There is no shortage of highly efficient pesticides chemical agents and available on the market to deal with the pests and diseases that blight our lawns. However, as we become more environmentally aware, organic alternatives are increasingly being sought. For many common pest and infection problems, there are alternatives. Here are a smattering of tips for the environmentally-conscious gardener for dealing with that bothersome garden pest - the leatherjacket.
Leather jackets Leatherjackets are essentially the babies of the Crane Fly – more commonly known as "Daddy Long Legs". They cause enormous damage to lawns by feeding on roots of the grass, starving it of nutrition and causing discolouration and sometimes even death.
Adult Crane flies hatch around late July and August and proceed to lay their own batch of eggs in the ground within a day. The new larvae hatch 2 weeks later and start to feed. They continue to do this throughout the winter and into spring until May and sometimes even June.
The larvae stay underground during the hours of daylight and do not move up to the turf leaves until night has fallen and the moon rides high in the sky. They are easily dried out by the rays of the sun but, sometimes on very wet and cloudy days, the larvae can be seen on the surface. They are around an inch in length with a leathery greyish brown skin and most closely resemble a super-large maggot.
Damage to turf is most severe when the leather jackets are fully grown in the springtime. Areas of grass of weak or yellowin where the roots have been damaged are the most obvious visible symptoms, and the grass can be easily pulled up. This indicates that the roots have been killed by leahterjacket damage. Other damage can also be caused by animals digging up grass in order to find and eat the larvae – their size and nutritional content makes them a valuable source of food through the winter months for various bird and mammal species.
The best time to tackle these meddlesome grass pests is when they are in the larval stage. Although you can remove them by hand, this is a time-intensive process and obviously prone to the chance of leaving stragglers behind. The organic, environmentally alternative? Nematodes.
Nematodes are one of nature’s wonders - a fabulously diverse range of worm species that fulfill many roles in nature. For gardeners with an environmental conscience, their primary use lies in the specifics of certain species of nematode. Some of them have evolved to feed exclusively on particular species – and leatherjackets are amongst them.
In the case of leatherjackets, nematodes attack the larvae and kill them inside a fortnight. Applying nematodes to your lawn between late August until the end of October gives you a great chance to rid yourself of tiresome pests. A spring application can be made in the case of severe infestations if the soil temperature is over 10 degrees Celsius.
The advantages of using Nematodes are:
- They are only harmful to the specific species they target. You’re your children or pets, the wildlife and the environment will all remain completely safe during their use.
- They are easy to use.
- Whereas pests can develop resistance to chemical pesticides, they have no way to develop immunity to nematodes.
- The nematodes will breed in the host larvae and then move through the soil looking for more victims. A single application of nematodes can produce several generations of millions of creatures, all dedicated to finding and killing leatherjackets.
So if you’re looking for a great, environmentally friendly way to rid your lawn of these pests, look no further than the humble nematode. Ask your garden centre to provide you with nematodes specifically designed to tackle this troublesome pest and watch your lawn come back to life!