PINE RIVER -- Low maintenance lawns can be the lushest in the neighborhood.
All it takes is allowing grass to remain at least 2.5 to 3.5 inches long. Longer grass blades enable longer, stronger root structure.
This is the message Wadena County Extension Educator Tom Hovde brought to those attending a Cass County Extension program at the Pine River Community Resource Center this week.
The longer you let your grass grow, the less watering and feeding it will need, he said. Not only does two- to three-inch grass grow better roots, it also will grow denser and squeeze out weeds.
Grass' manufacturing plant is in its leaves, Hovde said. If it is cut too short, it cannot process nutrients and sun to feed itself, he said.
Whatever length you keep your lawn, it is important not to cut more than a third of the leaf length when mowing each time. While longer grass needs less general care, it does need regular mowing.
Planting the right grass is an important beginning, he said, recommending people in this area buy cool weather grass seeds and sod mixtures.
For sunny areas, this means 60 to 75 percent Kentucky Bluegrass varieties (there is more than one strain), blended with 25 to 40 percent fine fescue varieties. He emphasized looking for "fine" varieties when seeking a fescue.
For sunny, heavy wear areas, he recommended 50 percent Kentucky Bluegrass varieties and 50 percent perennial (not annual) rye.
For shady areas, Hovde suggested blending 40 percent Kentucky Bluegrass varieties with 60 percent fine fescue varieties.
Kentucky Bluegrasses that do well here include Kenblue, Park, South Dakota Certified and Newport. Fine leaved fescue varieties for this area include creeping red, chewings and hard. He suggested buying these in bulk and mixing your own blend.
Grass seeds to avoid are annual rye, bentgrass, tall fescues and Zoysia, he said. Zoysia is a warm climate grass and will not grow this far north.
There is a misconception that grass needs to be watered heavily during hot July days. Actually, he said, these cool-preferring grasses go into a semi-dormant period during hot weather and should be allowed to rest. Normal or slightly reduced watering, not excessive watering, is best throughout the hot season.
Watering should be done every three to five days when there has not been sufficient rain to equal about three-fourths of an inch, he said. It should always be thorough and done mornings, so grass leaves have a chance to dry out before night, he added.
Never run a sprinkler system daily, he warned. Short waterings do not penetrate deep enough to encourage longer root systems.
Over-saturating the soil will lead to root rot, he added. Root rot occurs when plants are not allowed to dry out between waterings, he said. Plants need a period of dry soil when they can obtain oxygen between waterings, he said. Oxygen cannot penetrate soil when it is water saturated.
Longer grass is less likely to burn, so cutting higher helps grass weather the mid-summer resting period better. Cool grasses hit their peak growth during June and when weather is cooler in August, he said, not in July.
If you are seeding or sodding a new area, remove all weeds with products like Roundup about two weeks before beginning the new lawn. It is best to begin a new lawn in the fall, Hovde said.
After the two-week period, till the soil four to six inches deep. Add fertilizer, compost, black dirt or other additives, then till again. Don't add black dirt on top existing soil; till it in, he said.
When black dirt is added and not tilled into soil, grass roots will not penetrate below it. It is like a seal was laid above your native soil, he said. This is especially true for sod.
Seeding, like fertilizer applications, should be done in half proportions, so you can spread in rows one way, then spread across the first application in rows going the other direction, Hovde said.
Seeds must touch the soil to germinate, he said, but do not need to be covered with dirt. Therefore, rolling a sod roller over seeded areas is better than raking seeds deeply into soil. Never rake in more than 1/8th inch, he warned.
Water with a fine mist the first few days, then taper off, he said. Don't mow new grass until it reaches at least three inches tall. Be sure to mow at least four times before using a weed killer in a newly seeded area, he added.
Sod can be laid from spring through mid-August, Hovde said. For best results, he recommended sprinkling a little soil between joints and staggering the joints.
Like young seed, sod should be kept moist at first, but not saturated. It, too, can develop root rot. Once bonded to soil, watering should be reduced to that for established grass.
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