Lawn Care

grass image

How The Misuse of Lawn Fertilizer Affects Water Quality

As I walk through the neighborhood close to my office, I see white granules that have accumulated along the street’s gutter. Up ahead, there is a lawn care company busily at work, making its way down the block from client to client. How does the lawn fertilizer end up in the street? It could be the spreader the applicator is using, or it could be the worker using the leaf blower, pushing granules onto the street as he clears off the sidewalk. . . . read more

Drought Stress on Tree Image

The Deepening Drought

Even with the much-appreciated recent rains, it isn’t enough water to lift the region out of drought. There are some changes we can implement to help plants while still making the most of the water we have.

What to Water
For landscape plants, priorities for watering are placed in importance: 1. Plants planted within the past 5 years, 2, Evergreens and orchards, and 3. All other plants. New trees and shrubs are watered 3-5 gallons per caliper inch (the trunk diameter in inches) per week. Evergreens and fruit trees, along with all other landscape plants, need an inch of water, applied all in one application, per week. Be aware that dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees should also be watered. These plants derive their reduced size via a root system that is smaller than full-sized fruit trees, thereby tapping less soil volume for water. . . . read more

Plastic at base of Tree Image

The Intersection of Landscape Design and Call Before You Dig

The request to the 811 center was like many received—locate the utilities because the homeowner wished to DIY a new privacy fence. Once the utilities were marked, the homeowner began to dig holes for the uprights, thinking each flag marked where he SHOULD dig, instead of where he SHOULD NOT dig. After severing the utility in multiple places, a hefty fine, and costs to reinstate the utility, the homeowner came away with a new appreciation for all that goes on below the soil surface. He was lucky because none of the damaged lines affected people or property. Things could have been worse because what goes on below ground, overhead (think electrical lines), and nearby (houses, outbuildings) all impact the projects we undertake to have safe and beautiful outdoor space.

This story may cause you to shake your head, but the reason for sharing is to foster an understanding that many landscape dangers and mistakes are preventable. . . read more

Yellow Nutsedge

Now is the time to . . .

Put down grub control to manage grub damage in lawns. The end of June/beginning of July is the window to complete this task, when grubs are small and more easily managed. 

Stop using herbicides to manage nutsedge.  Nutsedge has tiny growths at the end of roots, called nutlets, that will begin growth when the parent plant is killed, making for even more plants. . . read more

Crabgrass Image

Managing Crabgrass with Pre-Emergence Herbicide

If crabgrass has been a problem in your lawn, now is the time to be watching soil temperatures. Why is soil temperature important?  Because a well-timed application of pre-emergence herbicide limits crabgrass seedlings while ensuring the herbicide works to its longest advantage.

Here’s what we know about crabgrass. Seed germinates when soil temperatures reach a consistent 55° F and warmer. Given the right soil temperature and moisture, crabgrass seeds can germinate throughout the growing season. Crabgrass takes advantage of open spaces, so having a dense lawn is your first line of defense against crabgrass taking over a space. . . . read more

Armyworm image

Fall Armyworm

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, is a pest of row crops and lawns, preferring Kentucky bluegrass above other types of lawn grasses grown in the region. The caterpillars eat the blades of grass, to the point of turf thinning and browning. Sixth instars, the largest they’ll grow as caterpillars, are 1-¼ inches long with 3 stripes extending along their length and an inverted “Y” shape on their head. Pupation takes place in the turf, with the adult moths emerging to mate. Sources differ on the number of eggs each female produces but it is many, ranging from 100 to 1000. Egg masses can appear on buildings, fences, plants, and outdoor furniture.  Eggs develop into first instar caterpillars in just 2-5 days.  Initially, feeding is minimal, owing to the caterpillar’s small size, but as they grow, their appetite increases and the damage they cause more readily apparent. . . . read more

Vole Damage Photo

Vole Damage

“What are these trails in my lawn?”  This is a common question once snows recede.  Pathways interspersed throughout the lawn are an indication of the presence of voles. What are voles, you ask? Voles are rodents with an appearance very similar to mice except for their tails which are about 1 inch long.  Voles are granivores and paths may be more apparent around bird feeders, where fallen seed attracts them. . . see more

Yellow Nutsedge

Yellow Nutsedge

 “What is this grass growing in my flower bed?” is a question I hear quite often now.  Rolling the stem between my fingers quickly determines this isn’t grass at all but the infamous yellow nutsedge.  Sedges are grass-like perennials that have triangular shaped stems.   If they grew at the same rate as turfgrass, many lawn owners would be OK with nutsedge growing there. Unfortunately, high heat and abundant moisture foster fast growth that easily outpaces the height of Kentucky bluegrass and fescue.   Yellow nutsedge is a particular problem in new flower beds and shrub borders if the previous space was occupied by turfgrass.  Dense lawns suppress the growth of yellow nutsedge and, once the turf is removed and landscape plants installed, yellow nutsedge can show up throughout. . . . see more

Giant Ragweed Image

Weed Musings

In the midst of September, if weed management isn’t on your autumn to-do list, it definitely should be. Fall is the best time to be applying herbicides to perennial weeds. Why is this so? As plants ready for winter, sugars produced in leaves are transported to the roots for storage.  With herbicide applications, the plant’s internal transport allows herbicides to move readily from leaves to roots, providing for excellent distribution and better control.

