Questions on: Lawn/Grasses

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: A client is wondering if there is a product that you can add to flowerbeds to take care of weeds, but won't kill the flowers. (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, it is called Preen and is available at almost every garden store.


Q: I have an earthworm infestation in an area of my lawn that I regraded and seeded last year. The seed grew well, with no apparent worm issues. This year, the grass is substantially thinner and you can see a lot of earthworm mounding (I dug them up to verify it was worms). Once I treat the area with Sevin, how long should I wait to reseed the thin areas? Do earthworms eat the seeds? It seems like a waste to try to seed if they eat them. (e-mail reference)

A: Earthworms do not eat seed, so you donít have to worry about that. You can reseed anytime, but I would suggest going over your lawn with a power rake to even out some of the humps. This will create an ideal environment for your seed to become established.


Q: We have a problem with bromegrass in our lawn. We are close to a fence line with bromegrass in it that goes to seed each year and invades our lawn. Is there a way to eradicate it other than reseeding? Would Siduron work? (Corsica, S.D.)

A: Siduron will work if you have annual downy brome (Bromus tectorum). I donít know what is common in your area. In North Dakota, we are confronted with perennial brome (B.inermis), which Siduron would not touch. If it is a perennial, then the only control is Roundup.


Q: In the spring gardening seminar, you mentioned waiting to power rake and core aerate until after mowing a couple of times. Is this necessary or could I do it before mowing? Do I power rake and then aerate or is it the other way? Also, I want to start having my lawn treated for weeds, etc. Is it OK to do this before power raking/aerating or do I wait until later? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Those are good questions! I tell people to wait until the grass has been mowed a couple of times to keep them hedged in somewhat or else everybody would be out there doing it in March or early April with the first nice day that came our way. First, core aerate. Allow the cores to dry for a couple of hours, so they break up easier with the power rake. After power raking, you can apply the herbicide and fertilizer. The mechanical treatment of the lawn will pull up and expose many weed seeds, so a treatment after this operation would be the best option.


Q: I have a curious question to ask you about sowing lawn seeds. I am told that some seeds should be buried and some exposed as long as they are firmed on the ground. Can those exposed seeds germinate? (e-mail reference)

A: If the seeds you are talking about are Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass or creeping red fescue, they simply need to be lightly dragged and firmed into the surface of the soil. Most grasses need light for germination. If the seeds are buried, germination will be slow. The moisture problem is solved in part with a straw or virgin wood-fiber mulch spread lightly over the top and the entire planting lightly irrigated three to five times a day until germination is evident.


Q: When should I power rake and aerate my lawn? (e-mail reference)

A: The best time is the first few weeks of May. By that time, you have mowed the lawn a few times and the crowns, root system and rhizomes are anchored securely.


Q: Many of my neighbors are now mowing their lawns and bagging. They cut the grass short, but it really greens up. Is this advisable at this time? (e-mail reference)

A: This often is called a ďcleanup mowingĒ that removes the top third of the old grass and allows the sun to hit the crown and soil, which warms up the soil and stimulates new growth. I just drop my mower down one notch and bag whatever I cut. If you leave it alone, the grass also will green up, but later. Scalp mowing, which many folks do, is tough on the grass and the machine and opens the crown too much, giving the weed seed an opportunity to sprout and grow competitively with the grass. Those who do it this short should get their blades resharpened to do a better job of cutting the grass during the summer.


Q: My yard is sodded with blue grass. After the sprinkler system was installed a year after the sod, the areas over the pipe are growing tall fescue from a possible reseed. It looks terrible (color mismatch) and grows at a different rate. What can I do? (e-mail reference)

A: Get out the Roundup and spray along the lines where the tall fescue is coming up. After that, cut the dead material out and resod with Kentucky bluegrass again.


Q: My lawn has dollar spot. Is there a way to get rid of it without killing the lawn? How often should we aerate the lawn? (e-mail reference)

A: Dollar spot is an easily controlled turfgrass fungus with any number of fungicides that will not kill your entire lawn if properly used. Fungo (thiophanate-methyl), mancozeb, maneb and Subdue are a few examples. It can be controlled culturally by removing morning dew with a syringe cycle of the irrigation system; maintaining a good (not high) level of nitrogen with light, frequent applications; and keeping the lawn hydrated, but not saturated. Aerating a home lawn once a year is more than enough unless you have very poor internal drainage or the turf doesnít respond to normal cultural practices, such as fertilizing, mowing and watering. Timing is important. Aerate when the turf is growing actively, so anytime after green-up and a few mowings is acceptable. Since aeration dries the soil, it isnít advised if there are watering restrictions or there is a drought. It can be done in conjunction with early fall fertilization and overseeding.


Q: We live out in the country and have a big propane tank. It is near the back door, which is the door everyone comes to because it is more convenient. What would you recommend to at least partially hide the tank? Some fast-growing plants or shrubs would be wonderful, but evergreens also would work. (e-mail reference)

A: Think very carefully if you really want to landscape around the tank. Trust me, sometimes the attempt is more of an eyesore than the tank! I would not plant vines. If the company ever had to get to the tank in an emergency, having plant growth over it could cause delay problems. Plant some perennial/annual bedding plants around the base so people will look at the beautiful flowers and ignore the tank.


Q: I tried going to the xeriscaping address on the Web that you gave us in your column, but I couldnít get anything. Was the address in the paper correct? (e-mail reference)

A: I donít know what was published because I didnít get a chance to see the column. Here it is, right from the horseís mouth! You will find the information at www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/landscap/h957w.htm. It's guaranteed to get you there!


Q: While hiking with my sons last fall, they pulled the tops of what I believe to be marsh grass plums off the stalks. We want to know if the plums are the seeds. Can we plant them in our yard? How would we do it? (e-mail reference)

A: Sorry, I donít know and none of my references has marsh grass listed for propagation purposes. Perhaps a reader will know and pass the information on to me. If that happens, Iíll certainly pass on the information.


