Jerry Baker...America's Master Gardener®
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Lawn Care Q&A


Q: I have brown spots popping up around my lawn. What's causing them?

A: Brown spots can be caused by a lot of things, including insects, disease, water stress, fertilizer burn, dog spots, etc. I've given some handy descriptions of the symptoms for many of the common insect and disease problems for lawns in my book, All-American Lawns, along with my recommendations for treating different problems that should help you out.

Q: Where I live, we've been going through one heck of a drought! What should I be doing for my lawn to help it survive?

A: Your question is a good one, and we seem to be hearing it a lot these days. One of the best things you can do is to cut back, or stop fertilizing altogether during periods of drought. By reducing the amount of available fertilizer, you'll slow down your lawn's growth naturally and safely, and it will need less water. Another thing you can do is add a light coat of compost to your lawn - maybe about ½” spread evenly over the area. Compost helps retain moisture, releases nutrients, and conditions the soil all at once. If you are able to, water the area thoroughly after applying compost. My book, All-American Lawns, also includes other tonics and tips for drought including my Drought Buster Brew and Drought Recovery Tonic.

Q: How do I get rid of grubs in my lawn?

A: Apply Milky Spore Powder any time the ground is not frozen—it’s a biological powder that is very effective at controlling Japanese beetle grubs, and starts killing these grubs immediately. As each one dies, it releases even more Milky Spore disease into the soil, helping to protect your lawn for 10 years or more. Then follow up every 2 weeks throughout the growing season by overspraying the area with a mixture of 1 cup of dishwashing liquid, 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, and a 1 cup of tobacco tea, in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer until early August.

Q: Help! I can't grow anything because of my hard, clay soil. How do I get a great lawn?

A: You need to condition the soil before you do anything else. So, apply gypsum at the recommended rate twice a year until things get going. Also, overspraying the area regularly with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer will do wonders for softening the soil. Check out my newest lawn book, All-American Lawns, for more tips, hints, and helpful recipes for growing the greenest grass on your block.

Q: I pull weeds till I'm blue in the face, and they always come back. How can I eliminate them?

A: The most basic requirement for weed control is proper lawn maintenance. Thick grass actually crowds out weeds! So make sure that you're mowing your lawn properly, and that there is good soil and adequate fertilization. If you're still having problems, then you've got to haul out the heavy artillery - chemical controls. Be sure to always purchase weed killers that are labeled specifically for the type of lawn that you have. For best control, shampoo your lawn first with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and then apply the control at the recommended rate. Next year, before weeds pop-up, apply my Preemergent Weed Control Tonic: 1 cup of dishwashing liquid, 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide, and 2 tbsp. of instant tea granules in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer jar with water. Then follow up with a commercial preemergent type control to help prevent weed seeds from sprouting.

Q: My lawn has a lot of doggie damage spots. How do I get rid of them?

A: To repair and help prevent the damage to your lawn, overspray the turf with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and then apply gypsum over the area at the recommended rate. One week later, overspray the turf with my Turf Builder Tonic: 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, and 1 can of regular cola in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer.

Q: I've got a serious crabgrass problem. Please help!

A: To get crabgrass after it is already up and growing, you need to overspray the area with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, followed by a good post- emergent crabgrass control. Crabgrass dies in the winter, but will come back unless you take action! So to prevent crabgrass plants from sprouting in the first place, apply my Turf Builder Tonic (see above) in the fall, and a commercial preemergent crabgrass control in early spring (before the temperature gets above 50 degrees F.)

Q: Help! I recently fertilized my lawn, but I accidentally used too much. It looks like the fertilizer has burned the grass. Is there anything I can do?

A: Treating your lawn for fertilizer burn will depend on what type of fertilizer you used. If a dry fertilizer burned the grass, wash the area down with plenty of water for several days. Then apply gypsum at the recommended rate. The grass should return in anywhere from 1 month to 1 year depending on how much fertilizer was used, and how well the leaching process was done. Spot seed large areas to speed up the process. If your lawn was burned by a liquid fertilizer, wash it down thoroughly immediately afterward with water to help dilute it and rinse away any residual product. Keep the grass watered normally and out of stress, and with any luck, the grass will grow out of it. If it doesn't, you may need to overseed.

Q: Is there anything I can do to rid my yard of moss?

A: That troublesome moss likes to grow in acidic soil, and in shady, damp areas. Often you'll find it where there's a problem with drainage. You might want to get a professional soil test and add lime to sweeten the soil somewhat if this is what the test calls for. It will also help to get more light into the area by pruning trees. And improve drainage in the area, if possible. You can manually remove moss by raking or dethatching, or you can treat the areas with a commercial moss killer. But remember: Unless the environmental conditions are changed, the moss will continue to come back.

Q: Mushrooms are popping up all over my lawn. How do I kill them?

A: To eliminate the mushrooms, first walk all over the area with your Aerating Lawn Sandals to poke a lot of holes in the turf. Then overspray the area with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and give the mushrooms a light dusting with dry laundry soap. That should do it.

Q: How can we get rid of nutgrass in our lawn?

A: The best way to combat nutgrass is to keep a good, thick healthy lawn. This helps crowd out nutgrass and is important in controlling it. It's also important to know that nutgrass thrives in wet areas. Make sure you aren't over-watering and aerate and/or improve drainage if needed. To help with this, you might want to check out my Aerating Lawn Sandals. If the nutgrass is just now starting to crop up and the weeds are young and small, try digging them out and getting the nutlets.

Q: How do I get rid of thatch?

A: There is a whole section in my book, Green Grass Magic, devoted to this very question! It is important to open up your lawn to air, water, and nutrients by fertilizing, watering frequently, and mowing your lawn with a sharp blade on your mower. This can be tough if the thatch layer becomes so thick that it prevents water and fertilizer from reaching the soil. You can remove the thatch layer with a manual dethatching rake, or by renting a power dethatcher (available at many equipment rental centers).

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