This time of year makes me eager to get out and tend to my yard and gardens. The cool weather has put a bit of a damper on my progress and I am waiting for a stretch of warmer temperatures to really work on my lawn. Everyone has different goals for their lawn – some people may want a more natural habitat that can support some wildlife, others may want their lawn to look highly manicured. Remember that a weed can be described as "a plant out of place." What may be a hated weed invader for some, might be a tolerable ground cover to someone else. Whatever our goals, we can keep in mind some best management practices, and even incorporate the principles of integrated pest management into our lawn care routines.

First of all, it is important to schedule your lawn care maintenance during times that match the life cycle of the turfgrass. Some rules of thumb include:

• Do not add fertilizer too early in the spring. This may encourage the grass to grow during a time when it should be slow or dormant. 

• Do not spray to control weeds when temperatures are warm. This increases the likelihood of damaging the lawn.

• Do not fertilize in hot mid-summer months. This can cause irreversible damage to your lawn.

• Crabgrass doesn't develop until late spring or early summer, so don't apply herbicide used to prevent pre-emerging crabgrass in the fall.

I should also remind you that using phosphorus fertilizer on lawns is restricted in Minnesota.

While purchasing fertilizer, look for the zero in the middle of the nutrient analysis and use a lawn fertilizer labeled phosphorus-free unless you are seeding a new lawn or have a soil test showing that phosphorus is needed. Phosphorus is restricted to protect water quality; it is a nutrient that can cause over-enrichment of lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

Another consideration is to think about using the principles of integrated pest management while deciding on whether to apply pesticides to your yard. The MDA and the University of Minnesota developed a set of core voluntary best management practices which include some principles of integrated pest management. These turfgrass best management practices help protect water resources, humans, and non-target organisms including pollinators.

Best management practices for pesticide use in the lawn include:

• Identify weeds and understand why they're growing where they are. Killing weeds without correcting underlying problems only invites continued weed invasion.

• Try to tolerate a few weeds as long as your lawn is generally healthy.

• Promote overall plant health to create a vigorous lawn that can prevent any serious weed problems from taking over.

• When using pesticides, follow the label directions exactly as printed on the product container.

For more information about recommended lawn care practices, visit extension.umn.edu/lawn-care/lawn-weeds and extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/lawn-care-calendar or contact Claire LaCanne, your local Ag Extension Educator for Rice and Steele counties at lacanne@umn.edu, or at 507-332-6165 (Rice County) or 507-444-7691 (Steele County).

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