NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Common Lawn Questions

Lawn, spring lawn care, April watering

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources

Spring lawn questions are starting to come into the office. Below is a list of the more common questions I get this time of year. The information provided is from several different NDSU publications by Extension horticulturists and is a mix of data that I collected over the years. Feel free to call me if you need more information.

Is snow mold a problem this year?
Snow mold is much less of a problem this year due to drought. Snow molds require continuous snow cover to develop.

When can homeowners begin raking their lawn?
Homeowners can rake up leaves and debris as soon as the soil is firm. If the soil is wet, avoid doing lawn work until the soil has dried to avoid compaction.

When will Kentucky bluegrass start growing?
Our most common turfgrass starts growing when soil temperatures reach the mid-40s. Kentucky bluegrass is what we call a cool season grass.

Should you be watering your lawn in April?
In drier areas of the state, soil moisture has been depleted. Watering turf can be beneficial as the grass starts to green up and grow but it comes with risks due to our early spring. First, actively growing turf will be more susceptible to freeze damage particularly if the turf was drought-stressed last fall. Secondly, activating irrigation lines this early in spring is problematic. A freeze can rupture the pipes if there is water present.

Where can I find average first and last freeze/frost dates?


What about crabgrass preventer?
Crabgrass is an annual weed that starts to germinate when temperatures reach 55 deg. F for three to five days. The majority of seeds will germinate between soil temperatures of 60 and 70 deg. F. As the turf soil temperature starts climbing to 50 deg. F, we start to apply crabgrass preventer to interfere with germination. In our region, one application is usually sufficient for the whole season.

Where can I find average turf soil temperatures in ND?

Should the homeowner apply a combination product that contains crabgrass preventer and fertilizer?
If possible, the homeowner should purchase the pre-emergent herbicide separately from lawn fertilizer. The optimal timing is different for the spring fertilizer application. The combination products that we see in the stores are meant for southern regions of the country and not really for North Dakota. Unfortunately, the majority of our crabgrass products that we see in big box stores do contain fertilizer.

What is the optimal timing for spring fertilizer application?
Spring fertilizer application of slow-release nitrogen should be delayed until May. We normally like to see the lawn mown a couple of times before we apply fertilizer. The rationale is that spring is when turfgrass is building a long root system. If we apply fertilizer too early in spring, grass will grow long leaf blades at the expense of the root system. Considering this is probably a drought year, we don’t want to do anything that interferes with the root system.

What if the homeowner misses the window for applying a pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide?
The active ingredient, dithiopyr (brand name Dimension) has early post-emergent activity. It can control crabgrass seedlings in the one- to three-leaf stage.

What if the crabgrass seedlings are larger than three-leaf stage?
Products with the active ingredient, quinchlorac, can kill crabgrass at the two-to three-tiller stage. Once you get to July, there is not much you can do to control crabgrass other than wait for a heavy freeze to kill this annual grass.

What crabgrass preventer can the homeowners use if they are seeding a new lawn?
Siduron (Tupersan) is a weak pre-emergent herbicide that can be applied even when seeding turf. We are also starting to see a newer pre-emergent product on the market. It is a starter fertilizer that contains the active ingredient mesotrione (Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass Plus Weed Preventer).

What happened if the homeowner did not bring the lawn out of dormancy last fall?
If the lawn went into winter in a dormant state there is a good chance that a portion of the lawn will die. Reseeding or over seeding may be necessary.

Assuming that North Dakota is experiencing drought, what can homeowners do in summer to minimize stress to their lawns?

  1. Don’t apply fertilizer during the heat of summer. If the lawn is not irrigated, consider skipping the 4th of July fertilizer application. Early fall (September) is the better time to apply fertilizer.
  2. Raise the mower deck to a height of 3 to 3.25 inches. Mowing at a taller height encourages a longer root system which will be crucial in a drought. The taller height also deters weed seed germination.
  3. Mow only as necessary. Find a cool day or else mow in the evening. When mowing, don’t remove more than one third of the grass blade at a time.
  4. It is ok to allow your lawn to go dormant this summer. A dormant lawn only requires one fourth to one third the normal amount of moisture.
  5. Don’t collect lawn clippings. The clippings act as a mulch to retain moisture.
  6. Reduce foot traffic or any kind of traffic on the lawn. As you can imagine, foot traffic will add stress to a lawn that is suffering from drought.
  7. Don’t apply lawn herbicides during the heat of summer. Herbicides will cause stress on turfgrass. In addition, lawn herbicides are not that effective in summer. Fall is a much better time to apply lawn herbicides because the weeds are translocating carbohydrates to the root system. The weeds will take up the herbicide in fall and transport it to the root system, thereby killing the whole plant.

How much water does a lawn need to stay green?
One inch per week is necessary to keep the lawn green.

How much water does a dormant lawn need to survive?
The crowns (the growing point) need 1/3 to ½ inch of water every two weeks. The turf will not green up but the crowns will survive.

How long can grass stay dormant without dying?
In the absence of rain or irrigation, grass will start to thin and die after four to six weeks.

For more information contact Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources at 701.873.5195.

Source: Esther McGinnis, NDSU Associate Professor, Horticulturist, esther.mcginnis@ndsu.edu


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