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Lawns need fall care

Fall is the best time to seed or sod a new lawn in North Dakota. The reason this is a much better time than in the spring is because of the different type of growth occurring in the grass plant in the fall. The energy produced by the grass foliage is being transported into the crowns, roots and rhizomes, not in top growth. The turf gets well-established for a good show the following growing season.

Other reasons for fall rather than spring turf establishment:

* Warmer soil temperature for faster establishment

* More dependable weather

* Fewer weed problems

* Fewer insect and disease problems

When referring to "fall" in North Dakota, the time frame is anywhere from the first part of August to mid-September. Beyond that, wait until mid-October to dormant seed. The planting will take off and grow better than waiting until the following spring to get the seed down. With sod, success has been realized right up through mid-October. Just be sure the sod is watered before going into the winter months.

Forget about covering the grass seed with clean, weed-free straw. That's an oxymoron. All straw is dirty, containing weed seeds. The best procedure is to get the seed down first, then cover it with hydromulch, which is a virgin wood fiber that is clean and free of weed seeds. Other than that, germination blankets are the next best choice. These will decompose during a 30- to 45-day period and not contribute any weed seeds.

Fall is the best time for perennial lawn weed control. The applied herbicides will tend to be translocated to the root system for a more complete kill. Killing off weeds such as dandelions and broadleaf plantain at this time of year will give the grass ample time to grow into the space left by the dead weeds. Couple this with a fertilization treatment and you almost are assured of a weed-proof lawn the next spring.

For success, identifying the weeds to be controlled is extremely important. For example, dandelions and plantain are controlled effectively with 2,4-D products, but they provide poor control of clover. Dicamba, by contrast, provides excellent control of clover but only fair control of dandelion and plantain.

Here is where a combination product is useful. A combination of 2,4-D, Dicamba and MCPP, also known as Trimec, will give excellent control of all of those (and many other) weeds. But remember, no matter what the combination product may be, some weeds are difficult to control and will require repeat applications. Some examples of these hard-to-kill weeds are violets, ground ivy and creeping jenny. You need patience and persistence to be successful.

Excerpted from "Horticulture in North Dakota: Seasonal Tidbits and Tips" by Ron Smith, NDSU Extension Horticulturist. For more information on this topic, contact the Stutsman County Extension office at 252-9030.