Q: I have a question regarding the safety of lawn chemicals and pets. We have had a lawn care service do our lawn for several years. We just got a puppy and are concerned about chemicals in the lawn. I am concerned even though the service calls a day ahead to let us know when it will be spraying the lawn and says itís safe once the chemicals are dry. Are there any safe products that you can recommend that we can apply for fertilizer and weed control? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: There are safe products. The most notable is corn gluten meal, which is a herbicide and a fertilizer, supplying 10 percent nitrogen. It is very expensive, but effective. Your lawn care provider can order it for you or you can go to Gardens Alive at www.gardensalive.com/.

I believe the product it is promoting is the corn gluten meal developed by Iowa State University scientist Nick Christians. You will find a whole selection of environmentally friendly materials that you can use on your lawn, garden, flowers, trees and shrubs on the Gardens Alive Web site. Generally, your lawn care operator is right. Following proper procedure, what is applied is safe for pets and people. Some folks want to go organic, which is fine, but understand that the intent is to eliminate unwanted pests, weeds, insects or diseases. To do that, something has to kill it. Anything that kills one organism has the potential to be harmful to other organisms as well.


Q: Where can I get a pre-emergent herbicide to control mustard and barnyard grass? When do I apply it? Should the temperature be in a certain range before applying this spring? We also need to seed our back yard. Last summer we sodded the front and seeded the back. The sod is doing great, but the seeded area needs a little help. The grass seed grew, but it is patchy. There is a lot of black dirt still showing. We do not have an underground sprinkler system. Because we donít have many trees in our development (Eagle Run), the wind is quite strong. I overseeded late last summer/early fall. Some of the seed took, but we still need help. I rented a power rake to loosen the soil before overseeding. It didnít work well, but it did remove some of the dead barnyard grass stalks that I killed. What is the best way to overseed? Should we hire a professional? For my last question, our neighbors moved into their house in December. They have a dirt yard. Now that the snow is gone, a lot of silt from their dirt is blowing on my lawn. Any suggestions on how to deal with the silt? It is getting a few inches deep. Is there a way to keep the dirt from blowing onto our lawn? I thought of using some silt fence material, such as the black fabric that contractors use, but I have no idea where to get it. (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: There is only one pre-emergent herbicide that you can use. Siduron is the only one on the market that allows for control of annual grasses without inhibiting the desired cool-season grasses. It is not readily available in the Fargo-Moorhead area, so I would suggest that you hire a competent local contractor to make the application. Generally, the material is applied around the time the lilacs begin to bloom. For silt control, the best method is hydromulching using a tackifier. This nails the soil in place and prevents wind and water erosion. Setting up a screen fence will collect the silt in one place for later removal. The ultimate answer is sodding the entire yard, which is expensive, but then you have an instant lawn.


Q: Someone called in on your radio show and asked about the importance of rotating crops in your garden. Your answer was clear, but it didnít address my problem. My garden is just a small plot on the south side of my house. I usually plant three tomato plants, some basil and eggplant. Since the tomatoes and eggplants are from the same family, I canít rotate the two. (I was going to skip the eggplants this year because they havenít been doing well). Iím interested in the tomato plants because they taste so good and do very well in this warm, sunny spot. Is there something else I can do instead of rotating? Can I add something to the soil? I guess Iíve been lucky because Iíve never had disease problems, but it sounds like Iím on borrowed time. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for being a loyal listener to our program. Your problem is common with small-scale gardeners. You can practice excellent sanitation with good fall cleanup and spring preparation, and whenever possible, select tomato cultivars that are disease resistant. If they have a string of letters behind their name, such as V,F,N,T and A, it means that the variety is resistant or tolerant to most major tomato problems. Generally, new hybrids have resistance bred into them. It is mostly the heirloom or older varieties that are disease prone and need rotating between families. Thanks for the good question!


Q: I had a gardener call about applying Miracle-Gro potting soil on his garden. (e-mail reference)

A: If the plot is small, it certainly will not hurt adding Miracle-Gro or any other potting soil for that matter. If he has a large area, then he might find the cost a little too outrageous. There is an advantage to using potting soil. It is sterilized or pasteurized, so it wonít make any weed, insect or disease contribution to the area. He might find sphagnum peat moss to be a little more economical and just about as effective at correcting his soil problem.


Q: Our gardener does not use the bag that comes attached to the lawn mower. When he cuts the grass, the clippings pile up on top of the lawn. He tells us this is a good source of food for the grass. Isnít that bad for the lawn because the clippings cover up the lawn? Wonít the grass turn yellow and brown and become a big mess? I usually try to rake the clippings. Is that a good thing to do? (e-mail reference)

A: Your gardener is not mowing the grass often enough. He is mowing it on the calendar and not on the need. A lawn that is mowed in a timely manner should not have more than a third of the grass blade removed at any one time. When that schedule is followed, the cut grass does not pile up on the lawn. The clippings break down and become fertilizer for the grass. I am assuming your turf is Bermuda grass. Even if it isnít, increasing the mowing frequency will not hurt and he then can allow the clippings to remain without a loss of aesthetics. Collecting the clippings is extra work and takes more time. I assume you are paying him through a contract and not by the hour. Even so, you are the customer and should have your wishes met. I would make that clear, even if you have to renegotiate a new price.


Q: I have Bermuda grass in some areas of my lawn. Some of the grass is starting to turn white. I used many fertilizers, such as npk, iron sequestrene, a cocktail of micronutrients and zinc, but didnít get any results. (e-mail reference)

A: The white grass could be somatic mutants occurring in the seedlings, which should die out since they lack the ability to produce chlorophyll. The Bermuda plants surrounding it will fill the resulting small gap quickly. Many times a yellowing of the foliage in isolated spots is due to immature or underdeveloped roots, compacted or saturated soil or soil temperatures too low to support normal growth. In many cases, these maladies are temporary and the plants outgrow the discoloration. Overfertilization will not correct the problem, so save your time and money, especially if there is no positive reaction to an application of iron-based material.


