It’s early in the year, and green industry professionals share the same goal — they want to get off to a good start. This is especially true of sports turf managers. Once the teams start practicing it seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done exactly the way it should be. The feeling only gets worse if you start the year behind schedule, because you’re always playing catch-up.

One critical management element where you don’t want to fall behind is pest control. Whether its insects, fungus or weeds, preventing pest damage on turf is crucial to your success. Early-season pests don’t differ much from those that occur later in the season except that timing is on your side. Take advantage of this key factor to keep unwanted pests and diseases at bay.

Consider the field history

Get a jump on early-season pests by searching your records for which pests caused damage the previous year. In many ways, simpler is better. A three-ring binder with lined paper is a good record-keeping tool, as it can provide timely, detailed information regarding which pests caused damage, as well as where and when they were a problem. Depending on the size of your facility, you may be able to keep disease and pest information from multiple years in one notebook. If you manage a larger complex, one notebook per year may be in order.

A notebook entry can include additional details for certain fields or specific areas within a field. This is helpful for sites that have been especially problematic. Another useful approach involves making notations on a calendar within the notebook. This will allow quick and easy access to information while comparing it to other time periods. Finally, a pocket in the notebook to store plant care tags is an important, but commonly overlooked, feature. Again, this storage system can be as simple or as complex as necessary. The point is, tags from bags of turf seed and care tags for annuals, perennials and shrubs provide important information that will help you make management decisions during the upcoming season.

Regular turf inspection is a good preventive step for many maladies.


Dedicate some time to a thorough search for early-season pests. Scouting can involve significant amounts of time, but could also be a quick “look-see” in many cases. For example, webworms overwinter as partially grown larvae within silk-lined tunnels in the thatch and upper layers of soil. If you’ve seen this type of damage before, and the historical information from your notebook indicates that webworms have been a problem on a particular field in the past, the time required to determine/confirm the presence of these turf pests may be minimal.

Monitoring, or scouting, involves frequent inspections of turf and ornamental plantings to detect early signs of diseases, weeds, insects and their damage. The primary goal monitoring is to detect, identify and describe disease and pest infestations. All turf and landscape areas should be monitored on a regular basis during the growing season.

Sampling involves the use of specific techniques designed to detect and identify diseases and insect pests and assess their damage. For example, sampling may be initiated when an insect infestation is suspected, at appropriate times during a pest’s life cycle, or in historically infested areas. Sufficient samples must be taken to assure a reasonably accurate estimate of pest numbers in the sampled area.

Typical early-season pests

Sod webworm overwintering larvae – Depending on your location and weather conditions during fall and winter, webworms can cause significant early season damage. They complete development, pupate and emerge as adults (moths) in early summer. The tan-colored adults rest in the turf and on shrubs during the day and randomly scatter their eggs into the grass in late afternoon and early evening, typically flying in a zigzag fashion just above the turf surface. Eggs hatch in about a week, and the first generation larvae feed until midsummer. Second and third generations are possible, depending on the season and locale.

Overwintering populations of sod webworms can be problematic.

Pine sawflies – Be sure to check your scotch and other short-needled pines for sawfly injury. These chewing insects feed only on the previous season’s needles, since the new candles will not have been produced yet, hence their classification as an early-season pest. For best results, treat for pine sawflies while larvae are still small and before they have caused significant needle damage.

Don’t let pine sawflies get away from you; they can cause lots of early-season damage in a hurry.

Snow mold – Though it’s too late at this point to treat, snow mold will be evident as an early-season disease, as well as the look-alike condition of snow and ice damage. Management strategies for snow mold include the installation of snow fences to reroute snow away from important playing surfaces, snow removal where practical, judicious applications of fertilizer following injury to encourage regrowth, overseeding to replace damaged turf plants, as well as application of preventive fungicides to high-value and/or previously injured turf in late fall.

White grubs – Most grub species overwinter as larvae, and some feed for a short time in spring before pupating. On rare occasions, these grubs can cause additional damage, particularly on turf stressed from other factors, such as snow mold or winter injury. In general, however, the majority of white grub damage likely occurred during the previous late summer and fall, and a spring treatment would not be justified. Save your product for white grub infestations later in the season.

Voles – Tunneling from voles can cause some odd-looking and unsightly damage in early spring. Most damage occurs in the winter as voles move through their runways under the snow. The greatest damage occurs during years of heavy snowfall. Vole damage can be reduced by habitat modification, exclusion, trapping, repellents and the use of poison baits.

Summer patch – Even though summer patch doesn’t cause visible damage early in the season, infection of the roots takes place at this time. To prevent summer patch symptoms in early to midsummer, preventive fungicide applications must be applied in early spring. This is a classic example of when good notes and documentation are essential for effective disease and pest control.

Sunscald – Though not a pathogenic disease, this malady can cause severe damage to shade trees at sports facilities. During winter, thin-barked trees can be warmed by the sun to the point where the bark becomes tender and subject to damage during later periods of extreme cold. Prevent sunscald by leaning a pair of boards that have been nailed together to form a “V” against the southwest side of the tree. Paint the boards white to reflect winter sun rays. PVC drainpipe can also be used. Split the pipe vertically and loosely enclose the trunk. Again, painting the pipe white is recommended. PVC drainpipe will also help protect thin-barked trees from mouse damage during the winter.

Prostrate knotweed – Germinating soon after the snow melts, knotweed has the reputation of a weed that grows under compacted conditions. Actually, knotweed does not really prefer compacted soils, but it is able to produce roots when soil particles are smashed together sufficiently to form an unsuitable growing medium for desirable turfgrasses. Relieve compaction through core aerification and traffic control, and apply appropriate three or four-way postemergence herbicides early in the season just as the plants are starting to emerge. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

John Fech is an extension educator specializing in turf and ornamentals at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Frederick P. Baxendale is a professor and extension entomologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.