iGrow Gardening: Get head start on spring lawn care

Farm Forum

What one does to their lawn this spring is often influenced by how well the lawn was cared for last fall. So let’s take a look at what you can do for your lawn.

Get that mower working before the grass begins to grow

Lawn mower blades need to be sharpened at least once a season to ensure a good quality of cut, which minimizes leaf shredding from mowing with dull blades. That promotes better lawn health and helps reduce fungal disease. Get that blade sharpened and the mower tuned up now so it’s ready to go. Remember, the folks that service power equipment get real busy when the grass starts to grow!

How often to mow?

Some call it a rule and some call it a guide, but the consensus to maintain good turf health is to at least mow often enough to remove no more than one-third of the leaf height in any one mowing. If your mower is set to cut at 3 inches then mowing prior to reaching 4½ inches is the goal. The less clippings removed at each mowing:

• The more leaf area left on the plant to maintain healthy top growth

• The better able the turf is to sustain good root growth

• The easier it is to have the clippings filter into the existing turf whether clippings are returned to the lawn using a mulching mower or a side discharge mower

• The less likely for clippings to clump together

Helpful Mowing Tips

• Keep the mower blades sharp to get a clean cut and to more effectively mulch if you have a mulching mower. Dull lawn mower blades can tear at the blades of grass and leave shredded ends, which can discolor the overall appearance of the lawn and provide greater entry points for disease pathogens.

• Mow when the grass is dry. Wet grass clings to the mower housing and clumps on the turf. Wet clippings also do not filter through the turf canopy as easily as dry clippings.

• Grass clippings are about 80% water by weight and dried clippings contain 2 to 5% nitrogen by weight and include other nutrients. When clippings are continually removed from a lawn, the benefits associated with on-site nutrient and organic matter cycling from grass clippings are missing.

• Mow at a reasonable ground speed to get a good clean cut on the lawn.

• Regularly clean out the mower housing of grass buildup. It is more of a problem from mowing the grass when wet.

The garden centers are now stocked up with fertilizers and weed control products for spring. But how do you know which product to choose? First, make certain you measure the size of your lawn. Lawn care products are recommended by the manufacturers in amounts to apply per 1,000 square feet of lawn area.

Fertilizing in the Spring

Granular fertilizer products may state how much of the product to apply on the label. This helps the novice quite a bit in knowing how much fertilizer to buy. Often it will state “this bag will cover 5,000 square feet of lawn area”. Using that recommendation will apply a good rate of spring fertilizer, usually between 3/4 and 1 lb. of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. For those that did not apply fertilizer in the fall, the spring application is certainly needed for moderate to high maintenance lawns. So, go ahead and buy your fertilizer at any time, but wait until you have mowed the lawn a few times before making the application. The only way to know if your lawn needs phosphorus or potassium is to get your soil tested. Remember, careless fertilizer application to paved or hard surfaces can result in nitrogen and phosphorus off-site movement toward surface and ground waters. Be concerned about water quality — keep fertilizer on the lawn!

Weed control — crabgrass

Sometimes “weed and feed” products may catch your eye. One common weed and feed is used to control crabgrass as it germinates. If crabgrass was a problem last year, you can best control it for this year with a spring-applied crabgrass-control-type herbicide. These pre-emergence products need to be applied before crabgrass spouts, so that is usually before lilac blooms in South Dakota (last week of April to May 1). Remember these types of crabgrass and fertilizer products will also kill any new lawn seeding made this spring as well. If you need to plant grass this spring, avoid the crabgrass weed and feed products, or crabgrass controls alone that are not labeled for new seeding.

Weed control — broadleaf weeds

Garden center broadleaf weed control products for home consumers typically contain mixtures of 2 to 3 herbicides to provide more control across a diverse amount of weed types than products formulated with only one herbicide. Weed and feed granular products for broadleaf weed control (like dandelion) on established lawns need to be applied to moist lawns from dew or watering, so the herbicide can stick to the weed leaves and be taken up for good control. Foliar spray-applied products often provide more consistent control than granular products for this reason. Just be certain to apply spray applications when the wind is down to avoid spray drift to sensitive plants. Always read the product labels for weeds controlled, rates to apply and safety precautions. Follow all label directions when making any pesticide application.

