Questions on: Lawn/Grasses

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: I laid down sod a year ago. I think it is Kentucky blue grass. I cut it once a week. However, the grass doesn't seem to grow very rapidly even though there has been sufficient rainfall. What is the problem and what is your suggestion? (e-mail reference)

A: There are several possibilities. The grass is not fertilized or the nitrogen level is too low. The soil may be too compacted or there is excessive thatch. It could be a characteristic of the cultivar you used or a there was a natural slowdown after seed head formation. I would start by giving the lawn a light application of fertilizer. We do this on our football fields around the end of June to kick up vegetative growth somewhat. If you have a difficult time driving a spade into the lawn, then it could stand aeration. If the lawn seems spongy, then check for thatch accumulation. About a half-inch is normal or something to shoot for. Too little or anything significantly more than that indicates a problem. Another possibility is the excessive use of pesticides.

Q: I have a question about a lawn that won't grow. It's on the north side of my house and gets very little sun. I've tried reseeding. I'm wondering if landscaping the area with stone mulch would be a good idea (less work, more economical) rather than keep trying to grow grass. If so, what kind of stone mulch would you recommend? I don't want it to look like a playground with pea rock. (e-mail reference)

A: I strongly advise you not to use stone mulch. The stones migrate to other areas of the yard and create heat islands. Stone mulch leaves no surface for recreation or relaxation. It also collects dirt where weeds will grow. You have not been using the right grass seed. Look for fine leaf or creeping red fescues because they are the most shade-tolerant grasses. You couldn't have more shade than I have on the northern exposure of my own backyard. The grass is shaded by the house, a large Ponderosa pine and an Amur maple tree. I am successfully growing an attractive turf cover of creeping red fescue in that area.

Q: I am wondering if you think it is a good idea to plant oats with grass seed. Someone recommended this to me as a way to get a lush lawn and protect the grass as it grows during the summer. If so, how much oats would you mix in with the grass seed? (e-mail reference)

A: Mixing oats with grass seed, especially when hydroseeding, is at least as old as I am, which is pretty old! I don't know that there has ever been a formula for how much oat seed goes with grass seed. We just threw a few handfuls into the hydromulcher to get the effect we wanted and get paid faster. If you want a hard figure as a guideline, I would suggest about 1/2 pound per 1,000 square feet of area being seeded.

Q: A few years ago, I noticed some very lush, green grass on my front yard with mushrooms growing in it. Now those spots have died and seem to be expanding. What can I do about it? (e-mail reference)

A: I would rake those spots to rough up the soil surface, overseed and cover lightly with mulch.

Q: I love reading your column because it offers tons of useful information that anyone can understand. I have a lawn that I'm thinking about redoing. It's being taken over by weeds and the grass that is growing isn't very pretty or lush. It's very thin and looks like tough, green thread (ugly) and feels course. I would like to overseed the lawn with new seed. Any ideas on what seed varieties I should use? My lawn is sunny, with only a few shaded areas where nothing is growing except some weeds. What about Canada blue mixed with red fescue? Should I do this now or in the fall? Also, I have read that the soil in our area is on the acidic side. I read that adding lime to the soil should help. Can I add the same sweet barn lime that I buy for the horse barn or is there a better type? The lime for the barn comes in small granules, not a powder. Thank You. (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Thank you for your nice comments about the column. I'm glad you find it useful! The grass seed you want is a Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and perennial ryegrass mix. This will grow in acid or alkaline soil. Don't add lime without having the soil tested. Some acidity or alkalinity is normal and plants can grow on either side. It is just when there are extremes at either end that a problem arises.

Q: Is Canada green grass seed mixture a good variety to plant? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: No, no and no! And this goes for the Zoysia grass promos, as well, for all who want to ask me. These advertisements make grasses such as this sound like the universal panacea by saying the seed germinates rapidly, requires little to no mowing, no water and whatever else they promote to get people to buy the seed. NDSU, as well as other land-grant universities, carry on research dealing with countless species and cultivars of turfgrass to determine which ones will make good home lawns or athletic turf. I assure you that these are not recommended for our area. Let the Canada green stay in Canada and Zoysia stay in the South. Save your money and time to spare yourself frustration down the road.

Q: We planted a new lawn late last fall. My husband is wondering if he could drag it again this spring before it starts coming up. He thought about adding more grass seed, too. What do you recommend? It did not sprout last fall. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: You will get some germination this spring. Assuming it wasn't old seed, the seed that was put down went through a priming process this winter and should sprout with a vengeance this spring. I would suggest waiting to see what comes up and then overseeding the bare spots. The whole purpose of fall seeding a new lawn is to give the slower germinating Kentucky bluegrass a chance to be competitive with the millions of weed seeds that are present. I'm afraid that if you reworked the soil this spring, the lawn seed that was placed last fall will get buried too deeply and only the weed seed will sprout!

Q: Is there a lawn grass variety that is salt tolerant? This would be for a rural setting. The guy had his well tested and told me that the salt level was 486 milligrams per liter. The water is typical for our area because it looks like tea. What about use of this water on new trees, specifically junipers and pine trees? (e-mail reference)

A: The grass species would be Fults alkali grass. It is the most salt-tolerant species on the market. The rural water can be used, but drainage is critical and maintaining an even moisture level is important. Of course, the growth will be greatly stunted.

Q: I am looking for a book on raised gardening techniques to give to my older parents for Christmas. I am thinking that you referred to one in a column in the past year or two.

What is the name of it or can you give me names of some good books on this subject? Also, we have a newly acquired farmstead. We have about 3/4 of an acre that was planted to corn or beans in the past. We sprayed with Roundup and worked up the soil to plant grass. Is there a slow-growing grass that will grow? Someone told us we should seed after the first snowfall so we can see the seed. Thank you so much, I read your column every week. (Colfax, N.D.)

A: The book is the new, revised edition of "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. The new edition has some good information on raised gardening techniques. Yes, the grass seed can be seen after the first snowfall. However, the seed also will be seen by birds. The birds will thank you for supplying supper! It does work somewhat, as most efforts to seed do. You can get inexpensive seed, such as fairway or western wheatgrass. Sow it heavily to compensate for the bird feeding and you will get some growth next spring. You then can reseed the thin spots when germination is evident and you have mowed a few times.

Q: I've had a few clients ask me about seeding lawns, especially dormant seeding. In one of your bulletins, it recommends that dormant seeding be done at the end of October. Is it OK to recommend that they seed now since we’ve had 50-degree weather? The soil temperature is about 36 degrees. Is that low enough to prevent germination? I've also had a question about navigator lawn seed. Is navigator a fine fescue? Is it a low-maintenance grass that would be good for use as a country lawn? Is navigator only available in Fargo? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Now would be a good time for dormant seeding because the temperatures for the rest of the year will not be consistent enough to stimulate germination. Fall seeding is encouraged over spring seeding because the seed will not have to compete with weeds. Also, the grass seed that is applied now will go through a priming process that begins the germination process so that emergence next spring can keep up with the sprouting weeds. Springtime brings on a flush of weed growth that spring-sown grass has a difficult time keeping up with, which leads to lots of frustration. It can be done, but consumers will bury you with complaining phone calls about all the weeds. Many will suspect that the grass seed is the source, which it isn't! Navigator creeping red fescue is a good lawn grass just about anywhere except on a putting green or football field. It is available from Agassiz Seeds in West Fargo. I don’t know if there is a distributor in Bismarck. Navigator doesn't have to be used just because it is the newest fine fescue on the market. Others are Ruby, Cindy and Dawson. Any one of these would make an excellent low-input turfgrass system.

Q: Should I cut my asters this fall or should I wait until spring? Also, should we cut our lawn short or should it be left long for the winter? (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Cutting asters or other perennials back is a matter of choice. Some like to have the stalks remain through the winter to help trap snow for better moisture and winter interest. Others want a clean, snow-swept landscape. As for the lawn, drop the mower down a notch for the final mowing and collect the clippings.

Q: My husband and I just built a home north of Bismarck. Our well water is salty and rural water is not available. We are contemplating planting grass in the next couple of weeks. Do you have any suggestions about the type of grass or grass mix that would work? I’ve heard that if you water with salty water, you have to water more to flush the salt out of the soil, but eventually (after a couple of years) it will kill the grass. I also am worried about ruining my garden plots. Will the salt water inhibit germination of the grass seed? Is there a counteracting mineral we can add to lessen the effect of the salt? A totally unrelated question: What is a good, fast-growing, long-living tree to line my long gravel driveway with? Your knowledge and time on the radio are greatly appreciated! (e-mail reference)

A: Thank you for your very nice words! I have a couple of approaches for you to consider. You can hook up a reverse osmosis unit that will remove some of the salts and eliminate the problem. The cost of the unit is based on the degree of salt reduction sought and the volume of water required. It won't be cheap, but it will give the most satisfactory results. It will be healthier for your family as well. There is a grass known as alkali grass. The fultz cultivar grows in high-salt locations. It is a common lawn grass in the western part of the state. It isn’t a beauty queen, but it will provide a lawn surface. To answer your other questions: Yes, the moisture level must be closely watched because when the soil dries, the salt concentrates in the soil and can reach toxic levels, depending on the species of plant. The higher the salt content in the water, the slower the germination. Here is a site that you can go to for a selection of trees to consider:

Q: I have a question about the timing of overseeding a lawn. I put down Ortho Weed-B-Gone Sept. 1. The label said to wait three weeks before planting seed. I would like to overseed with Kentucky bluegrass around Sept. 21, but is that too late for effective overseeding? (Pierre, S.D.)

A: It is not too late, but if you don't follow the label and plant too soon, the residue will keep the seed you put down from germinating. Take heart because sometimes the month of October is best for growing grass. It only needs to get started.

Q: We will be landscaping our yard next year and replanting grass. What do you know about amazoy zoysia grass? Is it too good to be true? Would you plant it in your yard? If not, what type of grass would you plant? Thank you. (Gackle, N.D.)

A: In Gackle or anywhere else in North Dakota, forget about zoysia grass. It will live (barely), but not thrive. We used to plant it in Texas, but even there, with the heat and rain, it was slow to establish. Zoysia grass usually goes dormant when temperatures start dipping below 40 degrees. It will remain dormant until the temperatures rise and stay in the mid-70s. I have had plenty of complaints about zoysia grass, but no one has ever called and told me how wonderful it is! Frankly, I wish it lived up to its hype because the zoysia turfgrass systems I have seen in the south are beautiful carpets of green.

Q: What is the best way to prep for sod? When is the best time to put it down? We also have a lot of monster squirrels that have been digging in the yard. Any suggestions on how to stop them from digging up the new sod? (Minneapolis, Minn.)

A: Prep for sodding exactly the same way you would for seeding, except that you use sod instead of seed. Now is the perfect time to get it installed. As for the squirrels, good luck. I would try live trapping them and moving them somewhere else, such as miles away in a natural, but not landscaped environment. They won't like being trapped, but don't allow their anger to intimidate you. Be sure to wear thick gloves when handling the cages.

Q: I was curious to know if mowing in different directions each time is necessary. (e-mail reference)

A: Not necessary, but desirable from the plant's point of view. Mowing in different directions spreads out compaction and helps keep the grass growing in a more upright manner.

Q: We enjoy your Hortiscope column. What is the best time to overseed my lawn? We have several thin spots, so I planned to thatch it first, then seed the spots and toss in some lawn food (10-10-10). I'm worried that in the spring, the old grass will shade the seed from germinating. Should I do it now and let the new seeds germinate before winter? I plan on using Kentucky Bluegrass. Thanks again for all your wonderful information in your Hortiscope column. Go Bison! (e-mail reference)

A: Now is the perfect time (between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15) to do the dethatching and overseeding. You are right on with the Kentucky bluegrass blend as well. The fertilizer doesn't have to be a triple 10-10-10. A starter or winterizer type, such as 28-3-10 or something similar, will do the job. Thanks for the nice comments and for being Bison fans!

Q: I just bought a home in West Fargo. The previous owner neglected the front lawn and two large evergreen trees. We have tried vigorously raking the grass numerous times and planting grass, but nothing grows. I am removing one of the trees next spring. What steps should I take to get the grass to grow? (e-mail reference)

A: You can download information on growing grass at

Q: We seeded our lawn in June and now have nice grass, but we also have a lot of weeds and crab grass. When can we use weed and feed? We have used a starter fertilizer. When would you recommend applying weed killer and fertilizer? (Ottertail, Minn.)

A: The best time is the middle of September because the weather is cooler. Weeds are a common occurrence in newly-seeded lawns.

Q: I am looking for three varieties of Kentucky bluegrass that will be the first to be green in the spring. My friend is planting a new lawn and wants to be the first to mow in the spring! He plans to drill the seed into the ground in early September. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: For early greening in the spring, go for the common cultivars. They are most often selections made from the Midwest region and often selected from pasture environments. They produce seed in abundance and inexpensively. The most commonly available cultivars are kenblue, South Dakota common, park, alene and Huntsville. Keep in mind that these grasses do not respond well to a lot of tender, loving care. If given, the result is disease problems. The cultivars come out of winter dormancy early, respond to the changing growing season, green when it rains on a regular basis, turn brown when it doesn't and regreen with the rains and cooler weather of fall. For the best results, fertilize once a year in the fall and mow high (3 inches) all growing season. These grasses usually are a major part of a blend. There often is more than one type of cultivar in a mixture or blend.

Q: I read the article about not putting grass clippings around garden plants if I have used weed and feed. Does this rule apply all summer or just the first couple of cuttings after applying weed and feed? (Starkweather, N.D.)

A: If you can wait until after three cuttings, there should be no herbicide residue that could cause harm to your garden plants.

Q: As I was mowing my grass, I noticed that under my apple trees there are small webs in the grass. I have not noticed them before. Do I need to spray the trees? The trees are heavy with apples. I need to cut some of the branches off near the bottom so I can mow. Can I do this if I treat the wounds? (Blanchard, N.D.)

