Fall Update

Since we haven't had a hard frost yet in Grand Forks (we've only flirted with 32 degrees a few times overnight), I thought I'd give you an update on the lawn.
I put down weed killer right after Labor Day and there are very few weeds in the lawn now. Steve Sagaser from NDSU Extension says the fall application will also help cut down on weeds in the spring.

The grass is also looking nice and green thanks to all the rain we've had this fall locally. Steve says you can cut back on watering in the early fall to about a 1/2 inch a week, rather than a full inch. I didn't have to water much at all since the last week of August thanks to some timely rain.
While my work this summer paid off in a lot of way, some of the root problems with my lawn remain. I have too many patches of grass that don't match other grass in the lawn. Some of this has to do with me using the wrong seed in the past to re-seed and do patch work. Other problems go back to the original effort to seed the lawn. I definitely will be re-seeding some areas in the spring to try to bring some uniformity to my lawn.


Final TV Report

Here's the final television Turf Tips report. It's a look back at how far my lawn has come from May to now. I realize it's a bit of an unfair comparison to show video from May when the grass was just waking from its winter slumber, but I really have noticed a lot of improvement from the start of the growing season to today.

That doesn't mean I'm entirely satisfied. I came up short of my goal of perfection, but I think that's a little unrealistic when you have two kids who like to play soccer in the backyard and a dog that likes to treat the whole yard as its bathroom. The front yard actually looks pretty good, which you'll see in the last video in this story.

I think the three things that did the most good in turning my lawn around were aerating, proper mowing and proper watering. I had never aerated my lawn in the ten years I've lived in my home and I've learned you should do it every two years. Also, I was cutting my lawn too short most of the time (Steve says 2 1/2 inches at the minimum; a little higher than that is better) and I was not getting an inch of water on my lawn every week which I now know is the right amount.

While this was the last televised tip, I do plan to continue updating the blog until the first frost. Steve tells me that Kentucky Bluegrass will actually continue to grow for a while after the first frost. I'll update soon on how much you should be watering during this early fall period.

BTW, thanks to Steve Sagaser with NDSU Extension for all his help this summer. And also thanks to Patrick Wynne, WDAZ News photographer, who worked every week with me on this project.


Going Green: Organic Lawn Care

This is a tough topic to tackle in a 90 second television news story, so it's nice to have this blog to get deeper into the topic. The Environmental Protection Agency says 78 million U.S. homes use lawn and garden pesticides. Also, suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticides per acre than agriculture fields. Add in the high level of emissions given off by lawn care equipment like mowers and weed trimmers and lawn care is pretty hard on the environment.

But there are ways you can cut back or eliminate chemical use if you are willing to lower your standards a bit or are willing to work a little harder at lawn care. Here's today's video Turf Tip:

Steve also talked about organic fertilizers; which I didn't get a chance to include in my WDAZ News @ 5 segment. I wasn't sure if organic fertilizer meant spreading manure on your yard (which I'm sure would not go over well in my neighborhood!). Here's his answer:

I'm really facinated by the story of corn gluten; an organic herbicide that was discovered pretty much by accident by an Iowa State University researcher. Here's a link to the ISU webpage that documents the discovery and the research involving corn gluten.

And here are a number of links to websites that advocate organic lawn care and provide tips:

Natural Lawn Care

Beyond Pesticides Group

Environmental Protection Agency Lawn and Garden Page

Natural Resources Conservation Service

So will I try to eliminate pesticide use as part of my lawn care system? There's some pretty scary information out there about these chemicals being carcinogens and sticking around and being found in trace amounts inside of homes. I am pretty vigilant about following label directions and keeping the kids and the dog off the lawn for a day after I spray. I also follow the recommendations found in this University of Wisconsin Extension pamphlet on using nitrogen fertilizers. A number of websites also warn against the use of weed and feed products that combine both herbicide and fertilizers. While I didn't use such a product this year, I have in the past. They make a good point that it's overkill to do both at the same time. I also found advice to spot spray for weeds instead of covering your whole lawn with a hose-sprayer application since you likely don't have weeds on every inch of your lawn. Of course with a pre-emergent in the spring, you can't see the weeds yet, so you want to get it down everywhere.