Spring-planted grass seed

Get ready now to establish a new lawn or to overseed to renovate your existing lawn or patches in mid- to late April. The earlier you can get this done the better the grass will grow-in before summer stress. The choice will be to do it yourself or have a landscaper do the work. If you plan to use a landscape contractor, contact them as soon as possible to get on their schedule, as it is their busy time of year. The cooler spring weather often makes controlling weeds prior to planting a slow process. Also, spring rains keep the soil wet and can delay any tillage that might be needed. Some of the summer annual weeds like crabgrass are likely to invade spring plantings and controlling crabgrass in a seedling turf takes more specialized products designed for that purpose. One such product is the crabgrass herbicide that carries the trade name Tupersan (the active ingredient is called siduron). Broadleaf weed control products are labeled for application to a new seeding after the turf has matured to be mowed a few times. Yet, there are some specialty products that are exceptions and provide more flexibility for weed control in newly seeded lawns.

Start the season right with some good spring lawn care practices to have a “lawn to your liking”!

To learn more about lawn care go to the SDSU Extension publications on “Fertilizing South Dakota Lawns – A 10-Point Checklist for Cool Season Grasses” ( and “Lawn Establishment In South Dakota” (

A question from Beadle County, SD

By David Graper

Extension Horticulture Specialist and Director of McCrory Gardens

Q I have access to a cattleman’s large stack of empty plastic lick tubs and would like to use those to plant some of my garden. They are about 2’ across and about that deep. I was thinking of putting my vine crops (pumpkins, squash, cantaloupe and watermelon) in individual tubs. Will they produce in a tub if I put holes in the bottom for drainage and use compost for the growing medium? The city of Huron has compost for sale and we were thinking of getting some of that, but they don’t show a soil analysis online, so I’m not sure if it would be safe to use just that or try to mix it. They do offer the percent of each product that they have included in the compost mix: 45% leaves/grass clippings, 30% branches, 15% manure and 10% biodegradable oils. Do you think we could use a straight mix of this compost in the tubs? Also will these cross-pollinate if I have them too close? Are there any vegetables that would NOT grow well in tubs?

A Yes, you can certainly grow vegetables in those containers. Make sure they are cleaned out well so there is none of the salt residue left in them. I would probably make about six good-sized holes in them to allow for drainage. You mention using compost as the growing medium. Compost is good but depending on its composition, it might be better to mix it with potting soil. It could be too high in salts to use it straight. I would suggest you contact them to see if they have any soil analysis reports that they could share with you. I would be most interested in the soluble salts content of the media. If that is too high, you will need to mix it with potting soil. Some people have access to composted cattle manure. I would only use about 10% with the rest potting soil, because it can be quite high in soluble salts and nitrogen. The high salts can burn the roots of your plants. If you have too much nitrogen, your cucurbits will mostly grow vines with few fruit. Field or garden soil could be used, but you need to be careful of herbicide residue. I would also suggest you mix in about 50% peat moss or perlite to lighten the mix of garden soil and improve aeration.

Usually the biggest concern in growing vegetables in containers is having large enough containers so that they do not dry out too quickly. These tubs should work well. However, I would suggest you look for “bush type” varieties of the vegetables you mention, because the regular type can get pretty big and may still cause a watering issue. Once the plants get good-sized, you may need to water several times a week to keep up with the water needs of those big vines. Be sure that you add sufficient water to saturate the container full of soil and some of it drains out of the drainage holes.

You really don’t have to worry about cross-pollination between the different vegetables you mention. Melons will not cross-pollinate with pumpkins or squash. Even if the melons were to cross with each other, it would not affect the fruit. You would only really see the results of the cross if you saved seed from those fruit and planted them again next year. However, cucurbits like these produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant, so it would be good to have several plants of each to better assure the chances for pollination by bees between the male and female flowers of each species.

You can grow lots of other vegetables in tubs like this. The important things to remember are using a good growing medium and keeping enough water on the plants as they get larger. They even now have some sweet corn varieties that are developed for container growing.