A: The webbing could be the start of a fungal disease on your turf, but is generally nothing to worry about. Keep the grass mowed and collect the clippings when you note the fungal webbings. You can cut the lower branches off the apple trees, but you do not need to treat the cuts. In fact, treating the wounds inhibits good healing.

Q: We have large, white patches in our lawn. The problem seems to be where there is shade for part of the day. Is this a disease or fungus that has to be taken care of or do we just let it go and call it weather-related. Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated. I also have had cucumber and bean plants die. The plants dry up and look like they rot off or were chewed off, but it is hard to tell. I put Sevin on them, but I don't know if that will help. Thank you. (Oakes, N.D.)

A: It is probably powdery mildew arriving early because of the high humidity and dew points in your area. The grass should outgrow it with a little encouragement from a light application of fertilizer and collecting the grass clippings when mowing. It is not lethal to the grass plants. As for the vegetables, it could be any number of diseases because it is hitting different crops. Sevin is an insecticide, so it will not control the problem. Try to find a fungicide appropriate for vegetables, such as Funginex, which should be available at just about any garden store.

Q: We have a producer who has slime mold in his grass. He wants to know if he can spray it with anything. (e-mail reference)

A: Anything that can be sprayed to control the problem would impact the grass as well. The best bet is to core aerate, follow up with a power raking and try not to water a lot. Also, tell the producer to cut in half whatever he/she is doing.

Q: My son has fairy rings in his lawn. Is there a way of controlling them by spraying? (Napoleon, N.D.)

A: There is no practical cure for fairy rings. They will respond to frequent core aeration (one or two times a year), regular watering and keeping the fertility of the lawn at optimal levels. This means fertilizing two to three times a year.

Q: I was pulling up what I thought was grass in my garden, but then I noticed a bulb on the end of it. I planted a bunch of tulip bulbs, which I did not think would come up because of their age. Could it be the tulips that I am pulling up? I stopped pulling it up, but I have a ton of it growing. (e-mail reference)

A: If it is a grasslike plant with a small bulb at the end, it is probably nutsedge, which is a weed.

Q: As usual, I read your section in today's paper. I learned from it and enjoyed it. Thank you.

Last year our flower garden was taken over by grass and weeds. During the winter, I heard of a product that can be sprayed on a flower garden to kill the grass/weeds, but not hurt the flowers, shrubs, groundcovers or bulbs. I wrote down the name and had it on our desk, but it's gone and I can't remember the name of the product. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to find it on your Web site. If you know what the name of this product is, please let me know. Also, if there are drawbacks or other negative aspects of it, please share those as well. Again, thank you for being such a great resource! (Buchanan, N.D.)

A: Your flattery is uplifting. Thank you! The product you want still is on the market, just under a different name. The product is called Hi-Yield Grass Killer. It has the same active ingredient as Poast, but is set up for small-scale gardens. No drawbacks as long as the directions are followed.

Q: During the winter, there were several ice patches in my yard. Now that spring/summer is here, my lawn is green and growing, but the grass is dead at the places where the ice was. What can I do? Should I dig up the dead spots and reseed or wait to see if the grass starts to grow? (Battleview, N.D.)

A: Ice encasement often kills grass. Scratch the dead areas with a rake and reseed by mixing the seed with the loosened soil. No need to dig up each patch. Keep things simple!

Q: I have two problems. I need water for my garden and trees. My other problem is that I have a sump pump discharge area that makes a muck hole in my lawn. Can I use the sump pump water to water my garden and trees? I've been told it's not a good idea because the sump pump water is salty. The sump pump water doesn't seem to bother the grassy area it's discharging on. I have very sandy soil, so I don't know if that changes things. Is there someone at NDSU who can test the sump pump water? (Kindred, N.D.)

A: You can try using the sump pump water to see what results you get, but don't leave the hose in one spot. Move the hose around to avoid saturation and salt accumulation. Turfgrass that is established typically has a higher tolerance for salty water than many ornamental plants.

Q: We had sod installed at our new home by a professional landscaping company. The day before the sod was laid, heavy rains saturated the ground and washed out the subgrade. The sod was laid the following day. Because of the soggy ground, the entire lawn has deep ruts and holes. Some areas are large enough that water temporarily ponds. The landscaper wants to spread black dirt over the entire lawn/sod and seed to fix the holes and smooth things out. I have heard that this is not the proper way to fix a bumpy lawn. Any advice on this? (Lino Lakes, Minn.)

A: Variations of this are done on golf courses and athletic fields all the time. Why wouldn't it work on a home lawn? The lesson to be learned is that the landscaper was in too much of a hurry to get the job done right and now has to come back and fix things, which wipes out any profit for the landscaper. Make sure that high-quality topsoil is brought in and that the seed will produce a grass that is compatible in quality and appearance to the original sod.

Q: Three trees in my front lawn were uprooted during a storm last August. The trees were removed after a couple of days. As a result, my lawn is now bumpy and very uneven. What is the best and easiest way to smooth out my lawn? Do I have to till and replant the grass or can I simply add topsoil and reseed? Grass is growing, but will not be easy to mow because of the uneven yard. I’d appreciate your help and love your Web site! (Brooklyn Park, Minn.)

A: Thank you for the nice compliment about the Web site! The best approach is to get some high-quality topsoil (loam or sandy loam) and spread it over the depressed area. Reseed if it covers the existing grass. Simple, inexpensive and effective!

Q: They had to dig up a large patch of lawn this winter here at the courthouse. Now they are replacing the dirt with some weed-filled topsoil and would like to plant grass. Since the dirt is from a less-than-reputable source, is there some weed killer that can be applied or raked into the soil before planting the grass seed? Can we plant grass seed from one of those little push carts used for fertilizer? Can you plant the grass seed mixed with a starter fertilizer or will it burn the seed? When is the optimal date to plant grass in North Dakota? Any other tips you have to offer would be great. I have used the two publications on planting grass that are available, but they don't answer these questions. (e-mail reference)

A: Allow everything to germinate that is in the low-quality soil. Hit it with Roundup after that because it doesn't leave a toxic residue in the soil that would impact the grass seed. Yes, the grass seed can be planted using a drop spreader. However, it is not a good idea to mix fertilizer and grass seed in a combined application because the rates of application differ dramatically. Grass is seeded at 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Fertilizer application rates vary depending on the formula, but usually is applied at 4 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Optimal planting time for lawn seed in North Dakota is mid-August to mid-September, although it is planted anytime the soil is ready and the homeowner or client wants it.

Q: Something is happening to the lawn in our backyard! Large patches of what should be green grass are getting more yellow by the day. The largest area is under an apple tree and other smaller patches are in various other spots. Some yellow spots are near a bird feeder and another tree! We have fed small birds in our backyard for several winters, but this yellowing has never happened before. What do we need to do to bring our grass back to normal? (Enderlin, N.D.)

A: It is hard to say what the problem is without a lab diagnosis. I would suggest fertilizing and doing a little reseeding in an attempt to thicken things up. It also may be damage done from the birds, if you have been feeding them in this area for many years, but that is just a guess. Try the fertilizer and reseeding to see if that improves things. If that doesn’t help, take a sample and send it to the plant diagnostic lab at NDSU for analysis of possible disease or insect problems.

Q: Is now the best time to spray for crabgrass? I've seen some coming up in the lawn. Also, is Ortho Weed-B-Gone for crabgrass any good? What product would you recommend and where can you get it? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Right now is perfect timing for Fargo because the forsythia are finishing their blooming, but the lilacs haven't started. The product you mentioned should do a job fine job, but you need to follow the label directions. Keep in mind that crabgrass germination is not a track meet. Crabgrass germination takes place during the entire summer. Follow your spraying with a lawn fertilizer application, mow high (3 inches) and don't allow the lawn to go into drought conditions because that will encourage crabgrass growth.

Q: Should I fill the holes left after lawn aeration? We’ll be aerating our lawn and thatching it. I’d like to leave the holes empty, but my husband wants to fill them with sand. Please help with this dispute. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: As usual, the wife is right. Leave the holes. They eventually will close, but leave a more open, porous soil. The grass will respond beautifully to the treatment. What some folks do is core aerate in the morning, allow the plugs to dry in the sun, then pulverize them with a power rake, which acts as a top-dressing. What your husband probably has seen is the use of this practice on golf courses. The greens are areated, the cores removed and then the green is top-dressed with selected sand. It works on golf courses, but not home lawns.

Q: I want to seed new grass this year because weeds have overtaken my lawn. When should I start, how should I cover the seed and what is a good, hardy grass? I have two small boys who will be driving their toys over the grass once it grows. (Beach, N.D.)

A: If you have active children who will use the lawn, you might want to consider the "athletic field mix," or what is sometimes called "playground mix." These are mixtures of 50/50 perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass. Any grass seed will require regular watering to get it established and maintained. It also will require a regular maintenance program of at least annual fertilization and consistent mowing to look good and withstand the stress of traffic.

Q: I live on a farm north of Dickinson. We have cactus in our yard that I don’t want my two small children to fall in. Can you tell me how to get rid of it? The plants are in small bunches almost even with the grass (weeds), so the plants are hard to see. If there were only a few, I would take them out by hand, but they are scattered over a large area. Can you please give me some suggestions? Thank you. (e-mail reference)

A: If you can, get a licensed pesticide lawn applicator to apply a herbicide that contains Trimec and a sticker mixed in. This will kill the plants.

Q: We installed a new lawn late last fall (four various grades of rye). Unfortunately, we now realize that quackgrass seeds were present in the straw we used. The quackgrass began to grow last fall, but we didn't know what it was or think much of it. We thought we could kill it in the spring. After seeing so much of this strange grass in our new lawn, we took the plants to our Extension agent. The agent confirmed our quackgrass invasion. I tried pulling up the quackgrass in certain sections, but even though the plants only make up a small percentage of the total lawn area, they are scattered everywhere, so we decided to use Roundup and start over. We applied our first application of Roundup two weeks ago. It now looks very yellow and dead.

How long are the seeds viable? Is there something that can be applied to degrade the seeds? Do we put down a pre-emergent killer? If we put in a new lawn, are any remaining seeds going to sprout new quackgrass, putting us in the same situation? By using Roundup, we have killed "active" plants, but what about any rhizomes that still are waiting to grow? I have read that we should use nitrogen to encourage rhizome growth and then use Roundup again. Is that true or are we wasting time because these are young plants with only starting rhizomes? If the nitrogen/Roundup process is a good one, how many times should we do that to be sure we have killed off the quackgrass? How long should we wait between applications? There is a slit seeder that we can rent. Once all the quackgrass is killed, is this the best way to seed the lawn since it is available? Do you think we can replant our lawn this spring or is fall a better time? (e-mail reference)

A: Getting a lawn established from seed depends on how much patience one has. It seems that you are determined to get your lawn growing by using seed. I would suggest allowing whatever grows back this spring to do so. After a couple of mowings, have another dose of Roundup applied to kill it. At this point, you should have taken care of most of the surface weed seeds that will germinate. Once you are convinced everything is dead (do touch-ups if necessary), then mow the grass as short as possible and collect the clippings. Rent the slit seeder you mentioned and sow a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass (more than 55 percent), creeping red fescue (30 percent) and the balance with perennial ryegrass. Purchase quality seed, so don't be suckered by bargain-priced seed because you get what you paid for. Go over the area to be seeded in two directions, perpendicular to each other. Do not add mulch! The dead litter from the Roundup treatment will suffice. Trust me on this. Start a light, frequent watering cycle until germination is visible. After that, decrease the watering frequency and increase the duration, but don't overdo it!

When the grass gets 3 to 4 inches high, mow it at 2 1/2 to 3 inches and let the clippings fall. After about the third or fifth mowing, apply a starter fertilizer that contains NPK.
This should get you a decent looking lawn by mid to late summer.

Q: I had about an acre and a quarter seeded last August with 250 pounds of rural mix. It did not achieve a good germination rate, despite frequent watering. The soil is extremely sandy, almost to the point of having a river sandbar in some areas of the yard. I recently overseeded with a rural mix and a country blend. I used 150 pounds of seed. I can’t remember the different species in the two varieties I used. If possible, I would like advice on when to start watering. I was hoping for some rain shortly after I overseeded, but Mother Nature has not cooperated. Also, what can I do, if anything, to improve germination other than hauling in tons of black dirt? (e-mail reference)

A: I'm sorry you didn't get in touch with me before doing the second seeding. In a sand base, such as you describe, so-called "country mixes" have little chance of getting established. I would strongly suggest using a grass species called prairie sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia). This is a rhizomatous, warm-season perennial that is native to our sand hills region of the state. It should become established with proper seeding and follow-up care. You might want to consider covering the seeded area with hydromulch. There are professional grass installation companies that do this. Such a treatment would hold the moisture around the seed for better germination.

Q: This year and last, you spoke at the Bismarck Garden Club and talked about navigator creeping red grass seed. I wanted to make sure I wrote down the right name. You also talked about a place in Fargo that sold the seed. I thought it was Agassiz. I am going to Fargo next week and would like to pick up the seed. If you could let me know the place that you mentioned, I would appreciate it. (e-mail reference)

A: It is navigator creeping red fescue and can be purchased at Agassiz Seed in West Fargo, which is at 445 7th St. N.W. Its phone number is (701) 282-8118. It only sells the seed in 50- pound bags.

Q: Is there a grass seed that will do well with very little water during the summer? (e-mail reference)

A: If you are asking about a grass seed, the answer is no. If you are asking about a grass species that you sow in the spring that will tolerate low moisture in the summer, the answer is yes. In northern regions, that would be fine or tall fescue and buffalo grass. These should survive, but will go dormant during extended periods without water.

Q: What can I do to prevent snow mold damage this spring? I have raked it as the snow melts. Is this a good process? (Portland, N.D.)

A: Unless you live in a banana belt, you are raking too early. Wait until the frost is out of the ground and the grass is beginning to dry and green up. Raking it at this point is going to do more damage than good. In home lawn situations, snow mold is seldom lethal, but it is unsightly. Rake it with a broom rake and lightly overseed with fresh Kentucky bluegrass.