So while I'm not quite ready to give up chemical and fertilizer use entirely, researching this topic has piqued my curiosity and I may try testing some of these methods like using corn gluten as a pre-emergent herbicide. If there's not too much of a drop-off in results and it's not cost-prohibitive, I'm willing to do my part to go green while trying to achieve a green lawn.

What do you think? Are you concerned about pesticide use in lawns? Leave a comment below.


Icing on the Cake

Here's this week's Turf Tip in which I offer a few ways to spruce up your lawn to make it look like you hire a professional. I cover three topics: edging, painting and dealing with a fence.

My favorite part of the story is the grass paint. I've never used again, but thought it would be fun to test it as part of a Turf Tips shoot. It actually works pretty well, but it's a really dark green, so it stands out a bit, but not as much as the brown spots left behind by my dog. As I mention in the video, you can buy gallons of paint to do your whole yard. It's pretty costly, but if you are hosting an outdoor wedding or party and want things to look perfect, you can actually paint your grass green. Pretty cool!

As far as edging goes; I think it really does make a yard look nice. I have an attachment to my weed trimmer that converts it to an edger. It's kind of hard to control so sometimes my line is not so straight! Even so, it looks good when it's done. I really should do it more often. You can reclaim several inches of driveway if you've let it go too long.

I'm really debating right now whether to go after some parts of my lawn with Roundup and re-seed before the first frost. I might just wait until spring and be happy with where I'm at.


August Update: How am I Doing?

Steve came by today to give me an update on how he thinks my quest is going. The lawn does look better than it did last year at this time. I need to do some more work over the next six-to-eight weeks if I hope to near perfection, though.


Perfect Time to Chase the Perfect Lawn

With the days getting shorter and Labor Day around the corner, you might think it's time to stop laboring over your lawn, but you're wrong. Some solid effort between now and the first hard frost can go a long way toward getting a great start in 2009. Here's this week's Turf Tip on preparing for the work ahead.

For the most part, Steve says you should wait to do most of this work until we get out of this current hot spell where temperatures are in the upper 80s. I didn't have time on WDAZ News at 5 to get as in depth as a I wanted, so here are some bonus videos with more information on the topics covered in the above story; weed control, seeding and fertilizing:

Weed Control




Grubs and Worms

Here's this week's Turf Tip on insect control. Grubs and Web Sodworms are two problem insects in North Dakota. For more information, the University of Minnesota Extension office has an extensive page on Japanese Beetles which is what grubs become. Sod webworms get the "more-than-you-care-to-know" treatment on this NDSU page.

While grubs and sod webworms can be controlled effectively with insecticides, there is no chemical labeled to deal with another lawn pest, nightcrawlers. Steve's counterpart in Cass County, Ron Smith, says that an application of Sevin will knock down about thirty percent of the nightcrawler population in your lawn. Here's a link to a page that archives a number of questions he's gotten on nightcrawlers. One thing to remember about nightcrawlers; they are, in moderation, good for your grass as they provide natural aeration. If their hills get to be too much, you can knock them down with a power rake.


New Promotional Spot

We did a new promo for the Turf Tips segment. The first one was dated and I think people have seen it a million times on WDAZ. Here's the new one.

Unlike a lot of the station promos we shoot, I was heavily involved in the writing of this spot. I wrote the script and Promotions Manager Angela Cary polished it up for me. We had a good time shooting it with Production Photographer Jake Tracy and Production Director Mike Derman edited it all together.


Slugs Anyone?

One of my next segments is going to be on lawn pests. Anyone in the Grand Forks area have a problem with slugs in their yard (or garden). I don't, but I'd like to get some video of them. Drop me an email at msmith@wdaz.com if you can share your bug slug problem with the web.


Lawn Mower Maintenance

Here some advice on lawn mower maintenance. I realize this might be pretty simple stuff for some people, but I hope those who might be intimidated by mechanical things will find some help. Despite thinking that a new spark plug would fix my horsepower problem, that didn't do it so I'll be taking it to a small engine repair shop. The mower is about ten years old, so I might be at the far end of its life cycle.

