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Dakota Gardener: Save Money on Lawn Care

You can have a quality lawn by fertilizing once or twice a year.

By Tom Kalb, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension

The prices of gas, groceries and nearly everything else are rising with no end in sight. Where can we save some money?

Start with your lawn.

Let me preface my comments by saying you can spend your money however you like. There is nothing wrong with spending lots of money on your lawn if you want to.

You don’t have to.

Start with fertilization. The five-step fertilizer programs sold by some fertilizer companies and lawn care services are not required. You can have a quality lawn by fertilizing once or twice a year.

Fertilize your lawn around Labor Day. This is when fertilizer has its greatest impact because September is when turf roots grow. The key to a healthy turf is a vigorous root system. A fertilization around Memorial Day is also helpful but certainly is not required.

As far as other times go, fertilizing your lawn before Memorial Day has little, if any long-term benefit for most lawns. Fertilizing in summer has very little benefit unless your lawn is regularly irrigated.  

Don’t collect your clippings. Clippings contain nitrogen. Recycle the clippings on your lawn and you will be giving it a free fertilization every year. Free! Clippings also shade the soil, reducing the need for watering.

Speaking of watering, residential water fees are rising in many communities. If you want to irrigate your lawn, make every drop count. You can reduce the loss of water from evaporation by irrigating in the morning and avoiding windy days.

Water deeply, not frequently. Your turf roots will grow where the water is applied. It’s better to irrigate deeply once per week to promote the growth of a deep root system than to irrigate shallowly several times every week.

If you really want to save money, don’t irrigate your lawn at all. It is okay to let your turf go dormant for a month or two in summer. The lawn will perk up when temperatures cool off in fall.

You can keep your lawn greener for longer in summer if you mow tall. The taller your lawn, the cooler the soil will be. The taller your lawn, the deeper its roots naturally grow. That’s critical.

You can save money on herbicides. Do you have some dandelions in your lawn? There is nothing wrong with that. We are all being brainwashed to think that a few flowers in the lawn are terrible. Dandelions are natural; poisonous herbicides are not. Show an innocent child a dandelion and they will tell you it is pretty. Children can be full of wisdom.

If you want to kill weeds economically, do it when weeds are most vulnerable. This is in mid- to-late September. Sprays in spring and summer are much less effective.

You can save more money on herbicides by spot-spraying your weeds instead of spraying your entire lawn.

Lastly, you can save money on aeration expenses. Don’t get me wrong; aeration is good. It loosens the soil and promotes root development. But aeration is a luxury in most cases. Unless your soil is compacted or full of thatch, it does not need aeration.

Let’s sum it up. Fertilize and kill weeds in fall. Don’t collect clippings. Mow tall. Irrigate infrequently/deeply or not at all. Limit aeration to only when absolutely needed.

You just saved yourself a fistful of dollars and still have an attractive lawn.

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/county-extension-offices.


NDSU Agriculture Communication – June 7, 2022

 Source: Tom Kalb, 701-328-9722, tom.kalb@ndsu.edu

Editor: Kelli Anderson, 701-231-6136, kelli.c.anderson@ndsu.edu

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