Q: I just had a call from a man who plans on planting a slope with grass for erosion control. He wants to cover the seeded area with burlap and then leave the burlap in place, hoping it will disintegrate. What are your thoughts on this? Would that work if it is not going to be a mowed area? (e-mail reference)

A: It would work. The burlap eventually will disintegrate, as long as he didn't get rot-proof, treated stuff. Coarse, open-weave burlap is what he wants to use.

Q: When is the best time to do a lawn aeration? (e-mail reference)

A: I like to use the guideline of aerating after at least three mowings where green leaf tissue is removed. That way the grass is in a competitive position to recover quickly and crowd out any weed seed that may germinate. Before that, the grass is either dormant or too weak to react competitively.

Q: While mowing the grass this past summer at the New Rockford golf course, a hydraulic line burst. It left a trail of hot hydraulic oil on the grass and killed it. Can I plant new seed or do I have to dig out the contaminated dirt, backfill and then reseed? How far down should I dig? (e-mail reference)

A: You have to dig out the contaminated soil. Sorry! I would dig down at least as far as there is evidence of oil penetration and then some. There is no point in leaving any residue because it will kill your grass later on as the roots penetrate the soil.

Q: I need a new sprinkling system this spring and should have my lawn aerated. Which option should come first? I am getting conflicting answers. (e-mail reference)

A: It makes little difference what you do first, but you need to flag the sprinkler heads before aeration to prevent damage. If this is too bothersome to take into account, aerate first and then install the irrigation system. The pipe is usually 8 to 12 inches deep, while most aeration machines go 3 to 4 inches deep, so hitting the pipe should not be a concern. With an installed sprinkler system, you can have your lawn aerated any time of the year the soil isn't frozen and not worry about the turf recovering from aeration stress during the heat of summer. The irrigation system can be installed as soon as the frost is out of the soil and the turfgrass is dormant. Aeration should take place while the turf is in active growth until about 30 days before freeze-up.

Q: I have a rubber tree that was doing great until I overwatered it. Now half of the leaves have fallen off. There are new ones growing, but it doesn't look nice without the rest of the leaves. If I cut it back, will it start over or kill it? Also, I have many plantain and wild violets in my grass. I know that I'm supposed to use Trimec, but my dog and cat love to eat grass. Is there a way to spray my yard without making my animals sick? Will Trimec get rid of plantain and clover? Thanks so much. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: If you cut back the dead parts of the leafless branches and stems, it will not hurt the plant. Allow anything that has leaves remaining or coming out to stay. If it looks too weird for your taste, dump it and begin again, but retain the lesson learned. Trimec will get rid of most broadleaf weeds in your lawn, but it should be sprayed carefully where the weeds are visibly present. It is toxic to warm-blooded animals, so you should keep your animals off the lawn for several days. Follow label directions in using this or any pesticide.

Q: During the last growing season, I had blades of grass in my lawn that turned yellow. I fertilized in the spring and fall, but that did not make a difference. Any idea as to what might be going on? I am trying to stay organic with my lawn care. (e-mail reference)

A: This usually is nothing to worry about, as long as the rest of the lawn looked OK. This problem is often seen in the spring, before the soil warms sufficiently. It is due to immature roots being unable to supply sufficient nutrients and compacted or waterlogged soil. Since lance nematodes have been identified as existing in our region, it could be this root-feeding pest that is causing the problem. I would suggest aerating your lawn this spring or early summer and follow that up with an organic fertilizer to see if this takes care of the problem.

Q: How late in the year can I plant grass and expect good results? What are the best types (blends of grass seed) to plant in the Wahpeton area? (e-mail reference)

A: I would encourage you to visit my Web site at Read the publication and if you have any questions, please get back to me.

Q: Is there a chemical treatment, such as a fungicide, that is available for lawns? I took down two large cottonwood trees and I no longer have a lawn. Instead, I have huge mushroom patches. (e-mail reference)

A: The mushrooms will disappear over time and during drier parts of the season. The mushrooms are a signal that the root system is decaying beneath the lawn surface. Unfortunately, there is no selective material that can be used to wipe out mushrooms.

Q: I put in a Kentucky blue turf lawn two years ago. The soil is heavy clay. I am going to aerate it, but have received several points of view on how it should be done. One person mentioned aerating, raking up the plugs and doing nothing else. Another said to aerate, leave the plugs and then overseed. Does it hurt to leave the plugs? If I do the overseeding, can I put a light layer of sand down using a broadcast spreader? (e-mail reference)

A: You can do three things with the plugs. Let them stay where they fall. Their presence won’t hurt anything and they eventually will disintegrate. You can rake them up and dispose of them. You can run a power rake (dethatcher) over them, which will pulverize most of the plugs. The pulverized plugs will act as a top-dressing for your lawn. This last step is the best option for your grass. Mow the grass short before aerating. If it has been some time since a rainfall event, water the lawn 24 hours before aerating. Aerate the lawn and select one of the options above. Overseed and fertilize with a winterizer fertilizer. After that, stand back and enjoy watching the turf system respond. Do not top-dress with sand. Sand and clay do not mix well, unless you want concrete.

Q: I live north of Bismarck on a lot with many trees used as a shelterbelt. I have noticed rings of dead grass and thought it was from our zero-turn lawn mower. However, the rings have multiplied in places we didn’t usually turn with the mower. I did some Internet surfing to find out we have necortic ring disease. Some call it fairy ring disease. I checked out some fungicides at our local garden store, but the cost would be more than $900 to treat our lawn. Please let me know what we can do to get rid of the problem and prevent it from returning. I love your column! (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the compliment! Let’s sort out the two diseases. Many soil-inhabiting fungi of the class known as basidomycetes cause fairy ring. The fungus species is not important in this case because they all have the same basic symptoms. The circles get larger and the fungus moves through the organic matter in either the soil or thatch. This activity breaks down the nitrogen tied up in the organic matter, which stimulates growth ahead of dead or dying turf, as well as behind it in many cases. Often the cause is from old stumps and roots from previously forested land, construction debris of an organic nature or simply from a high level of thatch. There is no chemical control. The symptoms can be masked by nitrogen fertilization, so that the green rings will not be as evident. The other option is to dig everything out. Necrotic ring spot (Leptosphaeria korrae) is one of the most common patch diseases on cool-season Kentucky bluegrass. The disease shows up as small rings of necrotic grass, often with a “frog-eye” appearance, such as green grass inside of a dead circle of grass. While there are chemical controls for this disease, cultural practices can sequester it quite well or eliminate it. The use of organic fertilizers, such as Milorganite, Lawn Restore and Turf Restore, have been shown to biologically control this disease by stimulating beneficial microorganisms that are antagonists to this pathogen. Chemicals, such as Tersasn 1991, Fungo 85 and Spot Kleen, can be used to control this disease, but I encourage you to attempt good cultural practices to get your turf in shape. Fertilize at least annually, water when needed and mow on a frequent, timely basis.

Q: I talked to a homeowner who always has rust problems in her lawn. Her grass mix is merit and park Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue and perennial rye grass. Her management practices are sound and I am not getting rust calls from other homeowners. Is there a difference in rust susceptibility to various varieties of Kentucky bluegrass? (e-mail reference)

A: You bet there is. A lot depends on the care given. If a turfgrass, such as park, is irrigated and fertilized on a regular basis, it will be more prone to rust than if given minimal care. Some of the rust-resistant cultivars are glade, America and parade. Keep in mind that there are more than a dozen different races and species of rust fungi that are known to infect turfgrasses and all are affected in varying degrees by this ubiquitous fungus. There are a number of fungicides that can help control rust, such as chlorothalonil, maneb and zineb. Since the fungus typically appears in the fall when turfgrass growth slows, I encourage people to fertilize lightly and collect the clippings so the grass can “outgrow” the pathogen. With the infected grass blades collected, a source of the inoculum is removed.

Q: We have been working on a large landscaping project in our backyard. When is the best time to plant a lawn, what is the best seed to use and where do we get it? Also, we have a European mountain ash that has what looks like holes from woodpeckers concentrated on the trunk of the tree about 30 feet off the ground. What can we use to deter the woodpeckers that won’t be harmful to other birds? How critical is it that we keep woodpeckers off the tree? Can they kill it? I enjoy reading your article every week and have learned a lot. (Cooperstown, N.D.)

A: Thank you for your loyalty and kind words. My Web site at will tell you more than you need to know about establishing a lawn. Establish a finish grade, apply starter fertilizer and then seed. Use a general-purpose mix of 55 percent or more Kentucky bluegrass and the rest split between creeping red fescue and perennial rye. There are dozens of outlets where this material is available. Woodpeckers will not kill a mature, healthy tree. Sometimes they get carried away, so a little Tanglefoot will discourage them. It is not toxic, but is sticky, which they don’t like.

Q: Thanks for your work. I read your column every chance I get. What is the best seed to use on a two-thirds acre lot? I have heard native grasses are best because they need less water and don’t need as much care (less mowing and fertilizing). What would you suggest? The lot is in the middle of a growing development, so I am wondering if I should use native grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, or something else. (e-mail reference)

A: In a development, you are limited on what seed you can use without being ostracized by neighbors and possibly local authorities. Fairway crested wheatgrass is about the best choice for water conservation and low maintenance. It will need overseeding every few years to keep it nice and thick, but it is considered a low-input grass. Tall fescue is another possibility. I grew it for many years in my backyard. It was able to go a long time between irrigations and I only fertilized it once a year.

Q: For several years, our property was a local park and then sat empty. When we bought it, we were told that the original town included a hotel, blacksmith shop or stable that were located on the property. That late summer when we asked about a stretch of grass that appeared to be dying, we were told that many years ago a sidewalk was located across the front of our property. We were told that the concrete was broken up so it shouldn’t be a problem, especially if we hauled in black dirt. We’ve done the repeatedly, but every year the “sidewalk” kills our grass. This year we dug out a portion of that area and discovered much of the sidewalk was nearly intact. It was a grueling task taking it out and we’re not done yet. Is there any type of grass seed that has short roots or can survive (thrive?) in 4 to 6 inches of soil? We had to quit with 30 or 40 feet of sidewalk remaining buried in our yard at varying depths. My husband is willing to try seeding one more time, but we don’t want to waste time and money. Please help! (Buchanan, N.D.)

A: In a “perfect world,” the sidewalk would have been jackhammered and hauled away, but life is not perfect and neither are the things that people do. The O.M. Scotts Co., about 35 years ago, proved that grass could be maintained on concrete. It brought in a concrete truck and had the entire turf area around this poor individual’s home covered with 4 inches of concrete and then laid sod over it. Through a strict regime of watering, fertilizing and mowing, they maintained that turf for several years. I have no idea what the input costs turned out to be, but I would imagine that it was substantial. In your situation, you likely always will have a problem with this “streak of concrete.” It will dry faster and therefore be subject to heat and drought stress quicker than the surrounding turf area. You might check on the cost of having the remaining concrete removed because it may help save your sanity. I would suggest using one of the fine fescue cultivars, such as Cindy, Dawson or Navigator. These are drought-hardy grasses and may, with a little coaxing, make it through the summer heat without dying. It's too bad that one of the buildings on your property wasn’t a bank because it might have lost some dollars for you to find!

Q: Our sump pump drains water in our backyard. How much damage does drainage water do to lawns? The other option is to have it run out the front, but then we have water in front of the driveway. Any ideas? We just moved, so moving is not an option! (e-mail reference)

A: Turfgrass is a very tolerant to sump water, so simply move the hose around to keep one spot from getting all the water. Whatever you do, don’t have the water go down the front of your driveway. It looks tacky and encourages algae growth, which is slippery and unattractive. You live in too nice a neighborhood and you are too cultured to do such a base thing as discharging sump water down the front of your driveway! Future generations of homeowners, I am sure, will view our unsophisticated handling of sump water with disgust - perhaps in the same manner we view the old European method of discharging garbage and sewage into the streets.

Q: Could you help me find a place that sells wildflower mixes and a native grass seed that only gets about four inches tall and does not need mowing? (Carrington, N.D.)

A: I will give you two sources. The first is Prairie Nursery at P.O. Box 306, Westfield, WI 53964. It can be reached by phone at (800) 476-9453 or on the Web at The other source is Prairie Restorations. Its address is P.O. Box 327, Princeton, MN 55371. Its phone number is (800) 837-5986. It also can be reached on the Web at

Q: We just purchased a new home in Bismarck and we need to plant grass. The contractor planted oats on the lot last year as a temporary cover. The lot is on the edge of town next to a field, so you can see a lot of weeds and weed seeds mixed in with the oats. Lawn contractors which are recommending we spray with Roundup first, but two contractors have totally different bids and totally different ways of preparing and planting grass. We plan to install a sprinkler irrigation system. Contractor A plans to spray Roundup, wait seven days, and then till the soil, level, have the sprinkler system installed and hydroseed. Contractor B plans to spray Roundup, wait seven days, run a rake/harrow over the ground to remove dead weeds and level the yard, install the sprinkler system and drill seed. Questions: Should the soil be tilled 4 to 6 inches deep, or is the Contractor B method of disturbing the top 1 to 2 inches OK? Will the grass grow well with the Contractor B method? Are there any disadvantages to not tilling 4 to 6 inches deep? What seed blend do you recommend? Contractor B recommends the following 30 percent Park bluegrass, 30 percent Baron bluegrass, 20 percent creeping red fescue and 10 percent rye. I understand that Washington, Rugby, and Meredith blends of bluegrass are better than Parks and Baron but cost more. Would you pay more for these varieties? How will I know when to spray Roundup? Do I just wait for weeds to grow? Is seven days the proper length of time to wait before raking or tilling? Any other advice? (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)

A: You would actually end up with a pretty good stand of grass from either contractor, but given my druthers, here is what I would suggest: Have the irrigation system installed after the current grass/weed population has been killed off by Roundup. The seven days is arbitrary. It could be seven, 10, or more, depending on the temperature. The important thing is to make sure everything has turned brown before taking any further action. Get the system installed so you can sprout your grass with it. The mixture suggested by Contractor B would be a good one if there was not going to be an irrigation system. I would suggest some of the elite Kentucky bluegrass cultivars, like Merit, Glade, NuBlue, and Kelly. These elite cultivars have done well in our variety trials and would perform to your satisfaction under an irrigation system. You will want about 10 to15 percent of the seed applied to be a turf quality perennial ryegrass. It is worth the extra money to get the right cultivars planted the first time; it would be more than twice as expensive to do it over again. If the housing contractor left you with a decent grade, there is no reason to till everything up again. It will only pull up more weed seeds. Drag-raking over the surface will be sufficient, and drilling the seed in would work as well, as long as it was done in two directions, perpendicular to each other. He will probably be using a cultipacker to drill the seed in; most lawn contractors do. You will have a minor problem around your sprinkler heads with some of the seed washing out. You can solve this by purchasing some bluegrass sod locally, and centering it around each sprinkler head. It is not anyone's fault, just the law of water physics that is annoying to those of use who do this work! If you are going to be the one spraying the Roundup, wait until things turn green and begin growing for maximum effectiveness.

