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Essential Tips for a Healthy Lawn, Part II

Photo: Gail Hudson, Extension Communications
It's July already and I know you've taken our first 5 tips* for helping your lawn look fabulous to heart! So what's left? How about a way to control Creeping Charlie? How much fertilizer does your lawn need? And what's a good grass for a slope?

We'll cover all that and more. If you don't have time to read through these tips, glance over Extension's Lawn Care Calendar. It will keep you and your lawn on track!

The following material excerpted from a 2017 presentation by former Extension Educator Sam Bauer, "10 Tips for a Healthy Lawn." 

*Haven't read Part One yet? Here's the link.

Tip #6: Fertilize appropriately

If used correctly, fertilizers can help you improve and maintain your lawn. Healthy lawns limit erosion, cool the environment and control allergens, among many other benefits.

All fertilizers add nutrients to the soil to help plant growth. Many factors affect the amount of nutrients to apply on an established lawn. A soil test can help you decide how much of each nutrient to apply. 

The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory is a good resource. As of July, 2019, the cost of a sample is $17. 

Some of the factors to consider are: 
  • What kind of turfgrass you have
  • Access to water
  • Percentage of soil organic matter
  • Amount of sun/shade
  • Your expectations for your lawn!
Nitrogen helps grass green up and stay healthy. It is the first number on that fertilizer bag. So in the photo above, that means the first "10" means 10% nitrogen. To apply 1 pound of nitrogen, you'll need 10 pounds of that product. 

Natural and manufactured fertilizers have different qualities, but it is necessary to take precautions when using either of them. When properly applied, fertilizers pose few risks to humans or animals.

Minnesota Phosphorus Fertilizer Law

The middle number on the bag refers to the amount of phosphorus in the fertilizer. According to laws in Minnesota, you can't apply fertilizer containing phosphorus to grass unless:
  1. A tissue or a soil test performed within the last 3 years indicates there's a deficiency of phosphorus.
  2. You are establishing turfgrass with seed or sod (the first year).

When to fertilize

If the weather is hot, it's not the right time to fertilize. The best time is early August through mid October. May through late June is an "okay" time to do it.

For more information about fertilizing, read Extension's Fertilizing Lawns. 

Tip #7: Use pesticides judiciously

According to Sam, if you want a healthy sustainable lawn, you'll need to do the right thing at the right time. By following Extension's Lawn Care Calendar for Minnesotans, for example, you will lower the amount of pesticides your lawn may need and you'll improve the environmental benefits. 

So just how do you go about reducing the amount of herbicide you might use on your lawn? 
  • Monitor weeds before they become a huge problem.
  • Use good cultural practices to keep the weeds from invading the grass. For example, set your mowing height to 3 inches or more. 
  • Don't treat weeds everywhere in your lawn. Decide which locations are top priority. For example, you may have crabgrass along the edges of the curb. And that may be an important area for you to treat. 
To help you determine what might be wrong with your turfgrass, take a look at Extension's What's wrong with my plant? site on lawn grasses.
Why is your lawn is being invaded by weeds?  It means you have some type of poor site or soil conditions. Here are some examples of those conditions: 
  • Compacted soil
  • Low nitrogen
  • Poor drainage
  • High pH
  • Surface moisture (you have moss or algae)
  • Low mowing, moist areas
  • Dry areas
  • New seeding
By correcting these conditions, you'll encourage better turfgrass competition for each specific weed.
Learn more about controlling weeds in your lawn: Control Options for Common Minnesota Lawn and Landscape Weeds.
Creeping Charlie.
Photo: Bob Mugass, UMN Extension

Control Creeping Charlie (Ground ivy)

In a lawn, Creeping Charlie (otherwise known as ground ivy) has a competitive advantage in the shade. It's a vigorous, aggressive perennial with creeping, above-ground stems (stolons). 

