NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR MARCH 10, 2007

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WHAT KIND OF LAWN DO YOU WANT?

BY GEORGE EDGAR

          What kind of lawn do you want this next summer? Some may think that is a strange question because we all want a nice green lush lawn with no weeds, and minimum care. The problem is we want the impossible. The best looking lawn in town requires work, water, and money.  

          If you want a low maintenance lawn that requires a minimum amount of water, fertilizer, weed control, insecticide, fungicide, and mowing you will have to put up with a few weeds and possibly a few brown spots. The time to decide if you want a low maintenance lawn, a high maintenance lawn, or something in-between is now. The lawn care companies are out soliciting business so you need to think about what you want before being pressured to spend more money, and then later on, more time, than you want.

The garden centers and box stores are all stocked up and ready to sell you a 4-step program, a 5-step program or even a 6 step program. Remember that these heavily advertised, 4-step, 5-step, and 6-step programs, are not necessarily good for your lawn and the environment. However, they have been great marketing tools for the garden centers, hardware stores, box stores, lawn care companies and especially the fertilizer manufacturers.

What do you really need, and how much time do you want to spend? How important is it to you to have the best looking lawn on the block? These are important questions you need to consider and answer before you buy a program or contract with a lawn care company.  

Let us look at the choices: A low maintenance fescue or bluegrass lawn is able to get by with one or two applications of fertilizer per year. I use a modified 4 bag program most every year on my low maintenance, bluegrass lawn. It is easiest for me to remember what to do when by using Holidays. I apply a pre-emergence crabgrass preventer about Arbor Day, then a grub control containing Merit without fertilizer about July 4th, then a regular fertilizer about Labor Day, and finally a winter blended fertilizer after Halloween. This year with the warm fall it was after Thanksgiving. You will notice I do not use any weed-and-feed. If I have some weeds, I spot treat those weeds. Weeds and diseases show up in a stressed lawn.

If you are going to fertilize once a year, apply in the fall, and if twice a year, the two fall applications are the most important. I always use slow release nitrogen fertilizer with iron. Iron is what makes the lawn look green, not nitrogen fertilizer. The lawn is watered only as needed and mowed about once per week. I have my mower set as high as it will go so the grass blades shade the crown and soil. This prevents unnecessary evaporation, saves water, and reduces the interval between mowing. I do not pick up my grass clippings but let them fertilize the lawn every week.

A high maintenance lawn requires more fertilizer, more water, and more mowing. Remember, the more you fertilize, the more you have to water, and the more you have to mow. Also, the more nitrogen fertilizer you apply in the early spring, the more likely you are to have insect and disease problems later on in the summer. This is because you probably stressed the grass, forcing it to grow rapidly. Insects and diseases love stressed plants and these problems require more chemicals to keep them under control. A high maintenance lawn means at least a 6-step program.

1.     A 6-step program starts with Crabgrass control with fertilizer around Arbor Day. Team or pendimethalin is the active ingredient in Scotts, Ace, Ferti-lome and many other brands. These products have a residual of about 60 days so a second application is required in June to control late germinating crabgrass and to control spurge and foxtail that does not germinate until June or early July. Dimension also has a short residual. Earl May and some other brands use Barricade which has a residual of about 90 days. For maximum effectiveness do not apply any crabgrass control product until after April 1st.

2.     The second step is a weed and feed that is applied around Memorial Day.  

3.     The third step is Grub Control with Merit or mach ii that goes on about the 4th of July, or a general lawn insecticide that goes on in late June or early July. Be aware that a general lawn insecticide that contains carbaryl (Sevin), or Bifenthrin, or permethrin (Eight), or acephate (Orthene) or malathion does not control grubs and most grub control insecticides do not control most other lawn insects. You may have to use both if you have an insect problem.

4.     The fourth step is a summer fertilizer that goes on about the middle of July. The amount of nitrogen applied is lower than regular fertilizer so it does not burn the grass, and is higher in iron than regular fertilizer.

5.     The fifth step is an application of regular lawn fertilizer about Labor Day.

6.     The sixth step is an application of a winter formulated fertilizer after Halloween.

(Whether you have a high maintenance or a low maintenance lawn, make sure that every bag of fertilizer you put on has iron in it and the nitrogen is mostly slow release.)

Most of us are somewhere in-between the low maintenance program and the high maintenance program. We like a nice lawn but it does not have to look like the golf course and may have a few weeds. But we also donít want it to look like the vacant lot down the street. Only you can decide what you can live with and how much time and money you want to spend on your lawn. Keep this in mind:

       Most homeowners put more nitrogen fertilizer on their lawns than farmers do on an irrigated cornfield.

       Lawns under stress from over fertilization, and/or mowing too short, are more likely to have disease and insect problems.

This summer be kind to your lawn, your pocketbook, and to the environment. Plan and decide now what kind of lawn you can live with. Copyright 2007