Q: I own 28 acres of land and want to restore prairie to parts that have been disrupted by construction. Slopes with a clay soil are common. Any ideas? Where could you recommend I get seed at a reasonable price? (E-mail reference, Yankton, S.D.)

A: I would suggest ordering your seed from as local a supplier as possible. From South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska or western Minnesota, if possible. Here is one you might want to contact: Stock Seed Farms 28008 Mill Road Murdock, NE 68407 Phone: 402-867-3771 Email: They have a beautiful catalog of prairie plants that can be used for reclaiming or naturalizing.

Q: I am looking for some information on seeding a lawn. I am interested in a low maintenance, tough (can handle drought, being driven over, played on, etc) grass. Can you recommend any varieties that would meet these requirements? (E-mail reference, LaMoure, N.D.)

A: There are several. Park, SD Common and Kenblue are some of the Kentucky bluegrass cultivars that can be used. I would suggest the bluegrass with about 50 percent perennial ryegrass. Goalie and Gettysburg are good examples. A mix like this would be a "typical" athletic field mix. If looks are not a concern, then mix in some sheep fescue. It is cold and drought tolerant. Covar and MX-86 are example cultivars. Or, use a tall fescue cultivar like Bonanza, Arid, Rebel II or Rebel Jr.

Q: Over the past two or three years my lawn has become quite bumpy. Since the problem covers the entire lawn, it doesn’t appear to be rodent related. Do you think it could be caused by earthworms? (Mandan, N.D.)

A: Yes, and you should consider this something of a compliment! The worms have found your lawn so perfect that they have multiplied. There are some steps you can take: Roll the lawn this spring prior to mowing with a ballast roller. Run a power rake over the lawn after it greens up. Apply Sevin soil insecticide granules as if you are treating grubs. I would suggest starting with rolling to see if it works, then try the other steps if it doesn’t.

Q: When we bought this farmstead it was over-run with dandelions and nothing works on them except 2,4-D, so my husband has been spraying them every spring and fall. We feel like this year we will be close to having control. We have more than five acres of grass so there is no spot spraying or hand digging except in the vegetable garden. How long after he sprays do I have to wait before using the grass clippings as mulch in my vegetable garden? I know 2,4-D can stay in the ground a while, but will it be on the grass leaves after a few weeks and some spring rains? (E-mail reference, Carrington, N.D.)

A: Give the grass about three mowings after the 2,4-D has been applied. Any residue should be gone or broken down by sunlight by then.

Q: My husband and I started a new lawn last August and are wondering what the first step would be for it this spring, because we have several problems. First, last summer we had black dirt and we had millions of these little brown bugs. They reminded me of sunflower mites. Some people called them soil bugs. In the fall they would get into my home if I opened the windows in the evening. I'm talking hundreds of them in my home, and they were very bothersome. They could get right through the screens in the windows. We planted trees, and whenever I would water them, those little brown bugs would surface on the rocks around the trees and there were just thousands of them. Do you know what these might be and are they harmful? Second, when we started moving dirt around to get the ground level for seeding, we saw a couple of grubs. I'm pretty sure that’s what they were, because they were white, fluffy worms and we were told they are a problem around our neighborhood. Therefore, we feel we should treat them early enough this spring before they start chewing off our newly planted grass. Third, because it is a newly planted grass, it is sparse in some areas and also very weedy, so we feel we will need to spray for weeds soon. We know that people fertilize their grass very early in the spring, too. So, as you can see I have many concerns and questions as to where to begin, and I feel very overwhelmed by it all. Based on these circumstances could you please tell me what you think is the best thing to do first, and the steps I need to take this spring to have a nice-looking lawn this summer. We do have a sprinkler system and we planted a Kentucky bluegrass mix from a seed house in Bismarck. (E-mail reference, Napoleon, N.D.)

A: Those troublesome gnats will probably be gone this spring. First things first. Yes, there will be plenty of weeds, but not nearly as bad if you had tried to plant the grass in the spring. Activate your irrigation system in May, not April. Water only if the grass needs it. When you mow the lawn for the third time this spring (at 3 inches, by the way) then you can apply a broad-leaf herbicide to control your weeds. A week on either side of Memorial Day weekend, apply some fertilizer, the lawn type, such as 28-3-6 or something similar. Right around the same weekend would be a good time to apply some grub control. Several products on the market can be watered in with your irrigation system. Grubs are a reality in everybody's lawn, so don't worry about them, as there are natural predators that often keep them in check. Manage your irrigation system so that you are applying about 1 inch of water per week either through rainfall or irrigation cycling. This should be enough to keep the lawn green and healthy. Since you have an irrigation system, make another application of fertilizer--lightly this time, about 0.75 pounds of actual nitrogen per1000 square feet. Around Labor Day weekend, again apply herbicide as needed in troublesome spots and over-seed as needed. Another application of fertilizer at this time would also be good, at the same rate as your first one. If those pesky bugs return this spring, catch some, preserve them in denatured alcohol, and send them to me for ID. We can then figure out what to do with them.

Q: We live on 5 acres north of Bismarck and have established tree rows. We would like to plant grass in them this year to help with the weeds. What advice do you have for a low maintenance grass? Also part of our land is still "native" grasses (I use the term loosely) and has become overrun with thistles. We spray with Roundup but they just keep coming. Is there any kind of preemergent weed killer we could use? If so, when do we apply? They seem to keep on coming up all summer long! (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.) 

A: The grass I would recommend between your trees would be a sheep fescue/hard fescue combination. Both are bunch grasses that are drought tolerant and shade tolerant -- up to a point. The sheep fescue is more drought tolerant and somewhat shade tolerant; the hard fescue is more shade tolerant and somewhat drought tolerant. One will fill in where the other fails. I would suggest using Confront to control thistle. It is a product that has triclopyr and clopyralid as active ingredients and has done an excellent job of taking thistle out of turf for me, because of the excellent systemic action it has. Canada thistle has to be prevented from going to seed, either by mowing before it flowers or getting it with a herbicide like Confront. This would include perimeter areas around your property, as the seed can travel great distances. The best remedy for controlling Canada thistle is persistence and aggressiveness on your part. Don't give up the vigil! 

Q: Could you advise me on what kind of Kentucky bluegrass seed to use in this area? I know there are hundreds of different kinds. Should a person use two types of Kentucky bluegrass in a blend mix? (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)

A: You are right, there are hundreds of Kentucky bluegrass cultivars that can be used, and the ones you select should be based on what you want and the kind of maintenance you are intending to commit to. If you are not going to have an automatic irrigation system, then I would recommend the cultivars 'Kenblue', 'South Dakota Certified', 'Park', 'Ram I', and 'Fylking'. For irrigated areas I would suggest one of the elite varieties, such as 'Touchdown', 'Glade', 'A-34', 'Adelphi', 'Baron', 'Cynthia', 'Parade'. Generally, two or three cultivars are blended for genetic diversity within the species. If there is any shade from maturing shade trees, you are best to include a shade tolerant variety as well, like a creeping red fescue, making up about 30 to 35 percent of the mixture. The fescue will also do well in the sun, but the Kentucky bluegrass will out-compete it there; in the shade, the fescue will have the upper hand as far as competition goes.

Q: I read your column faithfully in the Jamestown Sun every week. I'm very interested in ornamental grasses and wonder if there are any that are winter hardy for North Dakota's zone. I am especially fond of pampas grass but understand we have too cold (and long) a winter for it to do well. (E-mail reference, Wishek, N.D.)

A: There are several ornamental grasses that will do well in North Dakota. One in particular I know you will like is the 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass (Calmagrostis arundinacea 'Karl Foerster'). Even though the references claim it to be hardy to only zone 5, we have been growing it in Fargo, Dickinson, and Williston for several years now. It gets to about 5 feet tall and blooms early, giving us a nice show through most of the summer. A couple of others are big bluestem and little bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium). Big bluestem will get about 6 feet tall, and gradually spreads or colonizes the area it is growing in. Little bluestem does not spread and gets about 2.5 to 3 feet tall. Both are beautifully ornamental. While it is true that pampas grass is not hardy in our area, a "type" quite similar in appearance that I'm sure you will like is the Chinese silvergrass - Miscanthus sacchariflorus. It will get to be about 6 fet tall, and will colonize any area it is planted in. Finally (at least for now!) is Indian grass - Sorghastrum nutans. Look for the cultivars 'Holt', 'Osage', or 'Rumsey'. This too will approach 6 feet in height. It has beautiful yellowish-brown flowers that sway nicely in a gentle breeze and remains as a clump. There are more, but none as spectacular as these. I'm glad you are interested in ornamental grasses.

Q: I have a small yard with two active boys and an active dog. Is there a type of grass that could hold up to them? I have sodded and seeded and have had minimal success. I'm looking for a grass with a strong root system to stand up to both the boys and dog running and playing. The backyard soil is mostly clay. Two years ago I tilled the entire yard raked it completely and took out all the stones. I added 2 inches of topsoil and had sod delivered. I sodded myself and it took well. Now after two years it’s not holding. I dug a hole, and the good news is that I have a good 3 inches of topsoil and a sandy soil from the sod as a mix. Is there any type of strong grass that will survive the winters, kids, and dog, or should I wait till retirement to have a lawn in my yard? (E-mail reference, New Jersey)

A: Your part of the country is blessed with a wide range of grasses that can be grown. It is in what is called the "transition zone." While it is unlikely that any grass can survive the continuous onslaught of dog and kid activity, there are some suggestions I can make that may help, and encourage you to accept the fact that your "perfect lawn" likely won't come about until you do retire! There is a grass species called tall fescue. In that species, are several cultivars that have very attractive and durable turf characteristics. Here are some of the advantages of tall fescue: Wear tolerant - it has been used on many athletic fields where it is hardy. Shade tolerant - this species is second only to fine fescue for shade tolerance. Rapid establishment - tall fescue establishes quickly and reliably. While it is slower than perennial ryegrass, it is much faster than Kentucky bluegrass. Inexpensive seed price - just be sure that in taking a frugal approach you don't purchase "K-31" tall fescue. It is suitable only for roadside situations. You would not be happy with it as a turfgrass. Adaptable - to both warm weather of New Jersey summers, as well as just about any winter condition that your state has. Drought tolerant - it is among the most drought tolerant of the cool season grasses. Should a water shortage ever hit, I can assure you tall fescue will be the last to die out or go dormant. May contain endophyte - this is an internal fungus that has been bred into some of the cultivars or varieties that provides biological control of surface chewing insects. Try to find a variety that has at least 35 percent endophyte enhancement or infection. Some of the best cultivars that I am aware of are: 'Arid', 'Gremlin', ‘Taurus', 'Rebel Jr', and 'Rebel II'. 'Bonanza' is another popular one, and I have had it growing in my backyard for over 12 years now. The only thing I don't like about it is the need to mow it about twice as often as the 'Touchdown' Kentucky bluegrass in my front yard.

Q: I have the weed speedwell in my lawn. What can I use to get rid of it? It has taken over
a part of the country cemetery also. (E-mail reference, Forman, N.D.)

A: All the speedwells I know in this part of the country are annuals, so a pre-emergent that will control broadleaf annuals should do the job. If the pre-emergence opportunity is missed, then Trimec should take it out. Try to get the weed in the early stages of growth when it is most vulnerable to herbicides

Q: I am fortunate in having several paces available to place a garden. My favored spot lies between two groves of trees and is almost completely protected from wind damage and drying. The same trees that protect it, however, also shade it partially. I would estimate no part of the garden gets more than six hours of sun on a summer day. Is this possibly the reason why I seem to get more upward growth (sometimes spindly) than fruit production (tomatoes, for example)? What vegetables might be most appropriate for this area? The other favored area has complete sun but a high water table under it (near a small lake or slough). It is high enough that trees started near it have died over the years. What "crops" might be best for this area? I have had terrible luck growing vining crops (regardless of area, watering, fertilizing, etc) such as squash, pumpkins, and gourds. We have a hive of honey bees nearby and there always seems to be bumble bees around also. Any suggestions? (E-mail reference)

A: Vegetables, especially those that bear fruit like tomatoes and peppers, need as much sunshine as they can get to produce that fruit. Shade causes the plant tissue cells to elongate and cell walls to become thinner. In essence, the photosynthetic factory that produces energy for fruit production is greatly reduced, resulting in poor or low fruit production. The best crops to grow in such locations are the leafy ones like lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard, and possibly cabbage. You can still grow something in the full sunlight/high water table location. I would suggest going with a raised garden. Get some 1" x 12" boards and cut them into appropriate lengths, secure them to the ground with stakes, and bring in some good sandy loam from an outside source. Voila -- you have an instant productive garden, and should be able to grow any legal crop there. Fruit set on vine crops like cucumbers, melons, etc. is dependent on bee activity, and bee activity is dependent on the weather cooperating. Many times the flowers are open and the wind is high, it is raining, or it is too cold, and the bees cannot do their job. When that happens, locate the male flowers, remove, and use them as pollinators to the female blooms that open. The difference between male and female blossoms is quite obvious, and the best example I can think of for educational purposes is the Easter lily. When the flower opens, the two sex organs are apparent–the yellow, pollen-laden anthers and the pale-green pistil (usually with a sticky surface). With cucumbers, the flowers are either monoecious -- each plant producing female and male flowers -- or gynoecious, which produce only female flowers. In those varieties, the seed packet will have some pollinator-plant seeds coated with a colored dust for identification. Then there are also parthenocarpic cucumbers which are seedless, and have renounced pollination altogether. On monoecious plants, the first blossoms to appear are the male, followed by female blooms, which delays fruit production. The same basics hold true for the other vining crops- - melons, squash, and pumpkin. If you want to assure bee activity, interplant with borage. I did one year, and had enough fruit off the vines to start my own farmer's market! So, the bottom line: be sure you know what "type" of vine you are planting, and make sure you do everything possible to assure insect activity. They do a much better job of distributing the pollen than we do. Otherwise, seek out the first blooms, which are male, and go to work on the female flowers when they open.