Q: I had a schoolteacher stop by asking if I knew where to purchase buffalo seed grass or another native seed grass for a science experiment she is doing with her class. Can you help me? (e-mail reference)

A: She can find almost anything she would want for such an experiment in the ďSeeds Trust High Altitude GardensĒ catalog out of Hailey, Idaho. She can reach them by fax (208) 788-3452 or phone (208) 788-4363.


Q: What is Bordeaux mixture and how is it applied? (e-mail reference)

A: Bordeaux mixture is a fungicide, an old one at that, which covers a broad spectrum of plant diseases. It is applied via a spray solution. It is available at just about any retail store that sells garden supplies.


Q: I have a question about Bermuda grass. Will cold weather kill it or will it just freeze the exposed parts and grow back next spring? Will it grow from seed? How common are sod webworms? (e-mail reference)

A: Bermuda grass should be completely killed by our winter weather. If it goes to seed before winter, that seed could survive and sprout next year. I doubt Bermuda grass can produce mature seed because of our short warm seasons. Sod webworms are quite common. It is the adult that is seen just about every time a lawn is mowed. It is the zig-zagging moth that flies out of the turf just ahead of the mower. The larvae feed in the thatch layer, nibbling on grass leaves from a silken tunnel theyíve built. The female sod webworm is a good mother because she usually raises her young in the best of lawns. Those lawns can usually tolerate the feeding without damage.


Q: Creeping Jenny is taking over our lawn. We are somewhat environmentally conscious and have never sprayed our lawn with any type of weed killers. Is there a safe, effective way to control this invasive weed? (e-mail reference)

A: The easiest control is to purchase a rake with tines closer together than an average sand rake. The tines are not flexible like a lawn rake. By raking the weed with this close-tined rake, you actually pull it out quite easily and you will be left with quite a mound of the stuff. You can compost it as long as you donít let it root in your compost pile. Otherwise discard it. Repeated raking will control this weed nicely. Another option is to discourage it from growing by altering the soil chemistry in your lawn area. This is the last thing Iíd recommend because it can be a long-term control. Adding boron to the soil at a rate of 2 pounds of borax (use regularly available Borax soap to supply the necessary Boron) to 1,000 square feet of soil will increase the boron levels to the point of toxicity to the creeping Jenny, but not the grass. If you use the liquid Borax, use 20 ounces to the same 1,000 square feet. It doesnít matter whether you use one gallon of water to spread this 20 ounces across the 1,000 square feet or 100 gallons. The constant amount is 20 ounces of liquid Borax soap spread across 1000 square feet of ground. In both examples, this is a one-time application. Do not repeat it every year. This treatment will not kill the creeping Jenny right away like pouring boiling water on it will. It will start to weaken the plant and the roots will have increasing trouble rooting and growing. It starves the plant to death and the length of time it takes to die could be several years (depending on how well you kept it fed and healthy before). Combine the raking with the borax and you have a control that is both effective and safe. If all of this is not to your liking, you can try to solarize the plant to death. Spread clear plastic sheeting over the area to be treated, seal the edges and attempt to cook it slowly, assuming your creeping Jenny is growing in full sun. If this isnít the case, then the elimination of all light via thick black plastic will do it. You need to keep it covered until just before the snow flies.


Q: I hope you can shed some light on a problem with a newly seeded lawn. The homeowner says her yard was hydroseeded with Kentucky bluegrass and 10 percent perennial ryegrass on May 15. The perennial ryegrass is up and growing, but there are only a few spots that have Kentucky bluegrass. She has kept the area wet with a sprinkler since it was seeded. At first she turned it on for about three minutes, but now she turns it on for 7 to 10 minutes so the area stays wet. She uses well water (425 ppm sodium, 450 ppm sulfates) and the soil is sandy. The homeowner is curious to know why the Kentucky bluegrass isnít coming up. (Dickinson, N.D.)

A: It could be that the seed is being kept too wet or she has seed with poor viability. Most hydroseeding companies will do touch-ups to keep clientele happy. Most also get excellent results using this procedure.


Q: Can I put grass clippings on my garden after the grass has been sprayed by a professional lawn care person? Will it hurt the garden produce or harm me if I eat it? We had them spray our yard for dandelions and also said it had something in it that would kill other weeds as well. (Ellendale, N.D.)

A: If the spray was just 2,4-D or a derivative of it, no problem after the second or third mowing. If it was any other product such as the popular three-way products commonly used that contains dicamba, I would not advise using it. Ask your lawn care provider what was in the formulation.


Q: I think I may have Dallisgrass in my yard. Is it fairly common in our area? It grows in hard clumps and has wide blades. The blades lay rather close to the ground and are not easy to mow. It is like stepping on a rock. It is ugly and I don't know how to get rid of it. Is it a perennial type of weed? Does it have runners? If I have a company spray my lawn for weeds, would that take care of it or is this something I will have to take care of on my own? (e-mail reference)

A: You probably have tall or meadow fescue, a non-rhizomatous perennial. If you contract with a lawn care company, ask them if they have a selective herbicide that will control tall fescue without damaging other lawn grasses. Most usually do.


Q: I used to use Round Up around the edge of my fence to prevent having to clip that area all the time. I decided I needed to try another method because I'm beginning to see some ground erosion. I also have neighbors on each side of my fence. Do you have any suggestions on a slow-growing grass that I could plant along the fence line so that I don't have to use the weed eater every week? My grass is primarily fescue. Is there a special kind of mulch that I could place along the fence that would keep that area grass and weed free, yet still not cause soil erosion? (e-mail reference)

A: I would suggest hard fescue such as Festuca longifolia. It is a slow-growing, low-growing, cool-season grass that is shade and drought tolerant and thrives in poor soils. You will not have to use your weed-eater any more than once a month because it quits growing beyond three to four inches in height. It is a bunch-type grass, so it will not spread into your surrounding turf.


