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Spring fever: How to fix eight common lawn problems

Press Photo by Mike Hricik Dickinson Ace Hardware sales associate Bobby King loads a bad of grass seed into a pickup truck on Friday.

This weekend, residents throughout the region will head out to their lawns, fields and gardens for much-needed spring mowing, seeding and fertilizing. They will join Americans across the country, who spend about $40 billion on lawn care each year.

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But lawn care is never as simple as pushing a mower and expecting grass to stay green and plentiful. Weeds, pests and preventable human errors can add up to an ugly lawn.

To help property owners as spring gains momentum, experts provided advice to solve eight common lawn problems.


Good property owners should never have to pick up clippings after mowing their lawns, said Alan Zuk, North Dakota State University assistant professor of sports and urban turfgrass management.

Leaving about a half-inch of clippings after mowing can be beneficial to the lawn, encouraging healthy growth. But more than a half-inch will leave clumps of thatch that will impede water and fertilizer infiltration into soil, Zuk said.

Using a lawn aerator once a year will get rid of excess thatch, and is less labor-intensive than raking after every mowing, he said.

Improper watering

Frequent, short bursts of watering can cause bacteria to thrive. Unfortunately, many homeowners do just that, Zuk said.

“Improper watering causes more problems than anything,” he said.

Zuk encouraged watering a lawn for about 45 minutes to an hour once a week and as early as possible, as a wet spring gives way to hotter summer temperatures.

Scorched, brown lawns

Terry Heinrich, owner of Dickinson’s Crew Cut Lawn Services, concurred with Zuk, saying that time is of the essence when it comes to preventing brown patches on lawns.

“Water your lawn early in the morning before the heat of the day, otherwise it’ll be scorched,” Heinrich said.

Watering in the morning allows moisture to seep into the ground thoroughly, he said.

Watering at night can be superfluous, allowing more time for bacteria to infiltrate soil with more wetness, Zuk said.


Retired North Dakota Extension Service horticulturist Ron Smith recommends digging out dandelions by the root to get rid of them entirely. Garden supply stores sell tools that can ease this process.

If digging isn’t appealing, Smith posted on the Extension website that ready-to-use, broadleaf herbicide from a spray bottle will do the trick.

“Wet the foliage only; no need to soak the plant,” Smith wrote. Within 24 hours or less, the effect of the herbicide will be evident, with the flower stem becoming curled and twisted.”

Other weeds

Now is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicides to prevent common weeds, from crabgrass to ragweed, Zuk said.

The best such herbicide on the market is Dimension, with the active ingredient dithiopyr, he said.

For post-emergent weeds, which will appear closer into June, Zuk advocated for Drive, which uses the active ingredient quinclorac.

Herbicides should not be applied on especially windy days, as other plants might be damaged by airborne weedkillers.


Grubs and other insects damage lawns all over the state, which can be minimized by pesticides like Sevin.

Peak insect damage occurs in early to mid-August, so preventative pesticides should be applied in June, Zuk said. Mach 2 and Merit are excellent pre-emergent pesticides, he said.


Too much fertilizer can end up aiding both desired grasses and unsightly weeds to grow.

Zuk said property owners should target three holidays to fertilize, give or take a week or two: Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Zuk advised using a pound of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet, while NDSU sports and urban turfgrass associate professor Deying Li said to use only half a pound.

Lawn diseases

Dull mower blades can tear leaf blades, rather than cleanly cutting, wounding grasses, Zuk said.

So, professionals typically sharpen their blades after every eight hours of use, he said.

Because of an abundance of lawn and grass diseases, people can sometimes diagnose symptoms improperly.

For lawn disease, Li recommends consulting a local extension agent or calling his office first.

“We will be happy to give tips to homeowners and could take a look ourselves,” Li said.