Q: What pre-emergence chemical can I use in my perennial flower garden, and how often do I need to apply the chemical? (New England, N.D.)

A: I would suggest Preen as a general recommendation. Be sure to follow label directions for timing and rate. 

Q: We will start excavation for a new home in the spring on the prairie in southwest North Dakota. There is prairie cactus everywhere you step. I am wondering if after the site is leveled and grass is seeded we will still have problems with cactus among the grass. Are there any chemicals we can use to get rid of the cactus before we even begin the dirt work? (E-mail reference, N.D.)

A: Cactus is seldom a problem with a renovated lawn that receives proper care. If you get a chance, visit our trial sites at the Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) to see what grass cover appeals to you with the inputs you want to make.

Q: What can you tell me about "Lemon Grass?" I was curious and purchased some. It is potted and growing very well. Will it produce lemons? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Lemongrass -- Cymbopogon citratus-- doesn’t produce lemons, but it produces a lemon-like scent from the essential oils that are in the leaves. Bruise or break a leaf and you will note the lemon fragrance. This plant is used in Sri Lanka and Thailand for food preparation. It is also used medicinally in Brazil and Caribbean to settle nervous stomach disorders. The Cubans use it to control ring worm and lower blood pressure. What more could we ask of a plant?

Q: We are planning some "garden" work in our new yard, and I would like to do things right the first time so I don't have to redo it later. So, I have some questions for you:

1.Is the Hansen's variety of bush cherries recommended for this area? I found that Nanking cherries are, but I couldn't find any information about the Hansen variety. 2.Is there a way that you can split and transplant a raspberry plant to increase your number of plants without buying more separately? 3.Are there different varieties of the chokecherry? If there are, which varieties do you recommend for this area? (Forman, N.D., e-mail)

A: The Hansen's cherry is not recommended for our area, as far as I can find out, but the sand cherry is.

Raspberries spread by underground runners known as rhizomes. They split easily and can be transplanted to new locations Do this in the early spring just before new growth shows.

All the chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) will do well in our region of the country, but they all sucker, so plant them where suckering is desired such as in a windbreak. If you can't tolerate suckering but want to plant anyway, do something to keep the root system confined so that the suckering can be controlled easier. The Copper Schubert and Boughen's Chokeless produce large, non-astringent fruits. Robert and Mini-Schubert are smaller, more compact plants with large red fruits that may fit into a residential landscape better, but these varieties will be more difficult to locate.

Q: My hollyhocks seem to have a fungus. Do you use sulfur powder on them? If so, where do I find it? Is this the time of year to use it? Also, should I fertilize the lawn yet? (Gwinner, N.D., e-mail)

A: As the hollyhocks start new growth, spray them with All-Purpose Fungicide (Daconil 2787).

It is WAY too early to fertilize the lawn. Wait until some new growth is showing and you have mowed it at least a couple of times. Then apply a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen (N), with a major part of the N coming from sater insoluble nitrogen (WIN) sources, which should be listed on the bag.

Q: I purchased a home in West Fargo, N.D. last September, and I noticed after a cutting or two that there were quite a few bare/dead patches in the lawn. Individually they are about 6 to 9 inches in diameter and are concentrated in two parts of my yard, front and rear. These small patches collectively make up a fairly large area. The neighbors on each side do not appear to have any of these dead patches. The people I purchased the house from had a dog for a short period of time. Could this be my problem? Urination? I had a fall application of weed killer and fertilizer, and the applicator reported no sign of insects or fungus. Just before it snowed, I spread some lawn seed on all the spots and lightly raked it in. Is there anything you could suggest to improve this unsightly piece of ground? (West Fargo, N.D., e-mail)

A: Yes, those bare patches are likely caused by dog urine. The salts from the urine are what causes the "burn" and death of the grass in that location. Eventually, the salts leach out of the soil root zone and grass can be grown there once again.

It sounds like you have done the correct procedure. If the grass fails to take hold in those spots, send a sample in to me, and I'll have it tested at our lab for high soluble salts. If that isn't the problem, then we have another one that needs to be solved!

Q. Which method do you recommend more--seeding or sodding--in establishing a new lawn?

A. That depends on two factors: how much money you have to spend and how much patience you have.

A sodded lawn is an instant lawn, but the cost is about four to six times that of a seeded lawn initially. The seeded lawn will usually test one's patience to an extent from the horde of weeds that will attempt to establish a home there ahead of the grass. Roughly, a full year is needed in patience and persistence to get a seeded Kentucky bluegrass lawn looking decent.

But a seeded lawn, once established, is adapted to the local site conditions--soil, rainfall and climate. The sod, however, is grown at another site (perhaps 200 miles or more away on soil that could be markedly different from yours and with a selection of seed that is best for the grower to establish). Sod looks good going down, and perhaps continues to do so for the next two to three years, but it often begins to decline from soil incompatibility, which brings on disease problems.

If you are going to use seed, try to give yourself all the advantages. Kill off existing vegetation with Roundup, disturb the present grade as little as possible--no more than to simply establish good surface drainage--and seed in late August when any annual weeds that may be coming up will be killed off by a fall frost before they can set seed.

I have been successful with both seed and sod lawns. I like the sod because clients are instantly happy with the results, and they pay their bills quickly. With seeded lawns, I have had problems with collecting because the client wanted to wait until "it was a nice thick lawn, free of weeds and no bare spots!"

If you know your sod source to be a mineral-based sod and not a peat-based one, then the chances of it getting established with no future problems are much better. Given my druthers, if I had the initial dollars and knew what was in the sod as far as grass species and the soil it was grown on, I'd go with the sod. Without these assurances, I'd seed.

Q: I was told that there is a pre-emergent herbicide for crabgrass and quackgrass. If so, will it kill the rest of my lawn? (Mohall, N.D.)

A: There are pre-emergent products available to kill crabgrass, an annual that appears in lawns beginning midsummer. These include products with chemicals in them such as trifluralin or pendamethalin. There shouldn't be any problems with the pre-emergent killing your lawn unless you are seeding it, because it only disrupts seedling germination.

Quackgrass, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to control because it doesn't spread by seeds like crabgrass, but instead, by its underground rhizomes. Post-emergent herbicides such as Vantage should be applied by spot spraying directly to the quackgrass.

Q: Can a person put crabgrass preventer on in the spring over a piece of ground that has been sown with grass? Also, can I spray Roundup over tulips and lilies that are not up so I can kill quackgrass? (e-mail)

A: There is only one pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide that can be used that way -- Tupersan (Siduron). All others will take out the desired turfgrass seed as well. Roundup is deactivated as soon as it hits the soil. As long as there is not green showing above ground, the tulips will be safe.

Q: I think my lawn is plagued by ground ivy, but I also need to know how to get rid of it. I also have some plant that has bluish purple star-shaped flowers that I would like to get rid of.

Is crabgrass best treated with spray or pellet chemical treatment, and is fall the best time for treatment? (e-mail)

A: Ground ivy will take a couple of applications of Trimec to control it. The same chemical will also take care of the violets -- the purple flowers.

Crabgrass should be dead now from the frosts. Being an annual, it is best controlled by a pre-emergent herbicide in the early spring.

Q: We have a lot of leaves in the fall. Is it better to use a mulch blade and mulch all the time or should we bag them and fertilize with a weed and feed in the spring and fall? Also, are ashes from the leaves we burn good for the garden? (Perham, Minn.)

A: The more you can mulch the clippings and leaves back into your lawn, the better it will be for the lawn. Unless you have a chronic problem with weeds, I suggest staying away from weed and feed formulations. You are better off to fertilize only and spot kill the weeds when and where they show up.

Ashes will tend to raise the soil pH. Unless your soil tests below pH 7 to a significant extent, I don't recommend their continued use.

Q: I have noticed orange looking spots in my lawn this fall. Please let me know what is wrong and what I should do to treat it. I have tried to trim most of it off. I hope that helped. (Oakes, N.D.)

A: You've got a perfect example of the rust fungus! It shows up on some species of grass and not others. It is almost always nonlethal to home lawns. You did the right thing--cutting off the diseased grass and disposing of it. While there are chemicals you can apply that would help control this disease, I don't encourage it. The grass usually outgrows it, or the environmental conditions change over a short time period and the visible symptoms disappear. Just continue to follow good maintenance: mow regularly, fertilize a couple of times each year and water when needed.

Q: Is there a product we can use on our lawn to get rid of mushrooms? This summer we've even had mushrooms in the sunniest, driest part of our yard! 

lso, I have a flower bed next to the foundation on the south side of our house. Three sides of the bed are surrounded by a small brick/cement wall so the entire bed is enclosed in cement. For the last eight summers we have tried to grow a variety of flowers and/or shrubs in this bed with absolutely no luck. We've replaced some of the dirt and added mulch and compost but whatever we plant dies. Any suggestions? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: First, there is no known chemical product that can be applied to control mushrooms. They will eventually decrease and disappear.

And second, my best guess is that the plants are being killed off by extreme heat buildup. If there is no free drainage, that too could be a problem! Try planting some heat-loving plants such as potentilla, vinca, and portulaca. If those plants die, then it is something else that is doing them in. Do you get any weed growth? If not, then a toxic residue is there and all soil needs removing.

Q. How often should mulch be replenished?

A. Whatever it takes to maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, with fall being an ideal time to check and replenish as needed. Be sure to be consistent in the use of the mulch material to avoid a layering effect--if you start out with bark, stay with it--don't change to compost, unless your are up to removing the bark first. Be sure to rake the existing layer of mulch before adding the new material. And be sure the mulch is kept away from the trunk of trees so that it does not encourage disease or rodent activity to develop.

Q: There are many spots throughout the south side of the house that have dead grass (large and small patches). A friend of mine said that we have grub worms under the grass and that is what is killing it. Is that right? What do you think it is and what can I use to restore the grass? (Fort Ransom, N.D.)

A: The only way to be certain of a diagnosis like that is to peel the grass back around the leading edge of dead patches of grass. I have not seen grubs as the cause of dead grass for the past several years. In most instances it has been a disease like pythium, Necrotic ring spot or one of the snow molds.

Q: I have cosmos that look beautiful, then suddenly wilt and die. Out of four plants I only have one left. Any ideas why? I am also wondering when and how to divide switch grass. Finally, can you tell me what the difference is between lilies and daylilies? (Hoven, S.D.)

A: The cosmos are probably infected with Verticillium wilt. It's a pathogen in the soil and very hard to control.

You can divide the switch grass best in the early spring when it is dormant.

Lilies grow from bulbs whereas daylilies grow from tubers. The flowers are somewhat similar in appearance (though lily petals are more slender), but the plants are definitely not! Daylily plants look similar to clumps of overgrown large-leaf grasses while lilies look like your typical Easter lily plant, with a central stalk and slender leaves spiraling from it. The different types of lilies are named so because of their various plant characteristics--plant height, flower color, hardiness etc.

You can order lilies and daylilies from most any mail order flower/bulb catalogs, or maybe put in a request to a gardening friend with extra plants. Lily bulbs should be planted in the fall. Daylily tubers can be planted then or in the spring, and the plants can be divided and replanted almost anytime during the growing season.

Q: When is the best time of year to aerate a lawn? We mow the grass with a mulcher mower, but it seems like there is a lot of old grass starting to kill the grass in places. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: Core aeration can be carried out anytime the lawn is in active growth, as long as sub-freezing weather is not around the corner. Generally, it is done in late May or around Labor Day, but if you have an irrigation system, you can do it now. I just completed aerating my field just three weeks ago.

You are smart to recycle your grass clippings back to the turf. It is an environmentally sound practice that saves time and benefits the grass plants.

Q: Our lawn seems to be the only one around with an abundance of white clover. We have tried to mow it, but that does no good. Is there anything we can do to get rid of it so it won't come back next year? (Orient, S.D.)

A: White clover used to be part of grass seed mixes when I was a kid. Then someone called it a "weed," and the battle began! Today there are many clover herbicides available. Refer to recommendations in the NDSU Extension Service publication titled "Weed Control in North Dakota Lawns" (H-1009). Products such as Trimec or Confront are herbicidal compounds that have a synergistic action which takes out clover. The best time to apply the herbicide is when the clover is actively growing, or in late August to early September.

Q: We had the lawn sprayed last spring, but it did not kill this one weed. How do I get rid of it? (Rugby, N.D.)

A: The weed is Glechoma, also known as ground ivy. It has a nasty root system and so the best lawn spray to use is Trimec, the strongest herbicide on the market. You should be able to find it all most home and garden centers. Remember to follow the label instructions.

Q: Please advise me as to what I can do to level my lawn that has become very bumpy and uneven, possibly due to nightcrawlers. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Several things: roll with a ballast roller, topdress with topsoil, power rake—you may try any or all.

Q: I want to convert part of my lawn into prairie with little bluestem, grama, and buffalograss. The yard on the south side and the front of the house will be used more and will be mowed on a regular basis. These areas will eventually be watered by a sprinkler system. What grass seed would you recommend for these areas? (Bismarck, ND., e-mail)

A: I would suggest a grass seed mix that would have some South Dakota common, Kenblue, or Park Kentucky bluegrass as a major part of the mix. These are tough grasses that will stand benign neglect and still look good. Another one if you can find it is Ram I Kentucky bluegrass. This would be good for the areas you eventually plan to irrigate with a sprinkler system. It has the ability to withstand low maintenance inputs or a lot of TLC—whatever—and still look good.