Q: I apologize for not remembering the answer that you regularly have in your articles about what should be used to remove clover from a lawn. I never had to worry about clover until this year. Also, I am looking for something safe for cats and dogs since they are around the yard a lot.
(Walcott, N.D.)

A: Trimec, when applied and allowed to dry for 24 hours, will not be harmful to animals that roam the yard. Keep the lawn fertilized and the clover will not be a problem in the future.


Q: A homeowner says she has many pine needles. Can they be used as mulch in a garden? If not alone, could they be mixed with something? (Dickinson, N.D.)

A: Pine needles make an excellent stand-alone mulch.


Q: My neighbor just spot seeded his lawn with a tall fescue blend (Oregon origin). I was under the impression that tall fescue should not be grown in our area because of its contrasting coarse texture, color and clumping nature as compared to our blue grasses and fescues. I know tall fescues are used on football fields in the south, but do we want this seed sold in our area? I have fought this grass as a weed for many people and was surprised to see it being sold here. (e-mail reference)

A: If your neighbor spot seeded his bluegrass lawn with tall fescue, the resulting growth will be a weed. Its coarse texture and clumping growth characteristics will be a sharp contrast to the more uniform, rhizomatous nature of Kentucky bluegrass. Tall fescue, sowed exclusively as a species blend and not a mixture, can make a very attractive, durable and water-efficient (drought -resistant) lawn. I had a bonanza tall fescue lawn in my back yard for over 10 years and have variety trialed it in Fargo, Dickinson and Williston.


Q: A lady in town is having a lot of trouble with a lawn that was hydroseeded last year. She has many bare spots and is looking for tips on how to get rid of these patches. The company that did the hydroseeding says it is her problem. Personally, I don't think she watered enough early on, but I'm not an expert. (Dickinson, N.D.)

A: I agree with you. Most people fail to water enough after hydroseeding. I would advise her to contract with the company again to spot hydroseed the bare areas. The company is correct in saying it is her problem, but they shouldn't abandon her completely either. She may be able to negotiate a good price for the touch up job.


Q: I hope to try Karl Forester ornamental grass as my new perennial. Can I plant it on the south side of my house along the foundation? I am concerned that the location could be too hot and dry. Do you have other suggestions for a suitable location? (e-mail reference)

A: Karl Forester grass seems to be doing well in a wide variety of locations around the state. I would think it could survive the heat if you would be kind enough to supply the water, at least for the first year and during any future extended droughts.


Q: I have a client with newly planted grass that is coming up. The broadleaves are also coming up. Any suggestions on how to control the broadleaves? Mowing seems to be an obvious answer, hoping the Kentucky blue grass chokes out the weeds. As far as chemical control, I am concerned that the grass might get dinged a bit. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: The grass would be sensitive to herbicide applications right now because of the heat. I would suggest having the client wait until late August to apply broadleaf herbicides. They will be more effective then and the grass will be tough enough to tolerate it.


Q: My sister recently had her lawn fertilized and was told she has a lot of blue fescue in her grass and should probably top seed with Kentucky bluegrass. Is that what you would do? She lives in Dickinson which has had very little rain. (e-mail reference)

A: Blue fescue is very drought hardy. If she over-seeds with anything, I would suggest doing it with creeping red fescue or blue fescue. Bluegrass doesn't stand up well in dry conditions.


Q: Does Scott's lawn fertilizer/crabgrass preventer applied with a broadcast spreader hurt evergreen and deciduous shrubs? The label doesn't state if I should keep a certain distance from the shrubs. Broadcasting makes it difficult to control the spread. (e-mail reference)

A: It won't hurt the shrubs. Crabgrass is a warm season annual and a monocot while shrubs are woody plants and dicots. The crabgrass preventer is a pre-emergent herbicide which means it kills the seedling before it can emerge through the soil because of the chemical barrier it establishes. I still wouldn't recklessly allow the product to spread into a woody plant bed of shrubs. There is such a thing as collateral damage when using herbicides.


Q: Part of my lawn was dormant seeded last fall. The grass is now two or more inches high. Should I try to water it now or wait for rain? When is the best time to apply a starter fertilizer? I'm hesitant to walk on the grass since it is so new. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: You know how dependable our weather is. Young seedlings need water, so if you can provide some, it will help the young plants grow. Apply fertilizer after you have mowed it three times. Your light step will not hurt the grass.


Q: The Spirit Lake Tribe has moved their pow-wow grounds to a new location and want to plant grass in the area where they hold their native dances. What type of grass should they plant? It has to be something that will establish itself very quickly and be hardy enough to take a lot of wear. (E-mail reference)

A: Plant native grass such as western wheat grass, thickspike wheat grass or streambank wheat grass. They are of the elymus lanceolatus species. They have excellent seedling vigor and are rhizomatous. Plant at a rate of three and a half to four pounds per 1000 square feet.


Q: I know someone that wants to change the spot he uses for his garden. He wants to move some sod from the area where the new garden will be and put it in the old garden space. Can that be done now or should he wait? (E-mail reference)

A: He should wait until the grass is actively growing, which is after the third time he mows.


Q: Iím sending you an article on Zoysia grass. Are you familiar with it? It sounds too good to be true. Also, is there any liquid spray for crabgrass? I have about four acres to mow so itís not economical to use a granular. If I use Post over tree roots, will it kill the tree? (Browns Valley, Minn.)

