Homeowners enjoy their lawns. Some just like the look of them, an expanse of grass connecting some gardens. Others like to play on them, in games like catch or croquet. You can also just sit on them and enjoy the day.

But there are other creatures out there who like lawns too. They want to eat them. From under the ground.

I will begin with grubs — the early stages of Japanese beetles, European chafers and june bugs. A lot of lawns are looking bad, and I have been getting a lot of questions about them.

Apparently, state officials have been getting the same questions, so they sent out a news release saying, in boldface type: “Spring is not the best time to manage a grub problem.”

The reason, says Jim Dill, manager of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office, is that in spring, the grubs are almost fully mature and harder to kill. And they aren’t doing much feeding. The lawn damage you see in spring is just showing up from the feeding these grubs did last summer and fall.

Gary Fish of the Maine Board of Pesticide Control said grub treatments applied too early, when spring rains usually come, will just wash off and pollute lakes and streams.

So grub treatment should begin in mid-June or mid-July.

“This will allow the insecticide to get fully incorporated into the soil to control the new grubs, which are just hatching, are closer to the surface and are more susceptible to the effects of pesticides,” Dill said in the news release.

Christopher Turmelle of Atlantic Pest Solutions said his company has switched to a new grub treatment called Acelepryn, which is so safe that it doesn’t require a cautionary statement on the label.

Fish said Acelepryn is now sold to the public under the brand name GrubEx1, and that while initial research shows it is safe for humans and other vertebrates — and also does not harm earthworms and other beneficials in the lawn — it could cause problems for aquatic invertebrates.

And because it is fairly insoluble, it needs to be applied earlier than other treatments so it sinks down far enough to reach the grubs when they are young and susceptible. If there is a heavy rain, it could wash off into nearby lakes and streams.

“The biggest problem with Acelepryn,” Fish said, “is that it has a fairly long half-life. It lasts in the soil almost a whole year, so if it is applied year after year, it could start to build up.”

But whether you use Grub- Ex1 or an older product, read the product label and follow it.

VOLES, MOLES AND HOLES

Another lawn pest I got a lot of questions about right after the snow melted was the vole.

Voles create tunnels in your lawn, but do not eat the lawn. They just travel across the lawn so they can eat your tulip bulbs and other similar perennials.

“Voles come in the winter and make a mess, but they don’t really damage the lawn,” Fish said. “If you just tamp down the tunnels, the lawn will be fine.”

Moles make bigger tunnels and create a hole in the lawn with a hill. Moles’ favorite food is earthworms, but they will eat grubs as well.

The reason many people think moles eat grubs, Fish said, is that people used to employ highly toxic chemicals, such as Chlordane, to kill grubs. They did that, and the moles went away, because it turns out the Chlordane killed them too.

The only way to get rid of voles and moles, Turmelle and Fish both said, is with poison bait or traps. But in most cases, voles don’t cause enough damage to warrant that extreme an effort.

If you want to learn how to trap moles, Fish recommends the website themoleman.com.

IN THE WEEDS

Weeds are another lawn problem. A decade ago, homeowners and professional lawn-care companies used a lot of weed-and-feed, using fertilizer mixed with weed killer just in case a weed found a place to seed itself in the lawn.

Turmelle said his company just does spot treatment of weeds now, using a new, low-risk product called Imprelis.

“This goes down at a rate of one-tenth of an ounce per 100 square feet as opposed to one and a half ounces for most products,” Turmelle said. “It’s a lot more environmentally friendly.”

Fish said if you have weeds, you first should check to see if your soil is in proper shape. (I covered that in last week’s column, and you can find it online under “Home & Garden” at pressherald.com/life).

“If you’ve got lousy soil, it doesn’t do any good to treat the weeds,” Fish said.

And if you have enough sunlight to grow grass properly, the shade-loving weeds won’t have a chance to get going.

People who go organic and use corn gluten to treat weeds, Fish said, should realize that it is 9 percent nitrogen, so they should consider it an application of fertilizer.

What’s more, he added, new research has shown that fertilizing the lawn in the spring helps the weeds grow faster, so it is better to fertilize in the fall.

Fish has seen a lot of new products that are good at pulling weeds, but whether you use those new weed extractors or an old-fashioned garden knife, you have to plant grass in the bare ground right after you pull the weed.

“The new patch materials with fertilizer and mulch in with the seed, all ready to go, actually work pretty well,” he said. “Having something that holds moisture longer is possibly a good way to deal with bare ground.”

And for those of you who consider moss a weed, get over it. If moss is growing in an area, Fish said, it is the only thing that will grow in that area.

WITH WATERING, LESS IS MORE

Fish and Turmelle agree on watering: Less is better.

Lawns need 1 to 1.5 inches of rain a week, and it is best if they get it in one or two doses, not a little bit each day as many lawn-irrigation systems provide. Frequent watering encourages fungal diseases.

Fish said John Roberts, a turf specialist at the University of New Hampshire, says you improve drought tolerance if you wait until the lawn shows its first signs of drought before starting any watering.

(The grass is beginning to show drought when grass color becomes bluish and you see your footprints staying on the grass when you walk across it.)

My big fear this spring is that since it seems to be raining some about every day, everyone is getting the problems of the people who have irrigation systems.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

[email protected]