Recognizing something as a weed is not enough. Identification is critical to making sure your time, labor and resources are used to good effect. Crabgrass and foxtail, the bane of many lawns and gardens, are annual plants and will die with the first hard freeze. So using herbicides on annual plants in the fall doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Dandelion, ground ivy, brome grass, and poison ivy,  however, are perennial plants and management efforts will be more effective now.  Plan to get at least two applications of the herbicide down before the first hard freeze, spacing the timing of the applications according to the label directions.  If you need help with identifying the weeds in your garden and landscape, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has an excellent reference, Weeds of the Great Plains.  Information for purchase of this book may be found here: . . . . read more

Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly

Caterpillars on Coneflowers

The silvery checkerspot caterpillar, Chlosyne nycteis, can be found right now, happily eating away on sunflower, aster, Echinacea, goldenrod and Rudbeckia.  The checkerspot caterpillar has branched spines on its back that are black in color. Sometimes the caterpillars will have an orange stripe or two.  Depending on weather conditions, there will be one to two generations per year. Once first generation caterpillars are an inch long, they will stop feeding and form a pupal case on foliage. As the growing season winds down, the second generation caterpillars will hibernate as third instar larvae.

The adult silvery checkerspot is a beautiful black, yellow and orange butterfly that is on the small side, with a wingspan around two inches across.  The black border on the wings will be edged with white dots. The females are more brilliantly colored than the males and males will have knobs at the end of the antennae, which helps them to find females.  This butterfly is a pollinator, feeding on flower nectar of the milkweed and red clover. . . . read more

Ground Ivy Image

Henbit, Ground Ivy and Speedwell

Three weeds that show up at this time of year resemble each other so closely that it is often confusing as to which is which. Henbit, ground ivy and speedwell are flowering right now so are easy to notice.  I’ll admit, conversations about weeds are some of people’s least favorite, but talk we must and to this end identification of the weed is a key first step.  Why? After all, isn’t a weed a weed and all weeds should be eradicated by any means? Like most things involved with plants, it’s just not that simple. Remember that pollinators like these plants for the nectar they provide in early spring.  Devoting a small space to these plants is an excellent way to help them out while minimizing square footage overall. So if management is a must, identifying the plant first leads to information about its life cycle, which in turn gives clues about effective ways to manage it. . . . read more

Puff Ball Fungi Image


They are oddly shaped, can smell funny and look like an alien life form arising from the soil.  These oddities of nature are puffballs, fungi that appear in late summer and early fall.

Puffballs can range in size from 1 inch across up to 24 inches and weigh up to 10 pounds. They can be lumpy, smooth or spiny, with colors ranging from white to gray to brown. The puffball itself is a spore-producing and dispersal structure. Filled with millions to trillions of spores, release occurs when rainfall, human footsteps and animal activity “puff” the spores into the environment.  Wind currents move the spores to new locations and, when conditions are right for spore germination, new fungi develop. . . . read more

Tomato Disease Image

Heavy Rainfall, Strong Winds, High Humidity

Nothing deepens the appreciation for rainfall like a gentle rain and a light wind. But this is the Midwest, lest we forget, and weather conditions rarely follow our druthers. Take, for instance, the most recent rainfall and wind event. The tomato cages, with plants weighted by many tomatoes, bent to the ground in our Growing Together Nebraska garden. Luckily, the heavy winds didn’t rip up roots, but the tomato plants’ fall caused damage to the nearby pepper plants, necessitating early harvest of some of the peppers.

Vegetable Plants

Ponding water prevents oxygen reaching plant roots, where anaerobic conditions promote root and crown rot, leading to rapid plant decline.  Incorporating lots of organic matter into a clay soil will increase water infiltration, making ponding less of a problem. Water droplets splashing from the soil to the undersides of plant leaves inoculates them with pathogens like anthracnose and Septoria leaf spot on tomatoes. Mulching with shredded newspapers around vegetable plants lowers the possibility of pathogen-carrying droplets splashing onto leaves.  As water evaporates from plants and soil, humidity is increased, furthering the likelihood of fungal pathogens gaining a foothold. Plants susceptible to fungal diseases can be preventatively sprayed with a fungicide but once fungal diseases are ensconced in leaves, fungicides provide little to no curative effects.

Trees and Shrubs

The ideal time to trim trees and shrubs is April through June.  Nature’s inopportune storms are oblivious to this timeline and this will entail pruning outside the ideal time. Removing dangling branches, known as “hangers”, as well as making clean cuts to jagged stems are important for several reasons—human safety and tree health being foremost. Wound treatments are not recommended as they hasten tree decay. Fertilizing to “help” trees and shrubs following a stressful event favors many fungal and bacterial infections and is not advised.


Rust is a fungal disease of turfgrass, becoming noticeable when a walk through the lawn results in rusty colored shoes. . . . read more