A: It happens every year without fail that, when the Zoysia ad appears in the paper, I get inquiries about growing it in our region. If I knew when the ad was coming out, I would take one opposite to it and say, ďDonít believe it - it is too good to be true!Ē Zoysia is a warm-season grass that does well in transition zones such as Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. It greens up when the temperatures are dependably above 70 and goes dormant (turns brown) when temperatures go below 40. Even in areas where it thrives, it takes a long time to establish. Once established it is a good lawn surface and in some cases, used on golf courses. For crabgrass control, try to find a product containing fenoxaprop-p-ethyl such as Acclaim. There are several on the market, and they are definitely less expensive than granular material.


Q: Buffalograss is invading my lawn. There are some fairly large patches so the yard resembles a patch-work quilt. Would a severe power raking allow for the introduction of bluegrass or fescue? Currently the buffalograss is just starting to show signs of growth. (Mott, N.D.)

A: Power raking will encourage buffalograss growth. If possible, advertise that you have buffalograss available. Have them cut it out with a sod cutter. I'm almost certain that, in your part of the country, there will be some takers. They can cut it into plugs and plant it on their property. Seed where the buffalograss was and begin using cultural practices that encourage a cool-season grass to grow.


Q: I read about salt in a dogís urine killing grass. Mine is in bad shape. It is especially bad during the winter when they want to go in the same area all the time. I have to start over every year with new sod. Is there something I can do or are there any particular grasses that can withstand the heavy concentration of dog urine? (E-mail reference)

A: If I knew the answer or if anybody did, it would be announced all over the world. I would try growing decent grass by using a sandy base. You are then identifying the area for what it is, a toilet area for your dog.


Q: There is a pine tree in my yard that is preventing grass from growing underneath it. The pine boughs are cut off high so the ground gets plenty of sun. I sprinkled on some lime and replanted because I figured the pine needles were making the ground too acidic. Did I make the correct assumption? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: I am going to give you a mild reprimand by saying, never assume anything about your soil. It may or may not be acid in a pH reaction. Our clay soils in this region normally have a pH of 7.5 or higher, so a little acidity from the pine needles would make the nutrients more available for growth. I would suggest using a shade mix that contains an ample amount of creeping red fescue. If you are unsuccessful at growing grass, don't fight it. Try growing flowers instead. It's done all the time.


Q: We had a lot of lawn winter-kill this past season. What is the best way to treat these areas and what products would you recommend? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Rake the surface with a leaf rake to get the grass to stand up and the crowns to warm in the spring sunshine. Most grasses will recover, so be patient. As the soil warms, the grass will come out of its winter funk.


Q: I remember your column of a year ago that had some cautionary notes about advertisements for Zoysia grass plugs. It seems to me you indicated that it is difficult to establish a lawn using this product. Can you repeat your advice? Would you recommend another product that is more suited to our hot, dry summers? Should I use a herbicide or pre-emergent to get rid of my weeds? I would like to use as few chemicals as possible. (Mobridge, S.D.)

A: Zoysia plugs get good press but poor results in our area so avoid them no matter how good they sound. Fairway or roadway crested wheat grass is a good alternative to use in the hot, dry part of your state. If you are over-run with weeds, kill them off this spring with RoundUp and reseed with grass. Water in and keep it moist. It will establish quickly.


Q: Is total removal of leaves best for a lawn or can they be mulched with a mulching lawn mower. The lawn area is on the north side of the house and the lawn is already showing stress from the trees shading the lawn area. (LaMoure, N.D.)

A: Total removal is almost impossible in North Dakota because of the winds shifting everything around. Remove what you can and mulch the rest in with your mower.


Q: I would like to know how to mow my lawn this fall. Should I mow it at the usual height I used this summer or should I cut it lower? (LaMoure, N.D.)

A: Generally, with the last mowing of the year, cut it about one-inch shorter to remove excess foliage and keep snow mold from forming.


Q: Would you refresh my memory on distinguishing perennial ryegrass and tall fescue? (Minot, N.D.)

A: Ryegrass has clasping auricles; tall fescue does not. Ryegrass is heavily veined on the upper surface and glossy on the under surface. Generally, tall fescue will be coarser textured, while perennial ryegrass is fine textured. Both do not produce rhizomes or stolons.


Q: We have a huge maple tree in our yard and grass does not grow well beneath it. We finally found some "special" grass seed that we planted about Aug.1 and some about Aug.10. Now we have very thick grass that is 4 or 5 inches tall. Should we mow it before freeze up or let it stand through the winter? The leaves are going to be a difficult to rake this fall if we donít cut the grass. (Aberdeen, S.D.)

A: Mow it. Set your mower at the highest level and collect the clippings. A week later, lower it to 2.5 inches, mow and collect the clippings. At the next cutting, set the mower to 2 inches and collect the clippings. Keep it hydrated as long as you can going into the winter without soaking it. If the grass continues to grow into October, keep mowing it at the last setting.


Q: I live along a busy street that is sanded and de iced heavily during the winter. It gets plowed onto my boulevard and seems to be harming the grass. I completely reseeded the boulevard this past spring, using a drag, with a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and rye, but didn't have a lot of luck. It is now full of crabgrass, barnyardgrass and foxtail. Is there a type of grass I can seed that will handle the sand and de icer? Is there something else I can do to minimize its impact on the grass? I'd also like to know where I could find pre emergent Tupersan (siduron) so I can try reseeding again this fall? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: There is a seed mixture called Boulevard Mix that is composed of the most salt tolerant cool season grasses. Many garden centers in the F M region handle it. Somebody out there should also handle Tupersan. The fact that you are getting a start this fall rather than next spring puts you at an advantage over the weeds. Try to get your reseeding completed by mid-September.


Q: What is the best way to control sucker shoots or tree seedlings coming up in your lawn? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Tree seedlings can be controlled by simply mowing on a regular basis. With sucker sprouts from roots, try obtaining a sprout inhibitor to spray on the area after you have cut it back.


