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 Revealing the enemy: Sting nematodes

Recent studies have shown that the people of WA see increasing value in sport and recreational green spaces. Participation in outdoor sports, particularly for children, is going through the roof, a real positive in this new “couch potato” age of digital entertainment. However, as we head in to the summer sports season, a microscopic worm or ectoparasite is causing sportsground caretakers some very expensive headaches.

Sting nematodes love sandy soil with a constant source of moisture, conditions found on most well looked after sportsfields, and they eat the roots of turf grass plants from below. This tiny organism does not discriminate between leafy older suburbs and the newest. Controlling and eradicating this pest is a deeply vexing issue. Nematicides are available, but these are amongst the most toxic of chemical treatments, posing danger to contractors who apply them and the children who subsequently play on the sprayed turf. Under the soil, the nematicide creates dead zones, killing almost all the good biology in the soil along with the nematodes.

When Mandurah City Council faced this nematode threat to its newly opened Meadow Springs sports complex, the first thought was to dig up the grass and underlying sand and replace with new sand and roll-on grass at a cost of some $900,000. They opted instead for an experimental treatment with a composted top dressing product from C-Wise. To the disbelief of many, the nematodes disappeared, the grass grew back looking better than ever and the cost - around 5% of the replacement treatment.

What was happening here?  While the numbers of the destructive sting nematode declined to almost undetectable levels, there was a mixed population of other nematodes still present. These forms didn't eat grass roots. Essentially, the native biology of the soil fought back against the pest nematode and made its life uncomfortable. The compost contains a greasy black substance called humus, which has the ability to stimulate the native soil biology in all its complexity to protect its host, the lawn plants, from predators.

Research at the University of WA Turf facility is showing that recreational turf needs a minimum of 7500 litres of water per hectare per year in order to survive in a serviceable fashion in Perth. Some councils have agreed to lower water allocations for their ovals and active parklands.  When sting nematodes come to these new suburb grounds, the result is devastation.  In order to keep an affected lawn green, luxury levels of water are needed.

Research in 2015 by Sports Turf Technology has revealed that in excess of 40% of WA’s recreational turf is infested with damaging levels of sting nematodes.  Over the last few years they have also shown a very clear case for a biological approach using composted products as the most effective treatment. A further bonus of humus rich composted materials is these improve the soil water holding capacity, helping the turf to be more resilient to sudden drought as occurs when irrigation systems have hiccups.

If you are interested in using C-Wise products to fight a sting nematode infestation, or would like us to visit your sportsground to investigate the problems and help find solutions, please email cecilia.leroux[at]cwise.com.au