Master Gardener: Resist the urge to mow, dig and weed until your lawn has a chance to dry out

To consult with a Master Gardener, call your county Extension office.


This is being written the third week in April. By this time, lawns are usually OK to be worked on but since soil temperatures are still in low 30s, who knows? Lawns can be spongy and wet as soils are thawing out and there is spring snow and rain.

Walking on your lawn in such conditions will damage your grass and compact soil. With compacted soil, roots can have a tough time growing deeply, making them weak and more difficult to survive the heat of summer.

Resist the urge to mow, dig and weed until your lawn has a chance to dry out.

With recent rains, hopefully our lawns should be greening up nicely. If not, the drought of last summer could be the culprit.

At a Garden Gala sponsored by the Meeker County Extension Master Gardeners last month, we heard Eric Watkins from the University of Minnesota give a presentation on “Lawn Care During and After Drought Conditions.”


We were told that 2021 was the 15th driest year in Minnesota since records have been kept. He said soil temperatures were too high for 45 days and rainfall was too low for 66 days.

The University used to say that lawns probably don’t need to be watered and then 1988 happened and minds were changed. Things to do (and not do) during a drought include:

  • Do not mow (even if the sprouting weeds drive you crazy)
  • Stay off the lawn
  • Do not fertilize or apply pesticides — when lawns or plants are struggling, it is human nature to think fertilizer might help.
  • Allow lawn to go dormant

If you do decide to irrigate your lawn, do it deep and infrequent, i.e., half an inch a week. More frequent and shallow watering does more harm than good as it keeps grass roots too close to the soil surface.
If you need to do some reseeding this year, the University recommends buying seed that is best for drought. These seeds are:

  • Tall fescue or fine fescue
  • Kentucky bluegrass will survive

Don’t plant perennial rye grass. It germinates quickly and is cheap but dies easily. When at your garden center, read the ingredient list carefully. It should tell you which seed is best for sun or shade.
A question often asked is “when is the best time to treat for crabgrass?”

Pre-emergence is when it is safe to walk on your lawn in the spring until mid-May before crabgrass comes out of the ground.

Post-emergence is mid-May to early June when you see small visible crabgrass. (When lilacs are blooming is an ideal time.)

It is OK to fertilize in May thru late June but the best time is August thru mid-October. This also applies to broadleaf weed control.

After this long winter, I can hardly wait to get back on that mower!


Master Gardener Sue Morris has been writing this column since 1991 for Kandiyohi County newspapers. Morris has been certified through the University of Minnesota as gardening and horticulture expert since 1983. She lives in Kandiyohi County. To consult with a Master Gardener, call your county Extension office.

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