Q: I was told there is a variety of grass that can be planted that only grows about 6-8 inches and isnít very invasive. The grass would be planted between tree rows so hopefully the grass wouldnít need much care. Any thoughts? (Mohall, N.D.)

A: It is called sheep fescue. It will not attract sheep or win a beauty contest but it will be a functional grass topping out at 6-8 inches. Itís a good grass to use on an area such as you described. Being non-rhizomatous, it should be sown thickly, about 3-4 pounds per 1000 square feet, to make a dense stand.


Q: A friend of mine received an advertisement for zoysia grass. Is it really the miracle grass they claim it is? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Thanks for the question. It is an annual question that needs to be addressed early on. I just love our advertising media. Everything is either a "miracle" or "breakthrough," never something to just consider. Zoysia is a warm-season grass that is slow and difficult to establish, even in Texas. Once established, it is beautiful, at least, in the deep south not up north in our near-permafrost region. It turns brown (dormant) when the temperature is at or below 40 degrees and greens up only when the temperature stays dependably above 70 degrees. It spreads via stolons but does it very slowly even under good conditions and goes dormant with the first frost. It is commonly sold as plugs which is the only way to go as the seed is usually not readily available. It takes 2-3 years to get a complete cover in adapted areas of the country. If your friend lives in the "transition zone" of the U.S. which is the southern part of the northern region or the northern part of the southern regions of the country (Kansas, Missouri, etc.), I would say it is a go for zoysia to help battle the heavy infestations of crabgrass those regions have. I still wouldn't go as far as to call it a miracle grass. That noun should be saved for happenings that surpass all human or natural occurrences. Getting a grass to survive as far north as Boston doesn't quite cut it to be a miracle. Thanks for the question because it may stop future questions regarding zoysia from coming in!


Q: What can you tell me about a grass seed called Regreen? It is a sterile cross between wheat and wheatgrass and used for reclamation as a quick growing cover crop. ( Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Basically, you couldn't select a better grass for a temporary cover or land reclamation. It is a large seed, 10,000 to 12,000 seeds per pound, that germinates at about the same rate as wheat. It does not produce a viable seed so it won't become a weed later on. Unlike conventional grass seeds, this one can be competitive when sown in the spring with all the weeds that we face as the soil thaws and warms. In a monoculture, you would want to sow about 40-50 pounds per acre, placing the seed deeply in a firm seed bed, one inch below the surface. If the site is expected to be dry, sow it deeper so that sufficient moisture will be available before germination to support the full growth of the plant. It can be applied with a drill, via hydromulcher, or simply broadcast and packed in. It can be seeded in a mixture with perennial grasses to obtain fast stabilization and minimize competition. With other permanent grasses, the rate for Regreen should be 10 pounds per acre. This is often used to help establish native grasses which are much slower to germinate. The organic residue from the skeletons of dying Regreen plants offers protection from wind and will assist in trapping snow.


Q: I read your articles every week and really enjoy them. We put a sodded lawn in during the summer of 1997 and it looked great until about two years ago when dead spots started to appear. They range from about 6 to 12 inches in diameter and became quite numerous this past year. I also have been bothered by "fairy rings" during this same time period, but don't know if the two are related. I am fairly certain that the spots aren't caused by dog urine since we do not have a dog and there are none running loose in our neighborhood. I thought about digging up the spots and reseeding, but I don't know if seed would grow or what type of seed to use so that the reseeded grass would be the same shade as the sodded grass. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Although this isn't the right time of year to talk about lawns, it is perfectly fine with me if we do some out of season head knocking on the subject. What youíve told me doesn't surprise me. Sodded lawns on heavy Red River valley clay soils should be core aerated every year. Then power rake to break up the cores, and over-seed with a compatible Kentucky bluegrass blend, since 99 and three quarters percent of all sodded lawns are bluegrass blends. This will allow the grass to become better rooted, improve surface drainage, and introduce seed that will eventually become established over the years. If you have an automatic irrigation system, flag the heads first, then cut the grass shorter than normal without injuring it, collecting the clippings. Next, take a core aerator and go over the lawn in two directions. Allow the cores to dry for a few hours, then go over them with a power rake or lawn groomer. This will pulverize the cores and provide a good bed to seed into. Spread the quality bluegrass blend, then drag it in with either the back of a broom rake or drag mat. This should result in a major improvement in your lawn. Repeat this procedure each year until you get the quality of turfgrass you want.


Q: What can happen to your lawn if you do not rake your leaves? (E-mail reference)

A: They will pack down under the snow over the winter and possibly encourage the development of disease organisms such as pink and grey snow mold. A light covering will not harm anything but a heavy covering will lead to problems. In the long run, grass somehow grows anyway either poorly or magnificently!


Q: I have a question about the difference between mineral based sod and peat based sod. I wonder what mineral-based refers to. Does it mean that the soil is heavy in minerals (as opposed to the peat, v. organic)? (E-mail reference)

A: Mineral soils basically have less than 20 percent organic carbon. Soils above 20 percent are classed as organic (histosols). To this, there are sub-classifications - fibrists, folists, etc. I don't know how much of a course you want in soils. Contact me if you need more information


Q: I have an area on the west side of my house (right next to the house) where I removed a rose bush about four years ago. Since then, I have not been able to get anything to grow there. I have tried grass, plants, even laid sod and that died. The area is not excessively sunny or shady and is well drained. Can soil, where rose bushes have been, go "sour"? (Kindred N.D.)

A: In horticulture, as in many things, anything is possible including this but I have never heard of it!


Q: What do you know about Zoysia grass? My son ordered some of the plugs for me as a gift. After reading some of the information, I am wondering if it is as aggressive as they say. I am concerned about it spreading into my neighborsí yards. (Breckenridge, Minn.)