It remains green year round, and its fibrous roots and new stems can form readily at every stem node or joint on the stem. Here are some solutions for controlling it: 

  1. Grow shade tolerant grass species such as fine fescue, tall fescue or supina bluegrass. You can also cut branches and remove some of the shade cover to increase the sunlight in the area. This improves growing conditions for the grass and helps it to be more competitive with weeds like these. 
  2. Reduce the population of plants by hand pulling the plants and stolons. Repeated removals help keep Creeping Charlie in check.
  3. In the fall, use a combination post-emergent herbicide that contains triclopyr. You may need to reapply to get rid of all the Creeping Charlie. The best time to apply is in the fall and in spring when these plants are at peak bloom. 
Read more about Creeping Charlie (ground ivy) here.
Photo: Gail Hudson, Extension Communications

Tip #8: Follow Extension's 'Lawn Care Calendar'

It's important to time the maintenance of your lawn with the life cycle of the grass species you've got. Here in Minnesota, our lawns are typically made up of cool season turf grasses that can bear the stress of changing weather and can survive harsh winters. 

These grasses endure throughout the seasons because they grow rapidly during spring and fall when temperatures are cool and then become inactive during the heat and drought of summer.

Did you know....? Your grass grows best when the air temperature are between 55-75 degrees F.

A sustainable lawn care routine should support this natural life cycle of cool season grasses. In early spring, grass roots are long and full of nutrients stored from the fall. In the heat of the summer, leaf and root growth slow down. Grass plants will even rest during the times of heat and drought. In the fall, shoots start growing again and nutrients are stored in the long roots for winter.
Courtesy: Cornell University
Extension has made it easier for homeowners to keep track of what to do and when with its 'Lawn Care Calendar.' It will help you decide when to do the following tasks: 

Tip #9: Stay educated! 

Lots of ways to stay on top of what's happening! And here are just a few: 
The University of Minnesota in partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, with funding from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund, will be holding a Flowering Bee Lawn Field Day Open House.
Flowering bee lawn.
Date/time:  Wednesday, July 31st from 3-5 p.m. 
Place: Audubon Park, 1320 29th Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis, MN 55418
What:  Come see an established bee lawn in a Minneapolis park and learn:
  • How to install a bee lawn
  • Which flowering plants can be used
  • How to maintain a bee lawn
  • What kind of bee diversity to expect   
You can also see what different kinds of turfgrasses look like along the 3-miles drive at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. 

For detailed lawn maintenance and care information, former Extension Turfgrass Educator Sam Bauer recommends this book: Turfgrass Maintenance Reduction Handbook: Sports, Lawns and Golf by Doug Brede.  It can be found online at many different sources. 

Tip #10: Consider alternatives to traditional lawns. 

For decades, the American ideal has been an expansive lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass. Thanks to turfgrass scientific research, today there are lots of choices for turfgrass. For example, low maintenance, drought-tolerant lawns, grass species that work well for slopes, and grasses combined with pollinator-attractive plants to create a bee lawn. 
Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) at
the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
Photo: Mary Meyer, UMN Extension Horticulturist

What kind of grass works well on a slope?

You can try either non-turf plantings (perennial ground covers) or no-mow grasses such as Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica). This non-invasive creeping plant forms a dense green mat which can be mown 2-3 times a year. 

What's a bee lawn? 

There is a lot of “buzz” about bee lawns lately, especially with the new law that Minnesota recently passed that will provide grants for homeowners to provide bee habitat. 

In fact, recent research from graduate student James Wolfin shows that homeowners can still have a lawn while also providing nectar forage for native pollinators.
Along with grass, these lawns contain native flowers that are especially important to native bees, have a high germination rate, grow quickly and are adaptable.

You can find much more information about flowering bee lawns at the UMN Bee Lab.



For more information about lawn maintenance and care, here's a list of resources: 
Author: Gail Hudson, Extension Communications with excerpts from a 2017 presentation by former Extension Educator Sam Bauer, "10 Tips for a Healthy Lawn."

*Haven't read Part One yet? Here's the link.

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