Q: I am having a hard time growing grass—period. I have tried Kentucky bluegrass with no luck! I have lots of sunlight. What should I do? (Louisville, Ky., e-mail)

A: So the bluegrass state won't grow Kentucky bluegrass? Well, try a transition zone grass like Arid or Bonanza tall fescue. Your part of Kentucky is mild enough that this species should establish beautifully.

You want to get the lawn started as soon as possible to allow the crowns to mature before going into winter. Sow thickly, about six to eight pounds per 1,000 square feet, and you should have a beautiful, durable lawn in no time. Keep it mowed at 3 inches and fertilized twice a year (spring and fall) and you should have a very attractive lawn.

Q: What can be done to create grass regrowth in the white spots of a lawn caused by female dog urine? (e-mail reference)

A: There is only one thing to do—leach the salts with excessive water. This would involve taking a hose with a nozzle and soaking the area two or three times to get the salts removed from the root zone.

Q: Ugly grass is taking over my lawn. (Groton, S.D.)

A: Your sample was nimblewill, a perennial, creeping grass that resembles bentgrass but turns brown in winter. There is no selective herbicide for it, so your only option is to use Roundup to kill it, and then seed with a desirable grass like common Kentucky bluegrass.

Q: Can you tell me what type of prairie grass is native to this area? I would like to plant approximately one acre back into native grasses. (Grand Forks, N.D., e-mail)

A: The eastern region of the state is generally known as the tallgrass prairie. Being unfamiliar with your specific site, it may be a different ecosystem, but I would think a tallgrass mixture would work out OK for you.

A mixture that would include big bluestem, Canada wildrye, switchgrass, and Indian grass, along with the usual wildflowers of purple coneflower, the various black and brown-eyed Susans, New England asters, dame's rocket and others should give you a fairly attractive stand.

Be warned: your ambition will cost you many dollars, but it will be beautiful once completed.

Q: I have a question about my yard, but the problem is I live in Hawaii. The climate here is warm, but the area I live in is cool, and because we are slightly elevated we get a fair amount of rainfall, especially during the winter months.

I have a 36-square-foot "courtyard" with a 6-foot fence around it, so it stays shaded most of the day. I loosened the soil about 1.5 inches down and bought something called "shady lawn" grass seed. It has been about two weeks now and we have very nice growth. OK, here's my question: What is "shady grass"? What we have growing looks like a skinny blade of grass that grows up. It seems very frail, it is very easily pulled out of the ground with no effort at all.

I'm just wondering what it's going to look like. What can I expect out of it? Will it spread and withstand any amount of traffic? (Hawaii, e-mail) 

A: From your description, it sounds like you are growing some creeping red fescue or rough bluegrass, as either would fit the description you provided. My bet would be that it is probably the creeping red fescue.

Generally, grass that is shade grown, even adapted species like the ones mentioned, are not as vigorous as grass grown in full sun and would not stand up to traffic as well. It takes some time to get a grass toughened up to the vicissitudes of what we are going to put it though. Mow it high, 2.5 to 3 inches, and alternate directions each time, to build a stronger, denser turf. Fertilize, but don't overdo it. Base the applications on the seasonal rainfall and how well your soil drains. I suspect that you have in excess of 60 inches of rainfall during the "winter season" and likely will have to irrigate during the summer. One to two applications of a turf fertilizer would likely do the trick. It is better to keep the grass a little on the lean side to promote toughness than to apply too much fertilizer and make the growth soft and susceptible to wear and disease problems.

You might want to check with the extension office in your state or county and see if they can provide more accurate information for you. I hope the information I provided helps you make some decisions.

Q: In my yard there is a sink hole where a basement used to be, but it was filled in with dirt many years ago. Through the years it has settled and now it is hard to go over with the lawn mower. I was wondering if we could fill up the hole with drift dirt (dirt that has drifted from fields on a fence line)? I know that dirt is really hard and I was wondering if it would be any good for growing grass. (Battle View, N.D., e-mail)

A: Normally the "drift dirt" or blow sand, is made up of some very fine material, and as a consequence can pack down quite hard. It should be fertile, and you can use it, but I would suggest that you incorporate some organic matter into that spot in the form of peat moss or composted barnyard manure. This will soften it somewhat and improve the tilth of the soil overall.

That done, it should produce a good looking turfgrass for you!

Q: Could you tell me how and when to seed buffalograss and clue grama grass? (Wing, N.D.)

A: Wait until the temperature hangs near 75 F for a while and then sow the seed. The blue grama will come up first and eventually, so will some of the buffalograss. Maintain at a mowing height of 3 to 4 inches. Keep it moist until the grass is well established.

Q: Can you give me an address of where I can purchase some native wild grasses? (e-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)

A: You bet! Prairie Moon Nursery, Route 3, Box 163, Winona, MN 55987, 507-452-1362, e-mail:

Q: I have a couple of questions for you. What can be done to control moss but won't kill the grass?  Mice have feasted on the bark of an apple tree this winter. What should be done to the chewed area? (Stanley, N.D., e-mail)

A: Moss development in turf areas is the result of too much moisture lingering in too shady a location. Permanent elimination of moss and algae can be achieved by allowing the soil to dry or drain better. This can often be accomplished via selective pruning, (if the dense shade is tree caused), core aeration and/or regrading the soil surface. Temporary relief can be achieved with the application of about four to six pounds of iron sulfate or about 10 ounces of ferrous ammonium sulfate per 100 square feet.

If the trees have not been girdled, then simply take a sharp knife and make clean edges around the damaged areas. No need to put on any type of dressing. The tree will begin a healing process faster that way, if it is going to heal over at all. 

Q: I am looking for something to spray quackgrass with to kill it. I heard someone talking about a chemical called Casoron 4G. Could I use it in my flowerbed? (Cando, N.D.)

A: Actually there are a couple of quackgrass killers out there that can be used: Casoron and Vantage, a postemergence. The list for acceptable crops is quite extensive, so I encourage the reading of label direction before using.

Roundup can also be used on quack infestations. The lawn and garden formulations come in handy spray bottles that allow close application of the product near desirable plants. You might want to isolate the source of crabgrass. If it is coming in from the surrounding turf area, a physical barrier in the soil will be needed to keep it form re-invading.

Most elevators should have these products for sale. If not, then try a garden center.

Q: I have an established strawberry bed thick with grass. Last year I used Poast twice in the spring while the grass was still young and once in the fall, but no improvement. Is there a suggested concentration for strawberries? My plot is approximately 200 square feet (e-mail)

A: If you have used Poast based on label rate, it should have taken care of the grass in your berries. If it didn't, then you either have tough grass, or timing, application technique or something else was not right. You might be better off digging up a small patch of strawberries early next spring and killing everything else off that comes up after that with Roundup. Then replant.

Q: Could you identify this sample of grass that is invading my lawn? (Elgin, N.D.)

A: I'm sorry, but in spite of the good sample, I was unable to identify your invading grass. The fact that it was still green at this time of year indicates that it is likely a perennial. I did not note any rhizomes. It could be broomsedge or something that was in your bird feeder taking root.

Roundup control is best when the plant is actively growing. It should work on this grass, whatever it is.

Q: Could you please identify the enclosed weed and tell me what to spray to get rid of it? I also would like to know what to spray to get rid of the grass in my strawberry patch. (Erie, N.D.)

A: The sample you sent in was purslane, a prolific seed-producing annual that is best controlled with a preemergence herbicide like DEPA. Or, you can give up and cultivate it as a salad green.

If the quack grass is especially bad, you may want to dig it up and begin again. Refer to the extension publication "Weed Control in North Dakota Lawns" (H-1009).

Q: Can you tell me what products contain Dacthal, Betasan and Tupersan? I am looking for these to treat foxtail next spring. When is the best time to fertilize my lawn in the fall? I also would like to know why my onions didn't get very big this year and were soft? I have also enclosed a weed I would like identified. (Winner, S.D.)

A: The weed is broadleaf plantain. This, and other broadleaves, can be controlled with 2, 4-D type products, such as Weed-B-Gone, Trimex etc.

You likely had the wrong cultivar of onion. In our climatic region, select only long-day types. Sweet onions are the Spanish or Walla-Walla types. Sweet pickling types are `Silver Queen' and `White Portugal.' Onions need full sun, well-drained soil and ample moisture. The best onions I've ever seen (and tasted) came from a grower near Williston, ND.

The best time to fertilize the lawn is in the fall, with a slow-release material. You can still do it, as long as the soil isn't frozen.

Tupersan is sold as "Crabgrass Preventer and Weed Killer" by Bonide. Betasan can be sold as is or under the name Bensulide, by Green Light; and Dacthal is sold as DCPA by many companies.

Q: I live in northern Minnesota and have sandy soil. I am wondering if you could give me some information on growing a nice lawn. (Clearbrook, Minn.)

A: Work in as much organic matter, such as peat moss or compost as possible. Incorporate superphosphate into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil at about 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Fertilize, seed and if possible, hydromulch the area, and keep moist until germination is evident.

Sand requires a strong commitment to watching water requirements for a sucessful lawn.

Q: I am wondering if it is too late to seed a lawn. What happens to the seed if it would freeze? (Clarissa, Minn., e-mail)

A: You are now in what is known as the "cusp of dormant seeding." This means that for the most part, you are applying seed now that will complete germination next spring. The seed applied now goes through the pregermination process. That is, it imbibes water, oxygen, etc. and begins the slow process of germination, which in the case of bluegrass, takes three to four weeks of ideal conditions. This is not likely to happen in October.

The seed that does germinate is usually OK, provided a snow cover takes place through the worst part of the winter. The ungerminated seed takes off like a rocket in spring when the weather warms, giving the weeds a run for their money!

Q: Enclosed is a plant that has recently invaded my lawn. Can you identify it and tell me how to get rid of it? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: You sent me a perfect sample of crabgrass! This is a warm-season annual that is killed off with fall frosts—but not until it has dropped thousands of seeds. Next spring, just as the forsythia flowers are fading (or the lilacs just opening) apply a preemergent product like Dimension® for control. Then, do everything possible to grow healthy, vigorous grass: fertilize, water, and mow regularly—doing so at 2½ to 3 inches. This should keep this pest from making a comeback!

Q: Enclosed are some needles from my spruce tree that are turning brown. I have sprayed for mites, but I'm not sure if I used the right spray. I was given some Kelthane, but I don't know how to use it. Also, is the other enclosed sample a weed or a flower, and will Poast kill Kentucky bluegrass? Is it OK to transplant in the fall, and when is the best time to sow poppy seeds? (Winner, S.D.)

A: Some mite damage was noted on the sample needles you sent. The best, most effective material to use is a hard spray of plain water once or twice a week. Folks in the business to sell miticides don't like hearing that, but it is true!

A weed—member of the buckwheat family—get rid of it before it goes to seed. Poast is a grass herbicide; therefore it will kill Kentucky bluegrass. The oil concentrate can be obtained from your local elevator or pesticide supplier.

Transplanting of trees and shrubs can take place up until the soil freezes. The earlier the better. Perennial flowers are transplanted after they have been blackened by frost. Bestto do it early too.

You can dormant sow poppy seeds in October, around the 10th through the 15th, or early in the spring as soon as soil can be worked.

Q: Enclosed is a sample of grass from my lawn that is a darker green than the rest, and it seems to be taking over the other grass. I would like to get rid of it, but I'm not sure how. Also, I have an old stump from a lilac bush I sawed off to the ground to try and prevent suckers, but it hasn't worked. There are also suckers on my maple tree. What can I do to get rid of these? (Hillsboro, N.D.)

A: The samples you sent were definitely not crabgrass or quackgrass, but annual ryegrass. This, and crabgrass, are not worth controlling at this time of year. Next spring, around the time lilacs flower in your area, apply a premergent herbicide listed for crabgrass control from the enclosed circular on lawn weed control—for example, Pendimethalin ("Weed control in North Dakota Lawns"—H1009).

And, speaking of sprouts from a lilac stump, try "painting" the leaves and cut stumps with Roundup. It will likely take a couple of years, but if you persist you'll win—I promise!

Do not do the same thing with your maple tree. The only option you have at this point is to cut the suckers back!

Q: For the last two or three years, appearing in the spring, we have had large circles in the lawn (and the circles are almost perfectly round) where the grass is thick and green. Sometimes the circles are intertwined but more likely are single. This year we have nine circles and I'm really curious to know if we have an underground rodent that I should be concerned about or if it's an animal marking its territory or what. I should tell you that the only part of the circle that is nice and green is the circumference. The center is just plain grass and the diameter of the circles is usually about five feet at the minimum.

A: Your lawn problem sounds like classic Fairy Ring disease. This is caused by decaying organic matter such as dead tree stumps and roots. It is progressive, with the circles enlarging each year. The only thing you can do is mask it with fertilization and core aeration. Eventually, the fungus will outgrow itself.

Q: I hope you have some ideas about what I can do with a row of Golden Currant shrubs that we planted along our front yard (250 feet) three years ago.

We didn't know anything about this shrub when it was planted, but now I'm afraid it's going to be too "high maintenance" to keep looking nice.

Unfortunately, we did not have landscaping fabric put down when the shrubs were planted, and now it is impossible to keep them weed- and quack-grass-free. I weeded each plant this spring, but the quack grass is still coming. Also, there are so many small branches to weed around.

Could we spray Roundup or Spectracide around the base of these shrubs after the first killing frost this fall? Would it help much to put landscaping fabric between each shrub now? We also thought about putting tree mulch or grass clippings at the base of each shrub, in an attempt to choke out the weeds and quack grass.

Do you have any advice on when and how to trim/prune these shrubs?

We're considering replacing all these shrubs with a more manageable planting of cottoneaster, especially because of the location in our yard.

A: Bad news! Quack grass is tough to keep in check. It would likely grow through or around the landscape fabric. 

