsible for the bite for future identification. Medical attention is recommended if the patient does not improve in 2-3 hours.