Lawn Care Tips
Climate Your Plants
Many plants thrive in Indiana and around the Midwest, but plants from very warm, very cold, or very dry climates may struggle to survive. The Midwest’s plentiful but irregular rainfall, and our four-season climate affect plant growth and survival. Plant tags give you valuable information about a plant, including the hardiness zones in which it will grow. Here are some weather-related issues to consider when selecting and caring for the plants in your landscape:
Know your hardiness zone
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established plant hardiness zones based on a region’s historical average minimum temperatures (see map). For example, zone 4 has average minimum winter temperatures of -20°F to -30°F. In zone 7, the range is 0°F to 10°F. When you buy perennials, trees, and shrubs, the accompanying tag should list the USDA zones in which the plant will grow. Select plants that are hardy to your zone. For example, if you live in zone 5, make sure 5 is in the range listed on the tag. Plants listed as hardy in zones 3-6 or 5-7 will survive in zone 5 areas. Plants listed as hardy in zones 6-9 or 7-9 will find zone 5 areas
too cold and are not likely to survive.
Know the direction of prevailing wind.
Strong winter winds, often from the west or northwest, can dry out evergreen plants, especially ones with large leaves such as holly and rhododendron. These plants grow best when they are sheltered from the wind by the house or other structures.
Know the plants water needs
Although rainfall in the Midwest is often adequate, supplemental water may be needed during a dry summer or fall. This is especially true for newly-installed plants. During warm weather, plants need about 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week (total rain and irrigation), preferably supplied all at one time (see How Much Water?, page 15). After irrigating, check the depth of watering to make sure you have applied enough water to soak 8 to 12 inches into the soil.
In winter, evergreen plants can dry out after the ground freezes and they can no longer take up water. To keep this from happening, water evergreens in summer if it is dry. Continue to water them in autumn if rainfall is inadequate — even as late as November and December — until the ground freezes.
Special Care for New Lawn
If you purchased a new home, your lawn may be new and just starting to grow. Lawns can be started from seed or sod. Both techniques work well, but all new lawns need extra care for the first few weeks.
Newly Seeded Lawns
To care for a newly seeded lawn, follow these recommendations:
- Water lightly but frequently. You should water newly seeded lawns two to four times a day so the soil around the grass roots never dries. When the seedlings are 2 inches high, decrease the frequency but irrigate more deeply.
- Mow as soon as the first leaves are 2 to 2.5 inches tall. Most people wait too long to mow a new lawn, but you can almost never mow a new lawn too soon. Cut the grass to a height of 1.5 to 2 inches and continue to mow at this height each time the leaves reach 2 to 2.5 inches. After three or four mowings, increase the mowing height to 3 to 3.5 inches and mow as described in Care for Established Lawns, page 10.
- Apply fertilizer after the grass begins to grow. Four to six weeks after grass seeds germinate, apply 0.75 to 1.0 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Apply again eight to ten weeks after germination. You may use a starter high-phosphorus fertilizer or a high-nitrogen product commonly used for established lawns. If the lawn was seeded in August, you may be able to fertilize in mid-September and again in midOctober. If the lawn was planted in September, your first fertilization may be in October. Always make one last high-nitrogen fertilizer application in late fall (November in Indiana), applying 1 to 1.25 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
- Never apply herbicides to newly seeded lawns. Herbicides can kill new grass. If weeds become a problem and you decide to use an herbicide, read the product label carefully to learn when it is safe to apply the herbicide to your new lawn.
Newly Sodded Lawns
If your lawn is newly-installed sod, follow these recommendations:
- Water daily for the first two weeks. Make sure to wet the entire root zone. After two weeks, test for root establishment by gently pulling up on the grass. If you feel resistance, the roots are beginning to grow into the soil beneath the sod. Once this occurs, reduce the frequency of watering, but irrigate more deeply.
- Once grass reaches 4 inches, mow to 3 inches. After that, mow regularly as described in Care for Established Lawns, page 10.
Wait at least four weeks before fertilizing. After four weeks, fertilize on the schedule described in Care for Established Lawns.