A: In Minnesota you have nothing to worry about Zoysia spreading in your own yard, let alone your neighbor's. It is a warm season grass, which means that it is active during the warm weeks of the summer and goes dormant with the first 40 degree day in the fall. It will simply be a novelty in your yard if it doesn't winter-kill.


Q: Recently a project in our farmyard has resulted in the loss of a fairly significant amount of the native prairie grass that has always been here. I am looking for an appropriate variety to reseed this disturbed area, which now has a mix of clay and black soil from a field. The native grass in places here is short and fine and perhaps there is more than one species. I would like information as to the best seed formula and where I can purchase it. This is northwestern North Dakota, Divide County. (Noonan, N.D.)

A: You would be in a short-grass prairie region. This would be an attractive ecological mix of grasses, sedges and wildflower species. Contact Prairie Restorations in Hawley, Minn. at 218-498-0260. This is their Bluestem Farm.


Q: Is there any grass other than either crested wheat or fairway crested wheatgrass that will tolerate saline soil conditions? Our Bottineau High School athletic fields sit on saline soils. They are having problems maintaining a decent turf. Do you know of any turfgrass species that can be interseeded to help thicken up turfgrass? (Bottineau, N.D.)

A: The most salt tolerant grasses that I know of that can be used in turf are saltgrass (Distichlis stricta), a warm-season grass, and alkaligrass (Puccinella distans 'Fults') a cool-season grass. Since your part of the country is considered a "cool" region, I suggest going for the latter. It isn't a pretty grass like the Kentucky blues, but it is very tolerant of soil salts.


Q: My husband has allergies. He was told that he should avoid planting our new yard into Bermuda, fescue, Johnson, June, orchard, perennial rye, redtop, salt grass, sweet vernal, and timothy. What's left that is hardy enough? (Buchanan, N.D.)

A: Unless the person advising your husband meant Junegrass to be the same as Kentucky bluegrass, he can certainly plant that species. I suggest 'Park', 'South Dakota Certified', or 'Kenblue' as possible cultivar selections. He could also plant fairway crested wheatgrass.


Q: I was given a brochure about what I would call a "miracle grass" and asked if I could find out if it is, in fact legitimate and adapted to use in lawns in central North Dakota. The grass is Amazoy Zoysia Grass that is to be seeded as a plug in a grid pattern into existing lawns. It apparently is drought proof, heat proof, chokes out crabgrass, is wear resistant, winter hardy to -30F, grows in terrible soils, thrives in part-shade to full sun, ends erosion. I looked at their web site, but don't know if it is, in fact, legitimate. What can you tell me about this grass? (Napoleon, N.D.)

A: Just recycle the brochure. If it were truly a "miracle grass" I certainly would have everybody growing it in North Dakota. It is a warm season grass that does well in places like Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and even New Jersey, but not here, I assure you.


Q: In a recent Hortiscope column you named varieties of raspberries that would grow in a cold climate and also named sources where they could be obtained. I have lost that information and wonder if you could give it again. You suggested Thunderchild, Spring Snow and Red Jewel for crabapples. Are they resistant to rust? Also, can you suggest a place to buy ornamental grasses. I've found very limited resources. (Wessington, S.D.)

A: The hardy raspberries for your area would include Boyne, Latham, Swensen, Nordic, and Royality. The crabapples I listed are resistant to rust. Some sources for ornamental grasses are:

Ambergate Gardens, 8015 Krey Ave., Waconia, MN 55387 (phone: 612-443-2248)

Bluebird Nursery, Inc., P.O. Box 460, 521 Linden Street, Clarkson, NE 68629 (phone: 402-892-3457)

Prairie Moon Nursery Route 3, Box 163, Winona, MN 55987 (phone: 507-452-1362)

That should get you started. If you get nowhere with these three let me know. There are plenty more.


Q: I read an article about compost contaminated by a herbicide called clopyralid killing garden and landscape plants. The state department of agriculture told me that this chemical is in lots of lawn products, plus herbicides used for sugarbeets. "Be careful where you get your compost," they said. This is very alarming. Is it true? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: I did some checking, and here is my comment: The label of the product that contains clopyralid (Confront) clearly states that users should recycle the grass clippings back into the turf. The clippings should not be used for mulching or composting. Also, anyone with an older mower, which side discharges the grass clippings, should be careful to not have the clippings discharged into their flower or vegetable gardens. There is no need for alarm. When label directions are followed, problems seldom occur; when they are ignored, problems will develop. That's why a label exists; not for ornamentation, but for information, and it is considered the law. If you are having your lawn serviced by a lawn care company, ask what active ingredients are in their herbicides. If one of them happens to be clopyralid, either ask them to use an alternative material that does not contain that in it, and accept lower control of weeds, or simply don't compost or use the grass clippings as a mulch for that growing season.


Q: I have looked into planting Kentucky bluegrass seed, but I am unsure about how to choose from the many different varieties that are out there. Do all brands of Kentucky bluegrass take seven to 14 days to germinate, and how much care and attention do they require?

A: Basically, the common Kentucky bluegrasses have lower cultural requirements--less water and fertilizer--than the elite ones. If there are no cultivar names on a package containing Kentucky bluegrass, then assume it to be an unknown common collection. When buying seed, look for the highest germination percentage and purity percentage to get the greatest number of PLS (pure live seed).


Q: We are seeding about 2.5 acres in a cemetery expansion and are looking for recommendation for types and cultivars of grass for this area. The soil is light sandy loam on in a full sunlight flat overlooking the Sheyenne valley. We also need to know a recommended planting rate. We hope to seed with a barley or wheat cover crop. (Valley City, N.D.)

