Use Lawn Chemicals Wisely!

Choose wisely…right chemical, right time, right place, right pest.

Lawn chemicals are the fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides used in every day lawn and garden care. When those chemicals are applied incorrectly, they can have many negative effects. They can run into our local lakes and streams and even affect our drinking water. They can also harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.

Reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides

Pesticides (which includes insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are designed to kill weeds, insects, rodents, and mold. These chemicals can be poisonous and can pose a danger to animals and people, especially children. Keeping pests out of your home and yard in the first place eliminates the need for pesticides—and toxic chemicals.

In your yard

Keeping your lawn strong and healthy is the best way to care for your lawn without using a lot of pesticides. A strong and healthy lawn will minimize weeds from taking root or insects from causing serious, permanent injury to the lawn. There are several easy steps you can take to maintain a healthy lawn and reduce the need for herbicides.

Leave your grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings can provide the equivalent of about one application of fertilizer per year.

Use a sharp mower blade when cutting your lawn to make it less susceptible to disease.

Water infrequently, but thoroughly during dry periods of more than a week or two. Water only about once a week and thoroughly (about 1 inch of water). Avoid watering during strong sun and heat to minimize losses to evaporation. The best time to water is early in the day, before 10 a.m.

Test your soil. Find out what kind of fertilizer, if any, your soil needs. Obtaining a reliable soil test every few years can help you monitor the nutrient needs of your lawn. The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab ( charges $17. Some garden centers also offer testing.

Use fertilizers with zero phosphorus unless a specific need is determined by a soil test. Phosphorus (the middle number on a fertilizer bag) should be zero. Careless use of phosphorus fertilizers creates runoff which can pollute nearby lakes, streams, and rivers. Phosphorus causes unhealthy levels of weed and algae growth.

Control weeds. September is the best time of year to treat dandelions, plantain, creeping Charlie, and other perennial broadleaf weeds. Remember the best weed control is a healthy, dense lawn. If the weed invasion seems to be getting worse, find out why the grass is not competitive enough to crowd weeds out. Controlling weeds may be as simple as adjusting your other lawn care practices. Where there are only a limited number of weeds present, consider removing them by hand rather than using an herbicide.

Seed. The best time to reseed bare spots is either early spring or around the middle of August. If deicing salt from sidewalks or roads has caused dead areas, consider reseeding with a more salt-tolerant variety. Always plant grass varieties that are adapted to our area and are appropriate for the way you use your lawn.

Aerate your lawn if soil is compacted or there is significant thatch build-up. You can do this by using a lawn aerator available from most rental stores. Use the type that removes small cores of soil from the ground and places them on the lawn surface. Leave the cores to decompose naturally, contributing to a decrease in thatch, while the holes poked into the ground help improve soil aeration for healthier root systems.

These lawn care tips will help you keep your lawn healthy and less susceptible to disease and weed invasion, meaning you will have less need for herbicides and maybe even less fertilizer.

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