Healthy lawns

Tips to achieve a vigorous lawn all season long

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Austin Anliker, of Manson, rakes dirt on what will eventually be a new tee box at Willow Ridge Golf Course. Anliker is a first year student in the Turfgrass Management program at Iowa Central Community College.

When Neil Barringham said “the grass is greener where you water it,” he might not have been referring to lawn care, but if he was, he wasn’t wrong.

Now is the time to be giving your lawn some attention in order to give it the best start it can, in hopes for a healthy turf all season long.

“The healthier you have your turf, the less susceptible it is for weeds, diseases or other things like that to move in,” said Scott Birdsell, Turfgrass Management coordinator at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge.

The warm weather we had the later part of March and early April gave the grass a head start, but with the recent cool weather, in many cases dropping down to freezing at night has slowed the growth of grass down some.

Is it too cold to be tending to your lawn?

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Caleb Harb, of Grand Island, Nebraska, packs the dirt on a new tee box at Willow Ridge Golf Course. Harb is a first year student in the Turfgrass Management program at Iowa Central Community College. Working at the college‡s golf course gives the students more handson experience.

Birdsell said it appears the grass isn’t under too much stress, at this time, however some areas might be showing some yellowing due to the cooler nighttime temperatures; but it is still ok to go out and start working with your yard.

Cleaning up

One of the first steps to a healthy lawn in the spring, Birdsell said is to get out and clean up your yard by removing any twigs and debris.

“Get it cleaned up – get the sticks, leaves, rocks and other debris out of the way so the grass as the best chance to get growing,” he said.


-Submitted photo
Two of the Turfgrass Management program students build a retaining wall as part of their landscaping education.

An application of spring fertilizer is a good way to get the grass growing nice and green.

According to Adam Thoms, assistant professor in horticulture and turfgrass Extension for Iowa State Extension and Outreach, typically, an application of three-fourths of a pound per 1,000 square feet of nitrogen using a “slow-release” fertilizer is helpful for turf in the springtime. The slow release will help avoid burning and other injuries to the lawn.

Birdsell said a fertilizer combination higher in nitrogen is recommended.

“It promotes growth, you’ll get that dark green color,” he said. “If you are putting nitrogen down you are going to be mowing quite a bit more, but it is going to give you that nice, thick lawn.”

Keep in mind, however, more is not better.

-Submitted photo
A part of the Turfgrass Management program at Iowa Central Community College is taking care of the Willow Ridge Golf Course. Here, student Caleb Harb of Grand Island, Nebraska is shown mowing at Willow Ridge.

“Put it down according to rates on the label,” said Birdsell. “Just don’t put a whole bunch on. That is not healthy for your turf.”

Grass seed

Technically, Birdsell said the best time to seed is in the late summer or early fall when there is less competition for weeds, however, it is still ok to seed this spring.

“If you are going to re-seed, do it now, when it’s cooler,” he said. “If you re-seed in the summertime, you’re dealing with heat and you’re going to have to put a lot more water on it then you do now.”

New growth may also need a boost with some starter fertilizer.

“In this case, you are wanting phosphorus,” he said. “It promotes root growth and development and that is want you want for new seeding.”

Thoms said due to the drought from last fall, any seeding done then may need redone this spring, as the fall drought may have dried out the seedings.

Also, Thoms added if you are seeding this spring, avoid applying a crabgrass preventer. Although effective at preventing crabgrass, this product will also keep the regular grass seed from germinating.


Springtime is also an opportunity to apply any herbicides that may not have been applied last fall. ”

“Later April, first of May would be a nice time for those applications,” Birdsell said.

“Get the turf up and growing good and you can spray it.”

Birdsell advises following the label or contacting a professional for assistance.

A later season insecticide may be needed as well. In one instance, Birdsell said they apply insecticide later June to the first part of July to help in the control of grubs.


Birdsell said when it comes to watering your lawn, he prefers a deep watering as needed versus watering every day.

“I water to where it can’t hold water anymore and let it take the water down over time,” he said. “This is better because what it is going to do is promote the root system to go down. With short watering periods, the roots will stay at the top and you won’t have a have a good root system when it becomes stressed in the heat.”

Just be sure to not keep your grass continuously soaked in water. When that happens, root diseases and other issues could occur.


Once you get your turf established, you want to be careful when it comes to mowing.

“I follow the 1/3 rule,” said Birdsell. “If you mow your yard at two inches, wait until it gets up to three inches and cut it down to two inches and no more. It is not good for the grass. You are susceptible to scalping it.”

Proper blade maintenance is also important for lawn care.

“Make sure your blades are sharp,” he said. “If you have dull blades you will tear the grass instead of cutting it. Once you tear it on the top, it will turn brown and then your grass becomes susceptible to diseases and other issues.”

About Iowa Central’s Turfgrass Management program

Birdsell said this is the 14th year Iowa Central Community College has offered the Turfgrass Management Program.

There are three options for the program that is typically attended by eight to 10 students each year.

The one year program, Birdsell said is made up of a fall and spring semester; class time in the summer and an internship. Students then earn a Turfgrass Technician diploma.

There is a two year course as well as a transfer option after two years.

Graduates of the program, Birdsell said have gone to work throughout the country.

“The best part of my job is seeing what the kids do and where they go,” he said. “We have had three kids do their internship at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. One was working for the San Diego Padres. And one was working for the Houston Astros who even as a World Series ring.”

A large draw to Iowa Centrals Turfgrass Management program is the fact the college has its own golf course.

“There are only three colleges in Iowa that have their own golf course. The University of Iowa, Iowa State and Iowa Central Community College,” said Birdsell. “We’ve got this 60 acre area that is our outdoor classroom. The students get tons of hands on experience. We work on equipment, irrigation, landscaping, all over the golf course. It’s nice we are out here. We can go from the classroom right out to the golf course.”


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