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Soil is key to lawn health

Published 3:49am Monday, May 20, 2013 Updated 5:50am Monday, May 20, 2013

One only needs to walk by Bunkey’s yard to see that he is not “lawn proud.” There are all kinds of weeds in his grass.

Most of us deal with some weeds in our lawn. Weeds are messengers. They can pretty accurately tell us what type of soil we have.

If your lawn has more weeds than grass, this is because that is what that soil is predisposed to grow. Disgusting but true. You can spray them until you are blue in the face and out of chemical, but until you modify the soil, not much will change.

Thistle, plantain and quackgrass tell you that your soil is compacted in that area. Clover, trefoil or wood sorrel is an indication that the soil is short of nitrogen.

Acidic soil will grow violets, knotweed and hawkweed very nicely. The hated dandelion is a bio-accumulator. It pulls calcium to the surface with its deep taproot. Adding calcium to the soil will reduce the bright, flush of yellow dandelions spring and fall. Wood ash is a good, organic way to do this.

Aeration will help reduce the plantain. Quackgrass needs more drastic measures. Bunkey has seriously considered dynamite, not really a good option, but understandable. The thistles need not only a pre-emergence like corn gluten meal, but also either physical or chemical removable so they don’t re-seed. They are a bi-annual, growing a rosette the first year, then the tall seed bearing stalk the second.

If you absolutely must rid your lawn of clover, adding blood meal, feather meal, or fish fertilizer will, at least reduce the load. Reasons to leave the clover; it is an excellent bee attractant, think clover honey, a sturdy ground cover that can be walked on, and best of all it’s pretty, spotting the green grass with white bubbles of bloom.

There are organic weed killers other than corn gluten meal. Some with naturally occurring sodium or iron hold great promise for instant and environmentally safe weed control.

Fall is the best time to over-seed a lawn and apply soil amendments for best results in the spring. A soil sample then will tell you what you need to add. Getting a sample in the spring is not a dumb idea either.

To optimize what grass you have, keep the mower at three inches. Taller grass shades out weed seeds, and the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly. Taller grass always looks thicker even if it’s not and, no, you won’t have to mow any more often. That is an old husband’s tale.

Water if you don’t get at least an inch of water a week and water deeply. A sprinkle is worse than no water at all as it leads to shallow rooted grass, more apt to scorch and die in hot dry weather.

Now is the time to sharpen your mower blades. Sharp blades mean sharp cuts. Dull blades just tear the leaf blades leading to a gray looking, unhealthy lawn.

Now is not the time to rake. Wait until you can sit or kneel on the lawn and not get wet cheeks or knees.

Raking a wet lawn can open up the soil to more weed growth and can actually tear out the grass you have been babying. Listen to your lawn and it will tell you what it needs. Yes this is a “touchy feely” thing but it works.


Bev Johnson, Otter Tail County Master Gardener

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