If you are unhappy with your currants, get them out as soon as possible and spray the entire area with Roundup to kill off the quack. Replant this fall with the cotoneaster.

Q. At what soil temperature will crabgrass germinate and how do I control the crabgrass? (Oakes, N.D.)

A. When the soil temperature is around 55 to 60 F at a depth of 2 to 3 inches, crabgrass seed (some of it) will begin to germinate. If you use Dimension and crabgrass preventer, you will get 16 weeks of control. This is a good feature because crabgrass seed, as you know, doesn't germinate all at once, but throughout the season. This product will take you through August. Anything that sprouts after that will get toasted by fall frosts before seed can be set.

Thanks for writing.

Q. I am having some evergreens pulled out and want to know how I can get the grass to grow where the trees used to be. There are large areas underneath the trees that haven't had  grass growing. The person removing my trees told me it was pine tar from the trees that kills the grass. I plan on putting down some black dirt. Is there anything else that I can do to ensure good grass growth? (Fargo, N.D.)

A. The most likely contributors to no-grass-growth under the evergreens is a lack of sufficient light and a smothering mulch created by continuous needle drop over the years.

When I was living in Georgia, I used to enjoy walks through pine forests--the needle mulch was so thick and the shade so complete that, almost nothing else grew.

Q. We have these clumps of grass spreading all over our lawn. What is it and how can one get rid of it?

Hope you can help us. (Dent, Minn.)

A. It appears to be bentgrass. It could have come in on shoes when someone visited after playing a round or two. Or, it could have blown over (5.3 million seeds per pound), or been a containment in a seed mix.

Spot kill it with Roundup.

Q. We are wondering what this grass is that has invaded our lawn in a few areas. Also, what can be done to get rid of it--besides digging it up by hand. It grows low to the ground and spreads out very readily. We read the articles all the time. Thank you. (Litchville, N.D.)

A. Your lawn is being invaded by an annual grass known as crabgrass. The best defense for this is a healthy, dense turfgrass.

I suggest an application of Pre-M (preemergent grassy weed control product) about the time the lilacs come into bloom. You also need to become aggressive in rejuvenating your lawn: fertilize, mow at three inches and as needed, water to keep the grass from going dormant, and reseed the bare spots.

Q. I would like to start a perennial garden this fall. What can I do to stop quackgrass from growing into it in a few years. Would using railroad ties filled with dirt help to keep it  out? (Tappen, N.D.)

A. Yes, railroad ties would help, but they are a lot of work. It would be better to use landscape edging that you can push into the soil about 4 to 6 inches deep. This is usually   deep enough to keep quack rhizomes from invading.

Q. I have enclosed a few leaves from a winter hardy Lillian Gibson rose. Three years ago the new spring growth froze off following a cold snap. Since that time the plant has become smaller in size and the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. It had just a few blooms this year and once again the leaves fell off.  Also, thanks to one of your Hortiscope columns in the Farm Forum pages, I have been able to locate a pre-emergent without purchasing a lawn fertilizer combo for crabgrass. Will the seed of crabgrass be fertile when it continues to form a head after being sprayed with Roundup or Trimec? Thanks for your help. (Mitchell, S.D.)

A. I have just one concern--Trimec and Roundup are not pre-emergent herbicides and are not used in the control of crabgrass. Several pre-emergents are available: Pre-Em, Tupersan and Dimension. All are applied in the early spring around lilac blooming time. Concerning the crabgrass, the answer is yes. The plant is killed, but not the seed.   Your rose sample has a bad case of black spot, Diploearpan rosae, a fungus disease brought on by high humidity and splashing water.  Several fungicides are available for control. Look for something with chlorothalinol or triforine. Application should be made as new growth emerges--every 10 days or so.  Also, avoid spraying water on the leaves. After pruning back in the spring while the plant is still dormant, spray the canes with lime-sulfur for sanitization.

Q. I read your garden tips every week and find them very interesting and helpful. I have never seen a question about pigeon grass. It is growing in our lawn and I would like to know what to do to get rid of it or control it.  Redfield, S.D.)

A. Pigeon grass is a regional name given to green and yellow foxtail. It is a bunch-type annual that sets seed in late summer, and is generally only a lawn pest when the turf  is getting initially established from seed, or when the turf has become thin from low nutrition, excessive wear or extended drought.

It is easily controlled with preemergence herbicides in the early spring. Dacthal (DCPA), Pendimethalin (PREM), and Siduron (Tupersan) are three examples. Also, keep your lawn vigorous through regular fertilization, mowing and irrigation.

Q. I always read the write-up you have on plants in the Weekly Peddler, but somehow I missed the one on quackgrass in iris. This is a regular pain for me as I have a lot of them. Could you please send me some information on this matter.

Your write-ups are welcome to those of us who need help. Keep them up. (Lakota, N.D.)

A. Quackgrass in iris can be a real problem, in that I have found the rhizomes of the quackgrass can penetrate through the stout rhizomes of the iris.

My suggestion is not widely embraced by many gardeners, but if you are wishing to grow those iris where they are, you must be determined in your attack on this obnoxious weed. Here it is:

1.Carefully dig out the entire iris planting. Discard any rhizomes that have been penetrated by quackgrass.

2.Going down 4 to 6 inches, remove every quackgrass rhizome you can find. Be sure there are no quack rhizomes along the border of your planting bed. They will only reinvade once the iris are reset.

3.Once you are sure the area is clean, reset the iris and keep future invasions to a minimum with carefully sprayed Roundup.

Q.Asparagus is salt tolerant and I would like to salt its soil to keep weeds down.

1.Will salt help the plants, or have a neutral effect?

2.How much salt should I use?

3.Should the salt be left on the surface or tilled into the soil?

4.Should the salt be applied before or after planting?

5.If after, how often?

6.What other aspects of using salt around asparagus should I keep in mind?

Thank you. (Howard, S.D.)

A.With my master's degree in soils, I just cannot bring myself to recommend salting the soil deliberately to control weeds.

There are herbicides that you can use to control both the grass and broadleaf weeds. Sinbar can control emerged annual broadleaved weeds and Fusilade or Poast will control emerged grasses.

For pre-emergent treatment, use Princep or Devrinol. For really obnoxious perennials, including quackgrass, use Roundup, applying at least one week before the first spear appears.

Salt use will destroy the structure of the soil and would not be a complete herbicide anyway.

Q.I would like to know how to get rid of quackgrass in my raspberry patch.

I enjoy reading your articles. (Rutland, N.D.)

A.Quackgrass in raspberry patches can be controlled with Roundup, if the canes are dormant, in late fall or early spring before new growth begins.

It can also be controlled selectively with a material known as Poast or another one called Casoron. Don't be discouraged quackgrass is difficult to control and may take a couple of applications to completely control.

Q. I fertilize my lawn two or three times a season and try to spread the fertilizer as evenly as I can with a hand-held spreader, yet I have spots in the lawn that are a much lighter green than the rest, which is a nice dark green.

Could I help these lighter green spots by applying a fertilizer that has more nitrogen? (Fargo, N.D.)

A. I suggest two fertilizations a year with a quality product such as Scott's Turf Builder. Rent a drop or cyclone spreader and apply according to directions, being sure to overlap the application.

Top quality products like the one I mentioned have a homogenous blend of their fertilizer nutrients, allowing for a uniform application and growth response.

Q. Our lawn was sodded last summer and this spring we noticed some round circles on it. Is this a fungus or mold and how do we treat it?

Thank you. Enjoy reading your column. (Walhalla, N.D.)

A. It is likely that you have one of the two snow mold fungi--gray or pink. For the homeowner it makes little difference which one it is. Right now, light raking with a broom rake should suffice, with a light overseeding with Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass mix.

As the soil temperature warms, and the grass begins growing to where you have mowed it at least once, consider aerating the lawn. This will improve surface drainage and help overcome soil/sod interface incompatibility, and cut down on the incidence of this disease.

In late fall--October--I suggest fertilizing with Milorganite, Restore or some other organic.

Q. I am sending a sample of grass from a diseased area on my lawn. It was from an area that looks somewhat like a circle or ring and is light-colored. It is on the north side of the house where a lot of snow sat all winter on ground that was not frozen. Can you tell me what it might be and how I can treat the area? There are several areas like this in my back yard.

Thank you for any assistance you might give me. (Oakes, N.D.)

A. Your sample was loaded with a fungus known as gray snow mold, Typhula ishikariensis. This fungus has had a "field day" this year with snow lasting so long over unfrozen turf.

It has been found that most snow mold problems can be significantly reduced via the following management approaches:

1. Dormant fall fertilization with a slow-release nitrogen carrier like Milorganite or Sustane.

2. Mowing until leaf growth has stopped, and making the last mowing a notch lower where the snow mold is a chronic problem.

3. Using snow fences to spread drifts better.

4. Limiting winter traffic over the area.

5. Aerating to improve drainage.

For this year, lightly rake the affected areas, picking up the debris. Fertilize lightly once grass growth begins, and reseed any bare spots.

Q: What lawn grass has the most tolerance to salinity? We have many areas in Minot that have a high water table and salt problems. It is very evident this time of the year with the whitish material on the surface. (Minot, N.D., e-mail)

A: Try Fultz (Puccinella distans) creeping alkali grass. If that doesn't grow there, no grass will! It has been successfully used in Medora, N.D., where they have similar problems. It isn't any prize-winning beauty, but it will at least survive where nothing else will.

Q: My daughter is getting married Aug. 4. For centerpieces at the reception, I had wanted to plant grass in clay pots and then place fresh flowers in the pots in water picks. We are having a garden theme. I planted grass in the clay pot to see how long it would take to get nice thick grass. I placed the pots under lights and covered the pots until germination took place. The grass germinated fairly well, but I had trouble with the thickening-up stage. The grass has now died. I may have not watered enough and plan to practice again soon. Do you have any suggestions for better success? Next time, I plan to use grass for shade, thinking it might require less light, even though I had it under lights and don't think light is my problem.

A: Try some creeping red fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass seed in different containers to see what it is you like best. All need light for most effective germination, so don't cover. That will also cut down on the possible incidence of disease getting started. Use sterilized potting media to start the grass in, and sprinkle the grass seed thick enough to cover the area completely. You are going to be using the grass in the juvenile state, so seed density is important to get the effect you are seeking, since these containers will only be temporary. Note also how long the grass stays attractive, so you can figure how many days to give yourself prior to the wedding day. Good luck and have fun! I'll be facing the same thing someday, so I might be coming to you for some advice on how to survive "marrying a daughter off!"

Q: Lately my lawn has come up with some coarse clumps of grass that spread like wildfire. You can even feel these clumps when you step on them. (Steele, N.D.)

A: I believe it is mat muhlyMuhlenbergia richardsonis, a rhizomatous perennial. I know of no selective herbicide that will take it out of your lawn. If the clumps are too extensive in number to dig up, then my only suggestion is to use Roundup as a spot spray or to completely renovate you lawn.

Q: A friend has done extensive remodeling to her home and her yard as been ruined in the process. They have several large trees in their neighborhood. Can you purchase sod for shade areas? Her whole yard will need to be redone and all of it will qualify for the shade sod. (Valley City, N.D., e-mail)

A: Shade sod will be hard, if not impossible, to come by. Sod farms are in 100-percent sunlight, but some mix in shade tolerant cultivars as well. If you can find out what cultivars make up the sod, then I can tell you whether there are any that are shade tolerant in the mix or blend. Also, it depends on the tree species. Some produce what is known as a "dappled shade" where there is sunlight that dances across the turf surface during the day. Most grasses will do acceptably well under such conditions. Where the shade is solid for most of the day, then the most shade-tolerant cultivars would be necessary. Some examples of shade-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass cultivars are Glade, Glade II, Touchdown, A-34, America, Bristol, Eclipse, Enmundi, Mystic, Nugget, Ram I, Sydsport and Chateau. Likewise, there are many cultivars of creeping red fescue. Chewings fescue and hard fescue are quite shade tolerant and are included in some shady lawn mixes. Of course, you can always purchase the standard sod that is available, and seed into it the shade tolerant cultivars that I have mentioned here as the original begins to thin out. Keep in mind that shade-grown grass survives better when it is mowed high (3 inches), fertilized less (about half the rate of sun grown grass) and not allowed to go into drought stress from the tree root competition.

Q: Do you know what is the best way to get rid of grape hyacinth in a lawn? (e-mail)

A: Mow `em down to keep them from making the all important photosynthates for growth and survival. Or, if you choose to use a 2,4-D type herbicide, you will need to add a wetting agent because the foliage doesn't soak up herbicides too well.

Q: I planted a large area of new lawn last fall, including an area where a new shelter belt is planted. The grass is coming up but so are the weeds. In some areas there is shepherd's purse growing so thick that I am sure it is competing too much with the grass. What can I do about the weeds? There are too many to pull out by hand. At what point can I apply a broadleaf weed killer? Do I need to fertilize the new lawn this spring? Every year I put down pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide, and every year I have tons of crabgrass. I will try again this year, but would like to know when I should put it down. Can you give me an approximate date? Is it OK to cut potentillas way down, maybe a foot above the ground? I have some that seem so overgrown. I am planting dahlias in my garden for the first time this year. Can I plant them now or do I need to wait until the frost free date? Sorry I have so many questions, but it seems like every time I go outside, I think of something else! (Fargo, N.D.,e-mail)

A: You can apply the broadleaf weed herbicide to your new lawn when the weeds are actively growing. It is best to get them in the juvenile stage, as control is much more effective. It would do the lawn good to receive some fertilizer this spring about mid-May. Are you sure you are fighting crabgrass and not quackgrass? Many people get the two turned around. In many weed-and-feed products on the market, the concentration of the herbicide is usually lower than it is when purchased straight without any fertilizer included. The active ingredient (AI) in crabgrass control products is usually pendimethalin or oxadiazon, and in some cases, siduron. All of these are pre-emergence materials that have to be applied BEFORE germination takes place. Another point of confusion for consumers is the fact that some weed-and-feed combinations go after the broadleaf weeds, such as dandelion and broadleaf plantain, and are post-emergence materials that are effective only AFTER the weeds have emerged. Neither of these has any effect on quackgrass, which is a cool-season, rhizomateous, perennial grass. There is no selective product on the market for controlling this weed. Crabgrass starts germination about the time the lilacs are beginning to bloom. Any pre-emergence herbicide needs to be applied just prior to that time, or about when the forsythia stop blooming in your area. Yes, cut the potentilla back as far as possible. We did it to ours this year, as they have just become a tangle of unattractive branches. Better to have attractive fresh-looking foliage and growth rather than something that looks like it was used for mortar practice! With the arrival of May, I would say you can put your dahlias out anytime now. Just keep an eye to the weather, in case a cold snap hits and the tubers have begun to emerge succulent growth. Just toss a sheet or newspaper over the new growth.