A: I would seed some common Kentucky bluegrass, like Kenblue or SD Certified, at a rate of 3/4 to 1.25 pounds per 1000 square feet. The cover crop is a good idea. If bluegrass isn't to your liking, then I would suggest a crested wheatgrass cultivar like Fairway or Ephriam. The former is a bunchgrass and the latter is stoloniferous. Both are minimal maintenance turfgrasses, establishing easily and quite drought tolerant. Seed Fairway at about 5 pounds per 1000 square feet and the Ephriam at about 3 to 4 pounds. If this isn't going to be a highly public cemetery, I would go with one of the wheatgrasses.


Q: My honeysuckle vine is not looking very good and I was wondering, when is the right time to prune it? I need an explanation about letting grass go dormant. A friend and I are not agreeing about the correct length of time that grass will survive without water. Could you also tell me how to overwinter a silver lace vine? They always die for me. I live in sandy soil in South Dakota. (Carter, S.D.)

A: I suggest pruning the honeysuckle vine back completely after a killing frost. Spray new growth with a fungicide like Bordeaux mixture next year. Grass will go dormant (the cool-season ones like Kentucky blue, fescue, etc.) when the temperatures get above the mid-80s and natureís water is shut off. Dormant grass can go about two weeks with no water before it begins to die; if it goes a whole month, it is probably all dead. Keeping it dormant and alive requires a light watering, 0.25 to 0.3 inch every 10 days. If enough water is given to pull it out of dormancy (1 to 1.5 inch per week) then it had better be delivered every week to keep it from going dormant again. The dormant/non-dormant cycle, if repeated too often, will exhaust the lawn of carbohydrate reserves, weakening it and predisposing it to disease and insect problems. Wrap up the vine in a burlap bag filled with leaves, and mound some soil over the crown, about 12 to16 inches, after a hard late October freeze.


Q: I have a problem with the soil in my yard. We had our house built two years ago and the top soil they left isnít very good. We have determined that the soil we have is mostly composed of clay. We planted our grass and had a good first year., but this year I just canít seem to keep the grass growing. The only thing I can think of is that the clay is just packing too tight. Itís to the point that if you try to put a spike into the ground you have to hammer it in. Would this be the problem? I plan on plugging the lawn this year. I hate to have to till up the whole yard to add organic matter to it. How about top dressing with compost? Would that do any good? ( Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Your problem is the tight clay, as you assume. Core aeration is the best solution, followed by a light topdressing of sandy loam. You will likely have to do this for two or three years to build up a decent soil for adequate growth of your grass. This is a procedure that has been used many times and has been proven effective through many research trials around the country.


Q: I built a flowerbed in one corner of my yard, against two fences. I enclosed the bed with wooden rails. The neighbor has a wood pile on the other side of his fence, so the grass grows and no mowing or trimming is done in that corner. What can I do to keep the grass from taking over my flowerbed without hurting the flowers I am trying to grow? Would the enclosure keep spray from affecting the flowers if I spray the grass? ( Fargo, N.D.)

A: In a word, yes! Just be sure to do it when the wind isn't blowing.


Q: We are noticing a lot of dead turf areas along our city streets this year, even on the older established grass areas. We have not changed any of our mixtures of salt and sand for winter use. Any ideas on what might be going on? Environmental? Moisture? ( Fargo, N.D.)

A: Could be a combination of all that you mentioned. I suggest getting a quick soluble salt test taken on some of the dead spots. Remember that we had a very wet year last fall, then snow on top of unfrozen soil. The snow piles up on that part of the turf, and can kill it quite easily under those conditions. I suggest overseeding with a boulevard mix that is a good tough one and tolerates salt compaction, drought, etc.


Q: How do I get grass out of my perennials? I also have a cactus in there that I want to keep. I pull the grass each year but it always comes back. ( Amidon, N.D.)

A: The most universal herbicide to use in such plantings is Surflan. It will take care of grassy and many broadleafed weeds. The plot needs to be clean cultivated first.


Q: What is the best "first" procedure for a lawn in the spring? My husband insists on mowing it as short as the mower allows (shaving it). He usually does this a couple of times. Last year the neighbor's lawns on each side of ours were thick and green and ours was still brown and thin. Please advise. He may listen to you! (E-mail reference, Fargo, N.D.)

A: I'm not sure I want to get into the middle of a husband/wife argument over lawn care. Let's see, what can I say that will keep both of you on my side and still do the lawn some good? Ok, here it is: Dormant scalp mowing does the following to a lawn: It removes the canopy cover, exposing the soil and grass crowns to sunlight. This in turn warms the soil and grass quicker, drying it out. It also risks damaging the crown of the grass plant, either weakening it severely, or killing it outright. The exposed soil also contains some weed seeds that need sunlight to germinate. Scalp mowing accomplishes that. The grass crowns not set back or killed outright will begin earlier growth, resulting in earlier and consequently more frequent mowing throughout the season. The first procedure for lawn care in the spring is to rake it up with a leaf or broom rake. This gets rid of all the litter and dead grass and helps to get the grass dried and warmed up a little faster. This is sometimes accomplished with a power rake. This is OK, as long as the power raking isn't too early and too severe. It should be set just deep enough to clean off the surface, not pull up any grass plants. Finally, mow the lawn high--2.5 to 3.0 inches. This encourages a deep root system, a dense canopy that shades the soil surface and helps to control weeds, and it aids in getting the grass through the hot dog days of summer.


Q: Is it a good idea to fill in the low places in my yard? Do I need to do anything to the yard before I put the new soil down? (Kulm, N.D.)

A: Yes, you can "topdress" your lawn to even-out low areas. Seeding can then take place with a mix of Kentucky blue and creeping fescue. Mist or water lightly until germination is evident.


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 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: 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 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: 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 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: pmnrsy@luminet.net


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 Dimensionģ for control. Then, do everything possible to grow healthy, vigorous grass: fertilize, water, and mow regularly—doing so at 2Ĺ 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 didnít know that it would run all over the yard, but it is starting to take over. Would 2-4D work? Also, why wonít 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 Iím 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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