I've been surprised in my research to see the recommendations for sharpening your mower blade. I read an article that suggested you do it after every three or four times you mow. Most articles recommend every month or two. I must admit that I used to change my blade once a summer at most. I think I'll start keeping two on hand so that I can take the dull one in for sharpening and have it ready when the other one goes bad. That's the plan anyway. More likely, I'll get a bunch of dings in the blade and realize I forgot to take the replacement in for a sharpening.

Here's a link to an article on how to sharpen a mower blade yourself. I remember doing this in Shop class at Bowman (N.D.) High School. Having a blade balancer to check to make sure the blade is still balanced makes the job easier and could save you from ruining your engine. If you aren't that handy one of my sponsors, Hardware Hank in East Grand Forks, sharpens blades. I don't think they charge all too much. A new blade will set you back $12 to $20 or so.


Lawn Update: How am I doing?

Steve was back this week to see how the lawn is doing. I was getting discouraged by a few problems with the lawn; mostly notably the lack of growth of the re-seeded areas. There are also a few weeds creeping into the grass again. Hear what he had to say in this video:


Lawnmower Help

I'm looking for some help from readers. My lawnmower has a problem and I'm not sure what's up. Here's what happened. I was about half-way through mowing the backyard when my mower just idled down. It didn't die, but it suddenly lacked horsepower. There's no problem with the throttle cable or the throttle assembly as near as I can tell.

It quickly dawned on me that I haven't changed the spark plug in at least two seasons, so I did that. Even thought the old one looked bad, the new one didn't solve the problem. My particular Briggs and Stratton engine doesn't have a fuel filter as near as I can tell. I'm wondering if it might be bad gas.

Any suggestions out there?

The Alternative to Watering

Here's this week's Turf Tip on letting your lawn go dormant during the hot days of July and August. Basically, cool-season lawns are pretty drought-resistant and will go into a state of dormancy if they don't get enough water. This stage is characterized by browning of the foliage and slowed growth. Pay particular attention to the warning about going "dormant, but not dead."

Our friends over at the University of Minnesota also suggest that you "avoid play or traffic on dormant lawns." Read their take here. There's also information as part of the Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series or SULIS on a practice called "syringing." I'd never heard of that, but it's appropriate to this topic because it involves trying to save your lawn from heat stress by giving it a daily light application of water to wet the leaves of the grass. Also some good information on watering.


Watering Tips

Here's this week's tip on watering. If you know people that water every day, you can tell them that not only are the spending a lot of money on their water bill, but they are not doing their lawn any favors. Find out how frequently you should water and how much water you should be putting on.

As far as when to water, experts say early morning is best. During the day, you'll lose some of the water to evaporation before it can soak in. At night, the water sits on the blades without evaporating which can lead to disease problems.

Next week, we'll be talking about how to let your grass go dormant during the hottest parts of the summer. Even if this is your plan, you might still have to water your lawn.


Catching Up

Sorry folks. I've been on vacation and forgot to post last week's Turf Tip in which I talk with Steve about what I should be doing now as we head into the hottest time of the summer. Unfortunately, because of vacation time, I still haven't gotten that middle fertilization done. It's raining today, so hopefully I can do it tomorrow.

Mulching vs. Bagging


Updated Turf Tip: Mowing

Here's Thursday's Turf Tip on mowing. I had some fun with this one; speeding up a long take of me mowing at the end and struggling at first to even get my mower started. It really did take me a few pulls to get it going, so I incorporated that into the story. The main point of the story is that many people cut their grass too short. I was surprised at how high I had to set my mower deck to leave three inches behind. Next week: mulching versus bagging.

Update: Here' are some pictures of my lawn this week before mowing and after. The image on the right shows just how tall my grass has gotten between mowing. You really shouldn't let your grass get this tall before mowing, but we've had so much rain lately that it's been hard finding time to get out and do it.

The image on the left is after I mowed. I set my mower deck up to just a few clicks away from its highest setting to leave three inches. I left a strip behind the ruler that wasn't mowed yet. That stuff is really tall, so I was taking off more than I should have to get a proper mulching effect. I talk about that more in next week's turf tip.