Q: My husband jokingly calls the grass in our yard "buffalo grass," and a neighbor tells us the yard was a weed patch before we moved here. This "grass" is very thick and hard to mow, and it turns brown after mowing. Is there anything we can do short of digging up the yard and reseeding? (Garrison, N.D.)

A: First, make sure your mower blades are sharp. And second, I believe it is nimblewill--Muhlenbergia schreberi--a delicate perennial that is broadly adapted to various sites but especially thrives in moist, shady locations. Spray it with Roundup, wait seven to10 days and then scalp-mow and overseed with a desirable cool-season mixture.

Q: Around a spot in our lawn where a damaged elm was removed a year ago we've got a lot of mushrooms. The recent rains have brought them up a couple of times a week. A neighbor says the chips from the tree have helped the fungi to grow. Interesting theory: Is it so? The mushrooms aren't a problem. I just mow 'em. But they raise a question. Our lot produces a lot of limbs and branches every year. I'm thinking about buying a chipper to convert this stuff into mulch. But my enthusiasm for the idea will wane if putting the chips on our garden beds would nurture an extensive stand of mushrooms. A few of them are fine. Lots and lots aren't. Do you have thoughts or advice? (Bismarck, N.D., e-mail)

A: Get the chipper. Some mushrooms may come up as a result of using the chips, but your yard will not be covered in them. Yes, your neighbor is partially right. The "old" chips or other decaying organic matter in that old elm spot are contributing to the growth of mushrooms. I have them showing up on football fields that have not had trees growing in that area since I have been at NDSU. Mushrooms will grow on thatch, rotting roots, construction debris or dead bodies! Give us a week of warm, dry weather and they will be forgotten!

Q: I think there is quackgrass growing in my lawn, but it seems much finer than regular quackgrass. Could you please let us know what kind of grass it is? (Campbell, Minn.)

A: I can tell you for certain that it is not quackgrass. My best guess is that it could be either Sandburg or Canada bluegrass.

Q: My lawn is really uneven with hard bumps all over. I have been told that it is caused by earthworms. Is this true? If so, how do I fix the problem? (Ellendale, N.D.)

A: I suggest that you hire someone to come in and power-rake those pilings down to give you a more even surface to walk upon. Then apply Sevin at the label rate for grub control and water the insecticide in well. That will take out about a third of the population. Repeat again if the level of control isn’t satisfactory.

Q: Would you please let me know how I can measure the suitability of compost ("the maturity") and what kind of plants can I use in a screening test of the phytotoxic substances in the compost. Best regards. (E-mail reference, New Zealand)

A: The basic rule for compost maturity is the inability to recognize any of the plant parts that make it up, along with a clean, "earthy" smell, not something that smells septic. Toxic substances are very unlikely in a well-digested compost, but salts are sometimes a reality to contend with. A basic test would be to grow a tomato plant and corn plant (a sensitive broadleaf and "grass") to see if they proceed normally. If they both bite the dust, then I'd suspect soluble salts being high, and would recommend cutting it 50 percent (at least) with mineral soil, and repeating the same test. Keep diluting it until you have hit the point where no toxicity symptoms appear.

Q: What would you recommend to get rid of crab grass in a big farm yard? It would be quite expensive to use preemergent type products with the fertilizer and crab grass prevention products together. Is there any product you would recommend that would work for us. We have heard of "Drive" and wonder how it would work and also what affect it would have on the trees and flowers which are part of this large yard. (E-mail reference, Cavour, S.D.) 

A: I'm sorry, but I don't know what Drive is, what the active ingredient is, or what crop(s) it is labelled for. Consequently, I cannot make any recommendations on that product. I do know that there are plenty of other stand alone products that can be used in turfgrass to control crabgrass as well as other annual grasses. They include the old standbys like pendimethalin, Tupersan, Dacthal, and Betasan and new intros like Acclaim and Dimension. I do agree with you 100 percent that combo products are not as effective, mostly because the active ingredient is too low for heavy infestations. Apply the herbicide separately from the fertilizer. 

Q: What can we use to get rid of white clover? I used Curtail, but the grass goes too. I didn’t know that it would run all over the yard, but it is starting to take over. Would 2-4D work? Also, why won’t grass grow where a tree stump was? (Campbell, M.N.)

A: If you can find a lawn care operator that uses Confront for broadleaf weed control, that will do it better than anything else. If you cannot find anyone who uses Confront, try a couple of applications of Trimec. You are correct. White Dutch clover will move into a low fertility lawn and eventually take over unless checked. The grass is not growing where the tree stump was is likely due to alleopathic compounds remaining in the soil. Excavate some of the soil and replace. That should take care of the problem.

Q: Can you identify the enclosed weed and tell me how to get rid of it? It is invading the yard and the garden. It lays very flat to the ground and quickly takes over the area. (Cogswell, N.D.)

A: You have sent me one of the most beautiful samples of large crabgrass - Digitaria sanguinalis - I have ever seen! So good in fact, that I’m having it mounted to show to my future turfgrass management classes. It is best controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring about the time lilacs are in bloom. There are several products labeled for grassy annual weed control. Make sure the one you pick contains pendimethalin. Do not use a weed and feed product. The concentration is not strong enough to be very effective.

Q: Can you tell me what the enclosed weed is and how to eradicate it from a lawn? It grows on rather dry soil and I would like to know of a way to get rid of it without destroying the grass. (Braddock, N.D.)

A: What a nasty one! You sent me a sample of sandbur -- Cenchrus panciflorus -- a shallow-rooted summer annual. It is best controlled with a pre-emergence in the spring with a herbicide that contains Oxadiazon, Oryzalin, or a combination of Oryzalin and Benefin.

Q: I got a call from a person who wants to put in his own three-hole golf course. He was asking me about the grass for the greens. Someone had told him that he shouldn't use bentgrass because it is too expensive to maintain and that he should plant ryegrass. After talking to him for awhile I figured out that he had been talking to a farmer to get some rye seed for his greens. Rye for planting rye grain, not ryegrass. What should I tell him about planting grass for greens? I know about the grass that cows eat but not much about the grass that golfers putt on. (E-mail reference, Rugby, N.D.)

A: Golf courses, and greens in particular, require daily care -- meticulous care- - to be attractive and playable. Bentgrass - Penncross, Penneagle, Seaside, etc. is the only grass to consider for greens. They need to be mowed daily at 1/8 inch or less height, with an 11-bladed reel mower that costs about $5,000 new or about $3,000 used. Daily irrigation is a must, as well as weekly light feeding with an appropriate blend of fertilizer. Since the grass on the green will be under constant stress, a preventative program of disease control will need to be followed, as well as some means of control for any invading weeds. Since bent is vulnerable to many herbicides, this poses a challenge even for the experienced golf course superintendent. USGA greens construction is very detailed and expensive, with average costs running between $30,000 and 35,000 for a green that is about 6500 square feet. If he wants three greens he has close to $100,000 minimum invested before tackling the headaches of establishment and maintenance.

Q: When they were building the section of apartment that I live in they pushed some of the rocks from the excavation into a "U" shape, put some dirt over it and planted some trees on the top. It has an elevation of about 10-12 feet. The top grows grass passably and trees well; however, the sides are terrible. The slope is quite steep so it is also difficult to water without runoff problems. It looks like a big sand pile. I heard you on the radio answering a question from a caller, giving two alternatives to a problem similar to this. Would you be able to give me some suggestions? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Two solutions: Create pocket gardens of wild-flowers and ornamental shrubs that can be planted by hand, or have a hydro-mulching contractor come in and spray a wildflower-prairie grass mixture on the mound. The material has a tackifier in it that holds the seed and mulch in place as the seeds germinate and become established. You might contact local nurseries to have them help prepare the site for the hydromulching and perhaps for the operation itself.

Q: Is there a chemical that can be sprayed on lawn grass (Kentucky bluegrass) that would reduce the growth so it would not have to be mowed as often? It looks like Plateau herbicide might be an option on established grass. (E-mail reference, Billings, Mont.)

A: Chemical mowers or PGRs (Plant Growth Regulators) are frequently used by golf course superintendentss or others involved in the turfgrass profession. They are not without their problems, the main one being the inconsistency of turf response following application. Turf response can vary with environmental conditions, with the time of year, and with stage of plant development, and it is also very difficult to predict response. Except for the very best turfgrass systems, a turfgrass canopy will have something other than 100 percent Kentucky bluegrass- - some quack, some crabgrass, and possibly some broadleaf weeds. All are not affected by the PGRs the same way. Add to that the fact that no equipment or technology exists to perfectly apply the PGR's - any skips, misses, or overlaps become glaringly obvious. Generally PGRs are used for areas that are difficult to mow, such as slopes or out of the way places that are not seen up close.

Q: My yard is very compacted and extremely rough (my lawnmower takes quite a beating); it's also high in clay content. I picked up literature at the local Extension Office regarding lawn renovation. I have a fairly good catch of grass and reseeding does not appear to be needed - just better fertilizer management and an aeration program. That will help the grass but not the roughness. I am thinking about wetting the soil and then running a roller over the lawn. That will no doubt increase compaction. Will aeration ultimately mitigate this increased compaction? Other options I've thought about are tilling the lawn and starting over (uff da), or spreading black dirt over the existing lawn, but I fear that without incorporating the new dirt into the existing hard lawn I will have a poor interface. (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Rolling a lawn with a ballast roller is a good practice to correct the problems you mentioned. The increase in compaction is not bad, and is usually not a detriment to the turf. Yes, later core aeration will correct any excess compaction that may have taken place. You can also run a power rake over the lawn before rolling to help level things out somewhat, but do not till everything up. This will only pull up a ton of weed seed that will welcome the opportunity to germinate for you. Then you'll really have a headache!

Q: I am interested in putting in some ornamental grasses as a background for my garden. I'd like them to grow to 4-5 feet tall, and would like one for the shade, if possible, and one for sunny spots. Can you suggest good varieties, suitable for our winters and short growing seasons? (E-mail reference, Fargo, N.D.)

A: There are several ornamental grasses you can use. There are none that do well in shade. The will grow, but will flop over easily and not look as attractive. Here is the list: big bluestem - about 6 feet; Indiangrass - about 6 feet; 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass -- 4 to 5 feet; Feezy's ribbon grass -- 3 to 5 feet; prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata) -- 5 to 7 feet (quite aggressive in moist areas); Canada wild rye -- 5 feet.

Q: As I "plug" aerate my lawn and look at the neighbors who have theirs done by various lawn services, the "plugs" look different. Mine have about 3 inches of heavy black soil and half an inch of brown thatch. Theirs have about 1 inch of brown soil and 3 inches of brown thatch.
Which is most desirable? Or is it an insignificant problem? (E-mail reference, Fargo, N.D.)

A: A very good question -- and certainly significant! Your lawn is much better off -- in fact, just about perfect. Those that have the numbers just opposite yours have the problem. The thicker thatch inhibits water and air movement, effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizer, and is a hotbed for disease and insect problems. So, in a nutshell, you caught yours at the "preventative" stage, rather than trying to "cure" a malady already in place. Do it on a regular basis and you'll likely not have any major problems.

Q: The lawn directly in front of our home is heavily infested with the enclosed specimen. I would say that it is either quack grass or crab grass. What would be the best way to get rid of it? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: How about neither? It is tall or meadow fescue, and unfortunately there is no selective option for ridding it. If your lawn is truly heavily infested with this clumpy, coarse-textured grass, I suggest a complete wipe-out with Round Up next spring or early summer, and reseeding.

Q: When a mulch of bark is placed around a tree in the lawn area, what is the best substance to use next to the ground to keep weeds from growing through the bark? Is it better to use a landscape mesh to allow the moisture and air to pass through, or a layer of regular black or clear polyethylene with a layer of small rock to hold the plastic in place and the bark mulch on top of that ? I cleared the garden of plant debris and had the plot tilled this fall. Weeds have always been a problem , especially mallow, pigeon grass crabgrass. A crabgrass control product works well on the lawn. Can this same product be used in the portion of the garden where started plants like tomatoes are set out, and is it O.K. to use where large seeds like beans and corn are to be planted ? I have found that mallow is a difficult weed to control. I have heard it called "sheep geranium." Is it one weed that sheep will not eat? (E-mail reference, Faulkton, S.D.)

A: The mesh is definitely better! It allows air and moisture to move into and out of the root zone, encouraging the deep development of roots. Plastic creates anaerobic conditions that is unhealthy to the root system. All I can tell you is to read the label when it comes to pesticides; it is the law. If a product label does not list the crop, then it cannot be used legally. For example Treflan 4E and Prowl 3.3E are listed for emerging grassy weed control in most, but not all, vegetable crops. Products called Poast 1.5E and Select 2E can be used in controlling emerged grasses in tomatoes. Millions of dollars go into label development, so they end up being the best source of information for all of us.

Q: I need some info on what is good grass to plant on grass greens. The LaMoure Country Club is looking to replace its sand greens with grass. (E-mail reference, LaMoure, N.D.)

A: Penncross creeping bent is the only way to go. However, grass greens require special attention, Like a nine- or 11-bladed reel mower, mowed every day in a different direction; a mechanic to keep the mower tuned and sharpened; an irrigation system that can syringe the greens when the temperature starts to climb; a fertilization and pest control program that needs spoon feeding.

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