Yard and garden tips

For many of us Minnesotans, summer means getting out in the yard and garden. Here are a few tips to help give your lawn and garden an environmentally friendly boost this year.

From watering and mowing to applying fertilizers and pesticides, our lawns can have a big impact on Minnesota’s water and air quality. Healthy lawns require fewer chemical applications, hold the soil in place, and withstand drought better than unhealthy lawns. Here are the top things you can do to keep your lawn happy this summer:

Reduce the need for pesticides. Pesticides — including herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides — can be poisonous and pose a danger to animals and people, especially children and pets. Weeds often grow where grass is thin and weak. The best control of these plants is to figure out why the area is stressed or disturbed and fix the underlying cause.

weeds in lawn and what they represent

Test your soil. Find out what kind of fertilizer, if any, your soil needs. Fertilizing can reduce the need for other chemicals and reduce soil erosion. Soil tests can be ordered through the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. Your soil results will tell you which fertilizer you need, how much to apply, and how frequently to use it. But wait a little longer. Late summer through early fall is the best time of year to fertilize.

Leave the grass longer. Mow your grass to a height of 3 inches. By keeping your grass a little longer, the roots grow deeper and can reach more water during dry periods. Longer grass also helps shade the soil surface, making it harder for weeds to get established.

Leave your grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings can provide the equivalent of about one application of fertilizer per year. However, be sure to sweep up your sidewalk, driveway or street so clippings don’t pollute nearby lakes or streams.

Wait before you water. In Minnesota, most grass can survive without watering, although it may enter a dormant “brown” stage during the summer. Water only when it hasn’t rained for at least 7 days. You don't need to water on a routine basis. To get the most water to the plant and reduce evaporation:

  • Water early in the morning. Grass blades need to dry out to minimize disease.
  • Water close to the ground.  
  • Water slowly, deeply and less frequently. Root growth is influenced by water depth and time of the year. Frequent shallow watering that keeps surface soils wet encourages shallow root growth, greater proneness to certain diseases, and reduced stress tolerance.
  • Only water grass. Make sure water is not lost by landing on or running off the grass onto hard, impervious surfaces.

Aerate grass if the soil is compacted. Aeration lets water soak in and increases air in the soil. Deeper, stronger roots, combined with increased soil water-holding capacity will decrease the need for frequent watering. Core aeration is the best method, and autumn is the best time to aerate. Hardware and equipment-rental stores rent aerators, or you can hire a professional.

Grow native plants. Turf grass is not native to Minnesota and requires more care and attention than native plants. If you do not use your lawn regularly, or have areas where grass does not grow well, consider native plants that do not require fertilizer or watering. Resources and plant lists are available through Blue Thumb.