Lawn Update

Here's Thursday's Turf Tip. It's an interview with Steve in which we talk about where I'm at and what I still need to do. Most of the heavy lifting is done now (power-raking, aerating, fertilizering and over-seeding). One thing I should point out, the before and after shots you see early in the story look pretty dramatic but you should remember that when the first video was shot in early May, my lawn really hadn't started growing since we had such a cold spring. Still, it looks kind of cool to see the lush green in the "after" shot.


It's Alive!!!

Finally some growth in the spots I re-seeded 2 weeks ago.

You can just start to see the shoots of thin Kentucky Bluegrass pushing through. The little green balls are a cover/starter fertlizer material that I put down after seeding (I had some left over from a previous seeding effort so I used it).
Steve Sagaser with NDSU Extension says it's taken 2 weeks because bluegrass is a slower germinating grass seed. That's why many manufacturers mix rye grasses with it so that you see growth about a week after planting which is the rye grass and the bluegrass comes in later. There's nothing wrong with that idea, but Steve says rye grass tends to die out in late August and it's thicker-bladed which some people don't like to see with the finer-bladed bluegrass. So I'm on my way to filling in some rough spots. We'll have a progress report on the entire project tonight on WDAZ News @ 5.


New Seeds

Here's the latest Turf Tip. See how I overseeded two spots in my lawn. The final shots that show the growth so far were taken on Thursday, June 5. You'll notice there's not much to see yet. I hope I didn't screw something up when I put down the seed.


Battling Thatch

I did end up power raking after I aerated my lawn. Steve Sagaser, from NDSU Extension, pointed out that it would be good since it breaks up the plugs that are pulled out as part of the aeration process. In addition I did seem to have quite a bit of thatch, even though I did power rake last year and you probably shouldn't have to do it every year. Anyway, the standard is if you have a 1/2 inch of thatch, you should power rake. That seems kind of hard to measure or at least hard to determine if you are doing it right. I just stuck the ruler in the ground until I hit dirt and as you can see from the picture above it appears that I did have more than a 1/2 inch. Steve also suggested that he could tell earlier this year that the yard had a spongy feel to it.

Here's that video clip.

This is what it looked like before I raked. I meant to take a picture after, but apparently I forgot because it's not in my camera! Anyway, my friend Kevin helped me pick up the rental rake from Hardware Hank in EGF (I needed to borrow his pickup) and he stuck around and helped me rake up the bag upon bag of thatch that was pulled up. Thank you Kevin! I did pay him back with steaks from the grill for him and his girlfriend.

I always expect that you'll see black dirt when you're done, but you definitely still see brown. I know that a lot came up, though, because we bagged plenty of it.

So now, most of the labor intensive stuff is done. I aerated, power-raked and fertilized-in that order. I've also over seeded a dead spot in my backyard and another spot where I used Roundup to kill off some rough fescue that didn't match the rest of the lawn. On Thursday's Turf Tips, I'll show you how that planting process went and let you know if any seedlings have popped up yet. With all this rain we've been getting, I'm hoping to see good growth soon.


Turf Tip: Aeration

Here is Thursday's Turf Tip on Aeration. I hired one of the Milo's Turf Tips sponsors, Fert-L-Lawn, to do it for me. Cost-wise, I don't think it was much more to hire it done as opposed to getting a rental. By the time you factor in the rental cost and your time in doing it yourself, it seemed like a pretty good deal.

Here's a bonus video segment. This is Steve talking about why aeration is also good if you have a problem with nightcrawlers.

I seeded in the dead spot in my lawn and the area where I killed off some undesirable grass variety. I give you a progress report on that in the days ahead.


Time to Fertilize

I should have posted this information from Steve Sagaser before the long holiday weekend. In this video clip, he says it's now warmed up enough to make it worthwhile to fertilize. Many people rush to put down fertilizer as soon as the snow melts, but Steve says that's a bit of a waste. Your lawn didn't need the nutrients early in the season, but now it can use a shot.

Dandelion Update

The Trimec I used last week appears to be doing its job. The dandelions in my yard are starting to wither. I applied it will a garden hose sprayer set to one ounce per gallon. I did go in Monday and spot spray a few weeds that didn't seem to be showing many signs of going down. I don't know if I missed them or if I was moving too quickly and they didn't get hit with enough product. In the image at left, you see a plant that is dying off.

