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Bouncing back to normal
Grass is greener...
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Summer is here. One of the “for sure” hints is the arrival of the tent caterpillar in the pecans and hickories. No, those are not the only trees with them, but if you are a tent caterpillar, pecan and hickory leaves are hard to beat.
There is a lot going on. Lots of calls about ants and millipedes invading homes, the first few mosquito calls wafting in, and a good slug of well water calls from Saint Simons and the immediate coastline of the mainland in Glynn. Bryan County is distinguished by something that is not there — the sound of construction. The sound of hammers and saws are rare now that the brakes have been put on water withdrawal permitting.
Does anyone remember the stretch of drought we suffered through for several years until late last year? The consequences of the drought and the breaking of it are still with us. When the rainfall comes back, the smaller vegetation comes back first. Trees may take up to two years before their physiology returns to normal. The vegetation is food for the bugs and critters. After the plants come back the bugs and pests follow. Here and there a hot spot of a pest or two have developed, but these populations will crash back to a sustainable equilibrium over the next couple of years.
Recovery of the surficial aquifer and the shallower aquifers will take longer. We have several wells along the coast of Glynn County that have begun sucking saltwater. The problem was so bad with one well that Dr. Sonon at UGA’s Soil, Plant and Water Lab in Athens accused me of playing a joke by sending her a bottle of ocean water. This is exactly the type of problem the moratorium on water withdrawal permits in Bryan, Chatham, Liberty and southern Effingham counties is trying to avoid.
We do hope the science is sound, because a moratorium on water permits is the fastest way to shut down new construction. In this economy, we need all the jobs we can find. The counterpoint of course is that if we break the aquifers, there will not be any jobs for anybody for generations. Aquifers are fast to break but take a long time to mend.
When the Christmas tsunami hit the Indian Ocean in 2004, the mathematical models were confirmed. A couple hours of overwash by tsunami waves contaminated the surficial aquifers. Those aquifers are just now reaching equilibrium with their pre-tsunami freshwater profiles. Allowing saltwater into limestone aquifers that have been purged by fresh water for thousands of years will adsorb sodium from seawater very quickly. It will take decades for the sodium to be released back into the freshwater flow once pressure is restored to the aquifer.
During all that time, the purging water will be brackish and require at least reverse osmosis to clean it up for domestic consumption. It might be easier to treat surface water, but building new water treatment plants is hugely expensive. The best alternative is prevention because the alternatives are terribly expensive.
Now in the middle of summer, lawn fertilization is usually limited to straight nitrogen applications. Our soils usually are deficient in potassium and we add that to our fertilizer menu in the spring and autumn. But in the height of summer, nitrogen is all we need.
The best bang for your buck is with slow-release forms of nitrogen. Some are natural and organic, some are synthetic and organic, some are natural and mineral, and yet others are synthetic and mineral. It does not make a bit of difference to the plants or to me which type of nitrogen source you use, just so long as it is also in a slow-release form. That slow release might be natural, or synthetic. Again, which one it is makes no difference to the plants or me, just so long as it is slow release.
Put down a fast-release nitrogen source and a heavy rain can leach most of it away overnight. Standing water over soil for 48 hours removes all the nitrogen from the soil. It evolves off as nitrogen gas. Slow-release is so much more efficient than fast-release because a rainstorm or inundation only loses the amount of nitrogen available that day. The remaining two months of nitrogen is still conserved in the soil. Best to keep the nitrogen in the lawn where the grass can use it to grow and make the flowers bloom rather than have it run off into the marsh and make the algae bloom.
St. Augustine lawn owners should start looking for chinch bug activity now. If you are managing your lawn yourself, I strongly encourage you to have chinch bug control on hand at home so you can treat as soon as you find them and not wait until the next day. Yes, they can explode in your lawn that fast.  
If you are having your lawn managed by a lawn care company, you still should know how to identify the problem so you can let your turf guy know they are there if they show up between scheduled visits. Do not expect a “mow, blow and go” lawn service to control lawn pests. It is against state and federal law for a company to apply pesticides unless they are a licensed pesticide contractor and have a commercial pesticide applicator with the appropriate category endorsements on staff. Plan before the problem hits.
Throughout the past several years, the drought has largely kept mosquito issues off the front pages. Just as other pests are rebounding, I expect to see mosquitoes come roaring back this year. It is time to revisit your landscape and look for things that hold rainwater and find a way to drain them. It is not the job of Mosquito Control to overcome your irresponsible yard-keeping. And please, don’t complain about being bitten by a mosquito if you were not even wearing repellant at the time.

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

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