Growing a Healthy Lawn

Growing a Healthy Lawn

Part of Ep. 1802 Asparagus, Grass & Daffodils

Growing and maintaining a healthy lawn can be achieved with a minimal amount of work and chemicals! Shelly Ryan joins Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, Extension Specialist Jim Kerns at the O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research Facility to learn how proper mowing, fertilizing and pest control keep lawns green and lush.

Premiere date: Mar 31, 2010

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:
If your lawn looks like this, you're close to perfection. However, most of us don't have lawns that are this perfect. We're at O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research Facility, and I'm with UW Extension specialist and turfgrass pathologist Jim Kerns. You know, Jim, most of us would just kill for a lawn that looked this good. This is what you guys do is try to help us achieve perfection. 

Jim Kerns:
That is our job, to try to help people achieve perfection in any kind of turf setting, whether it be a golf course athletic field, sod farm, cemetery, you name it. Any place that has turf, that's what we're here for, to try to help them achieve what we're seeing here today.

Shelley:
All of these research plots behind you that's what you're doing. 

Jim:
That's what we're doing we're looking at a wide variety of things, from pest control to mowing practices. You name it, we're looking at it here.

Shelley:
Now, for most of us, it is unrealistic to try to have a lawn that looks like a golf course. 

Jim:
It's very unrealistic. Matter of fact, it costs lots and lots of money that's why people pay a lot to play golf. The maintenance practices are very expensive, so that's not our goal with a home lawn. 

Shelley:
So our goal is going to be to make it look like this green here.

Jim:
Like this strip we see here. This is what we're going to try to focus on today.

Shelley:
Okay, what do we do to make this happen?

Jim:
First of all, we need to think about three things with lawn care management. Mowing, fertilization, and pest control. And mowing is, of course, probably the most simple and what everybody does day in and day out. It's frequently where the most mistakes are made. Number one, because they don't set it at the right height to cut. And to do this, you actually take a tape measure like this right here on the side of the mower and you can see this is set at about 2-1/2 to 3 inches. That's where we want a home lawn. Between two and three inches.

Shelley:
Why?

Jim:
Because we're stressing the turf if we're going below that.

Shelley:
Easy to correct, just do this.

Jim:
The other main issue is making sure the lawn mower blades are sharp. And to do this, make sure the lawn mower is off for safety issues. You can just go in here and feel it. That's a pretty sharp blade, you can feel that.

Shelley:
Yeah, it catches.

Jim:
And to change it you take these two bolts off, and you can buy a replacement or you can take it in to a lawn care facility or small engine repair, have them sharpen it for you.

Shelley:
Best to not do it yourself, because you can dull it.

Jim:
You can dull it, and wreck the blade and you'd have to go in and buy a new one anyway.

Shelley:
Okay, now, can we mow in the rain or can we mow when the grass is wet?

Jim:
You can, it's not recommended. The best is to mow when the dew is gone. That 6:00-in-the-morning neighbor — is probably not the best time to mow.

Shelley:
I've got to talk to him! 

Jim:
You want to mow after the dew is gone.

Shelley:
And these are used for fertilizer.

Jim:
These are used for fertilizing. This is a rotary spreader, which throws a wide pattern. We have to be careful of it if we're near the street.

Shelley:
Why?

Jim:
Because we don't want those nutrients getting into our water system. So if that happens, we want to sweep it up right away.

Shelley:
And just throw that stuff away, then?

Jim:
No, we want to put it back out on the yard. And then we have a drop spreader which is very good for those thin areas in between the sidewalk and the road.

Shelley:
Just drops it straight down.

Jim:
Right, and this is also very good for seeding. So if we have some damage and want to do some re-seeding then you might want to check into a drop spreader.

Shelley:
And you can own these or rent them?

Jim:
You can own or rent them, yes, very good.

Shelley:
What are we putting in these?

Jim:
We're putting fertilizers in these most of the time. We can get a wide variety of fertilizers from any garden store or big box store.

Shelley:
Lots of choices.

Jim:
What we need to know is, what are we putting down? And the way we can figure this out is this number right here.

Shelley:
These three numbers.

Jim:
The first one, right there, is nitrogen. The second one is phosphorous.

Shelley:
The zero.

Jim:
And the third one is potassium. And if you notice, the middle one is zero. Because Wisconsin has a phosphorous ban.

Shelley:
Oh, yes indeed. And so we can't apply a phosphorous unless we have a soil test that shows we're deficient, or we're doing a renovation, so a new seeding or establishing a new yard. So in general that number should almost always be zero.

Jim:
That number should almost always be zero. 

Shelley:
And part of the reason is most of our soils have plenty of phosphorous.

Jim:
Most of our soils in Wisconsin are very sufficient in phosphorous.

Shelley:
Okay, what is this specific fertilizer?

Jim:
This is corn gluten.

Shelley:
Oh, okay.

Jim:
Which would be an organic source. It's a little lower in the nutrients but it's also less likely to burn your turf.

Shelley:
Again, it's considered not completely safe. Even organics can cause trouble if you don't use them correctly.

Jim:
Even if we mis-apply, we can over-apply anything, and still impact water sources, even with an organic.

Shelley:
So with all of these, read the label.

Jim:
Read the label. They have very good instructions explicit instructions on the back of these labels. We recommend following those to the "T". Another good source is, from Wisconsin, Milorganite which is made from the sewage sludge in Milwaukee.

Shelley:
It's okay to hold it in your hand?

Jim:
It's okay to hold it in your hand. Another very good source, very consistent, works well.

Shelley:
Low in fertility, so not going to overdo it but again, you still have to read the label.

Jim:
You still have to read the label.

Shelley:
Okay, when are we applying these?

Jim:
We recommend that we apply these fertilizers Memorial Day you can apply in the summertime, you don't have to. And then, two applications in the fall is when we recommend the most fertility going down. No later than mid-October.

Shelley:
Oh, and why is that?

Jim:
We don't want it going too green into the winter because it may not last the winter, then.

Shelley:
Okay, and then, we see a lot of ads on TV all these pests, and all these products we should have out there because of the problems. Is that an issue?

Jim:
It can be an issue, but it's not a major issue in turf. So what we recommend is, if you have an issue, to consult us at the university, and we can help you diagnose that issue and recommend the course of action to correct that.

Shelley:
And that's why you wear the shirt that says "Turfgrass Diagnostic Lab."

Jim:
Right, that's what we specialize in is actually diagnosing problems and recommending a control.

Shelley:
We will have your Web site on our Web site. People shouldn't buy those products without checking because usually it's not likely that's the problem.

Jim:
It's not likely that's the problem.

Shelley:
That's good news, thanks.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+
EPISODE RESOURCES+

Download Podcast »

Buy DVD »

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.