The plant at the right was doing better, so I hit it again. It was showing a few signs, but was careful to spot spray only the plant, so I figured it was okay to make sure.

On Thursday's Turf Tips on WDAZ News at 5, I'll be talking about the benefits of aerating your lawn, something I've not done before in the 10 years I've lived in my home so I'm overdue!


Dandelions! (Updated with video)

It seems like dandelions have over-run Grand Forks in just the last few days. The picture at right is from my backyard and is just a small sample of what's there. Steve Sagaser, NDSU Extension Horticulturist, tells me that the best thing you can do is try to keep your dandelions from going to seed. The dandelions that we are seeing now, germinated and grew from last year’s seed. If they go to seed again this year, the problem can compound very quickly!

Steve suggested that I get a product called Trimec. I purchased some today, but it was too windy to spray it, plus I need to mow for the first time before applying. I'll let you know how well it works. Steve says Trimec contains three different weed herbicides and will be very effective in controlling dandelions along with any other broadleaf weeds in my turf. He says weeds are at a vulnerable stage right now because of their rapid growth in the spring; consequently, they will be quick to absorb the herbicide which will make for a quick killing action.

I asked Steve about dandelions and he says it's the number one phone call they've been getting at the Extension Office. Here's what he had to say:

Here's an web article that talks about pulling dandelions. If you have more than a few, it might be a lost cause. You'll also find more information about herbicides and some natural remedies.

Here's the NDSU Extension page on controlling weeds.


Reader has question about her uneven lawn

Lindsey from Bismarck, ND, has this question about her lawn:

We just moved into our home last fall. The previous owners planted the grass without leveling and flattening the ground. Our lawn has tire tracks, low spots, and is very uneven. Is there any way to flatten out the soil without starting from scratch with the grass? Is it possible to add dirt to the top and just add seed? What are our options?

Steve Sagaser, NDSU Extension Service Horticulturist, replies:
Yes you can add soil. However if you add more than one inch of soil at a time, you run the risk of killing the existing grass by “smothering” it. An option is to add an inch of soil, let the grass grow up through it and re-establish, then add another inch; this process can be done multiple times but it stretches out the time it will take for you to get your lawn re-leveled. Or, you can simply begin filling in and firming up the low spots, when you have an established grade, re-seed the grass; it will most likely have a patchy appearance from where the low spots were filled in with soil. Lightly rake the seed into the new soil then cover it with a thin layer of (1/4 – 1/2”) of grass clippings or some other biodegradable mulch. Then water it lightly for about three weeks. After the first three weeks, water it every other day for three more weeks. After the first six weeks your new grass will need some fertilizer.
Cut back on the frequency of the watering to no more than once or twice per week and make sure that your lawn gets about an inch total of water per week.


Turf Tip 2 (Extended Version)

Here's a Director's cut of the Turf Tip that aired on WDAZ News @5. In this longer version, Steve talks more at the end about why you should wait longer than 24 hours after applying Roundup before you try to plant seed.

In this next clip, I ask Steve about whether I need to till up this area or not.

Soil temperatures a half-inch down in Grand Forks on Tuesday were only 40 degrees, so it's still a little early to apply pre-emergent herbicide. This warm weather should certainly help a lot. I'll keep you posted.

Reader Question Answered!

Tom S. of Grand Forks emailed me this question:

When you get together with the experts can you find out why I have 1 ft. - 3 ft. patches of completely dead areas in my lawn. There doesn't seem to be a reason for why or where they are located. My neighbors seem to have the same issues and they don't have a clue either.

Here's NDSU Extension Service Horticulturist Steve Sagaser's response.

In most cases these spots are caused from Pink Snowmold. Cool wet weather in the fall and again in the spring causes snowmold to develop. Usually the crowns (area of the plant next to the soil) of the grass plant are not killed and they will recover on their own. Homeowners should use a leaf rake to remove the dead grass, and if they want to, they can sprinkle some seed on the bare soil. Sprinkling a light layer of peat over the new seed will protect it and help to get germination started. Daily light waterings are needed until the new grass plants are about three weeks old. If no seeding is done, the grass will probably still recover on its own although it will take a few weeks for that to happen.

Email your questions to me at msmith@wdaz.com and I'll find the experts to answer them.


