Horticulture expert to discuss spring lawn care
April 5, 2007
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent with K-State Research & Extension-Douglas County, will take readers' questions about spring lawn care - from planting to fertilizing, mowing to weed control.
Welcome to today's chat. We're joined today by Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, who will be taking your questions about lawn care and other landscape topics.
Thanks for being here, Bruce.
Thank you Mindie
It is nice to be here today
We have lots of questions. We'll try and get to as many as we can. Here's the first one.
When using spot chemical weed killers (the kind in sprays) do they harm other plants (like shrubs, flowers [specifically peonies]and lawns) or just kill plants we consider weeds (dandelions etc.)?
Spot weed killers, or liquid weed killers, contain chemicals that are designed to kill specific kinds of plants. However, they may also damage off target, or desirable plants, if not used safely. As a general rule, it is not advised to spray chemicals in areas that are not listed on the lable. Likewise, do not spray plants that are not listed. The result may be a dead plant that you did not intend to kill.
My neighbors "lawn" is about 90 percent clover. What is the best way to keep his clover from overtaking my lawn.
I hear this question a lot - - neighbors weeds moving over to my yard. The key is prevention. The best method of controlling weeds is to prevent them with good cultural practices. Mowing the lawn high (3" to 3 1/2"), watering when needed and fertilizing in May, September, and November. These are what I call the "Three Pillars of Kansas Lawn Care" . Weeds are the result of an unhealthy turf and not the cause. So, if you are able to keep your lawn in good shape, the weeds will naturally disappear or will not gain a hold.
Do I need to cover my dogwood or my Japanese maple for the next few days with the expected freeze?
Let's hope not. But there is more to covering a plant than just throwing a blanket or sheet over the top. The theory to covering is that there has to be a heat source to keep the temperature under the cover above freezing. This is difficult to do with a tree or shrub. With the prediction of cold weather these next few nights, I hate to say it, but I think it is a wait and see type situation. If the temperatures hover around the 27 to 28 degree range, most plants should be fine. Below that, especially into the high teens and low 20's, we could see branch and twig death. In either case, be patient and see what happens. Plants have the great abilty to bounce back fairly quickly from damage such as this.
I have two dogs, one a still a 10 month old puppy...therefore I also have brown spots in my lawn caused by urine. How can they be prevented/treated? Thanks.
Another common question - - what we call "dog spot". Female dogs are usually the culprit. Their urine is high in concentrated salts and that is what burns the turf. To mimimize the problem, try to teach the dog to do her business in the same part of the yard, and after she is finished, water the area heavily with tap water to dilute the salts.
I just moved into a house in the fall, and although it's a green yard, most of that is just weeds. What's the first step I need to take to see more grass instead of weeds?
Going back to the question above - - utilize the "Three Pillars of Kansas Lawn Care". Once you are able to get the grass established, the weeds should just disappear. Over seed the lawn both now and in the fall to encourage new grass growth and then maintain that grass correctly.
I just put grass seed down last weekend and was told to water once or twice a day. Since the cold spell I have not watered and don't know if I am making a mistake or if it is better to wait until the temperature goes up again.
The key to getting grass seed to germinate and grow is to keep it moist - - thus the recommendation for watering once or twice a day. But as the temperatures drop and the water is not evaporating as quickly, you can get away with skipping a watering here and there. Just observe the soil as the temperatures rise again next week and pick up the pace if need be.
Bruce, when should a person put fertilizer on their lawn? In the early spring or in the fall? Also, do all lawns need (some)fertilizer on a yearly basis? Or, rather, do you only add fertilizer to your lawn if it looks/appears a certain way. Thanks!
Fertilizing a lawn results in one thing - - grass growth. If you are not wanting to encourage grass growth then keep the fertilizer to a minimum. The current K-State recommendation is to apply not more than 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn each year for cool season lawns. About 1 pound of N per 1000 sqft for warm season grasses. For cool season lawns, those applications should be made in Sept, Nov, and May. These are listed in the order of importance. For warm season grasses, make one application in either July or August. Without fertilizer, lawns may be sparce, weak and prone to weed invasion. However, too much fertilizer means excessive growth that has to be mowed. You be the judge.
I've read that typical lawn fertilizers are contributing to global warming, both in their production and application. Are there safer methods you could recommend?
I am not an expert on global warming. However, I can recommend other alternatives. When mowing the lawn, allow the grass clippings to fall, they add nitrgen back into the soil as well as organic matter. Similarly, topdress the lawn with organic matter such as compost or composted manure. These add some nutrients and can make a difference over time.
When attempting to start a lawn on a newly built lot should the sod be broken up before planting, or would planting with a motorized seeder be sufficient?
The trick to getting either sod or grass seed to grow is that they must be in contact with the soil. If seeding, do something that will expose the soil. That may mean roto tilling the area, or using a core areator to pull out plugs, or a hand rake if the area is small. For sodding an area, the soil must be disturbed and free of vegetation that will prevent the sod from touching the soil. Once laid, keep them moist and watch them grow.
When is the best time to lay new sod? Spring or Fall?
Either time. If you are able to water it spring (now) works just fine. If you are not able to water it, fall may be a better choice.
I have a really invasive weed that I'm pretty sure is ground ivy taking over my yard. My impression is it takes something stronger than the average herbicide to take care of it. What's the best way to get rid of it?
Control begins with proper identification. As long as it is, in fact, ground ivy, there are a couple of products to try. They are Trimec and "Weed Free Zone" which contains the chemical carfentrizone. Add a few drops of dish washing liquid to the spray to help the chemicals stick to the plants better.
Someone is asking about removing the "thatch" that has accumulated from the previous year. Does that help to grow new grass, or does it promote weed growth?
Thatch is a very common concern in home lawns. Thatch is an accumulation of dead grass and leaves that are slow to break down. A little is good, but too much is not. Thatch layers 1/2" or smaller are fine. It helps to insulate the soil just as mulch in a flower bed would. More than 1/2" needs to be delt with. I recommend core aerating each fall. After a few years the thach will be under control.
I have a mole or other burrowing critter in my yard. I'm familiar with the "guillotine" or spike-type devices that take them out. Can you recommend humane and environmentally safer ways to repel/capture them (other than consulting with Bill Murray)?
Although Bill Murray's methods were extream....he blew up the golf course, his mission was the same - - remove the critter. The traps you speak of are the best methods of control. Other products on the market just do not work reliably. Moles are in the yard because they have found it to be suitable habbitat. Making the environment unsuitable is not easy if not impossible. My suggestion is to eiher use the trap or find a friend or neighbor with a dog. I know of several dogs that are good mole hunters.
What perennials will stand up to the cold temperatures and which ones need to be covered? I'm particularly concerned about astilbes, clematis, peonies, day lilies and ferns that already have significant growth because of last week's warm temperatures.
Although the plants that you show concern about will withstand a mild frost, they may be damaged by colder temperatures. With that said, unless you are able to effectively cover them, it may be best to leave them alone. What most likely will happen is that the exposed foliage will be frosted and will turn black and die. But, this should not harm the overall health of the plant and new shoots will sprout just in time for another frost in two to three weeks.
That does it for today's chat. Thanks, Bruce, for coming in today.
Thanks Mindie. It was a pleasure to be here and we had some great questions. If the readers have more questions feel free to write us at the Extension office at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Extension Master Gardeners at email@example.com