Still Waiting

Wow! It's really slow going in the growing department in Grand Forks. If it feels to you like it does to me that Spring is taking it's own sweet time getting going, the facts back up our instincts.

Climatology reports on the National Weather Service website show that our daily average temperature this month is more than 7.5 degrees below normal. If you look at the chart, you'll notice that we've had some decent daytime temperatures, but the overnight lows have been brutal. Our lowest low came on the night of May 5th when it got down to 20 degrees! The next day we had our highest high of 69. Those cold overnights (and Saturday's snow!?!?!) are really slowing down the growth of my lawn. WDAZ Storm Tracker Meteorologist John Wheeler is promising some warmer weather for the rest of this week. So hopefully, we can start doing more with our yards soon.

On this week's TV Turf Tips, I'll be looking at what needs to be done to fix a bare spot in my backyard. So look for that Thursday on WDAZ News at 5. I'll also update this website before then. So keep checking back.

P.S. Check out the wind speeds so far this month. No wonder those sixty degree days didn't feel all that warm. The peak wind gust was above 25 miles an hour all but two days so far in May. Like I said, WOW!


What can you do?

What should you be doing right now?


First Video Turf Tip

This is the first Turf Tips report that aired Thursday at Five.
Look for additional videos soon that you won't see on WDAZ.


Start Up

We'll be launching our first Milo's Turf Tips segment on the TV side tomorrow night (May 8) on WDAZ News @ 5. It will be an overview of what kind of shape my lawn is in. Steve Sagaser with NDSU Extension gave my lawn the once-over today. He sees some of the same problems I do (maybe more), but he seems to think we can turn it around. Unfortunately, he says it will take some work! Oh well, tune in tomorrow night and check back here for more lawn tips. BTW, the information from the previous post is still good. It's just been too cold at night and too cool during the day to get grass growing too much. Don't rush into doing too much with your lawn right now. Steve tells me it's even too early to put down a pre-emergent herbicide. It will lose its effectiveness before soil temperatures warm up enough to start weed growth. So relax for now. There will be plenty of work ahead once it warms up a bit.


What should I be doing right now?

The answer to that question is "very little." Grand Forks County NDSU Extension Horticulturist Steve Sagaser says it's still too early to be doing much with your lawn. Light raking with a leaf rake is about all. Steve says even those hard steel garden rakes can damage the crown of the grass, which is right where it emerges from the ground. Sagaser says you can actually damage your lawn right now by walking on it. With the frost still coming out of the ground, footprints compact the soil and will make it hard for the grass to grow later!

This means you should definitely not be using one of those power rakes on your lawn right now. Sagaser says you should really wait until you have mowed your lawn three times before power raking. He also points out that you don't need to power rake every year. Every other is plenty fine. Typically, you only need to do that when you get about a 1/2 inch of thatch. Later this spring, I'll try to show you some examples of what that much thatch looks like.

Speaking of power raking. The best time to do it is in the Fall. Second best time is the Spring (but only after you've mowed three times). Never use one of those machines on your lawn in the summer!

We'll be starting our WDAZ News at Five reports on May 8. I plan to update the blog before then, so check back.

The Grass is Not Always Greener

Hello there and welcome to Milo’s Turf Tips. As you can see from looking at my bio, I’m a television newscaster in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I’m writing this blog because I’ve always wanted that perfect green lawn, but it pretty much always has evaded me. I’ve gotten lucky a couple of times in the decade or so that I’ve been a homeowner, but it was just that: luck. I just happened to put down some fertilizer right before a good rain and the weed killer was doing its job at the same time.

So I’m finally going to call in some experts to help me out and along the way I hope you’ll learn something too. I’ll be posting articles and videos as I follow their advice. One of my goals is to help fellow Grand Forks residents figure out the best way to grow grass in our short growing season here in the upper-upper Midwest. I assume some of our issues are unique to this area, but if you are checking in from somewhere else, maybe you can learn something too.

This site will be cross-promoted on WDAZ News at Five throughout the summer, but you’ll find extra content here on this blog. Check back for weekly updates and leave a comment if you like. If you have a question you’d like me to ask of my experts, you can email me at msmith@wdaz.com. Here’s hoping we all have the greenest grass ever by fall.