5 Simple Tips for Avoiding Winter Damage to Your Lawn

Turfgrass damaged from de-icing salts used during winter.  Photo credit: Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Extension http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/tips_for_reseeding_lawns_in_the_spring

Turfgrass damaged from de-icing salts used during winter. Photo Source: Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Extension

WINTER! It’s the time of year when you spend the least amount of time thinking about your lawn.  But did you realize that your lawn is especially vulnerable to damage in these cold months?

One of the main culprits are de-icers such as rock salt – also known as road salt or sodium chloride (NaCl) – which was first used as a de-icer in the 1940’s. Rock salt is an effective, abundant, and relatively cheap de-icer and is by far the most common de-icing chemical in the United States. In fact, our roads across the county see around 10 million tons of salt per year, not to mention the added tons of salt and other de-icers we apply to our driveways and sidewalks.

While salt de-icers serve a good purpose, excessive salt deposits can translocate to the stems, buds, and roots of trees, shrubs, and landscape plants which causes disfigured foliage, stunted growth and severe decline in health. Salt runoff washes from pavement into the ground, and increases salt levels in the soil, often burning grass.

Other de-icers such as calcium chloride and magnesium chloride can also cause a great deal of damage to your lawn.  The Consumer Reports Ice-Melt Comparison below should give you an idea of the pros and cons of the most commonly used de-icers.

Consumer Reports Online, Ice Melt Comparison

Consumer Reports Online, Ice Melt Comparison (CLICK HERE)


Homeowners often do not make the connection about what causes the “mysterious” damage symptoms they see in their lawn come spring.

So how can you avoid winter lawn damage?

Here are 5 simple tips you can follow:

1.  Apply Salt Sparingly – The recommended application rate for sodium chloride or rock salt is one handful per square yard treated. The rate for Calcium chloride is even less salt-one handful for every three square yards treated (an area about the size of a twin bed). You might think that using more salt than this will speed up the melting process, but that is not true.  Sand, light gravel, cinders and cat litter won’t melt ice completely, but can provide some traction and can be used in conjunction with de-icers if you’re looking to use fewer chemicals.

 2.  Read Labels for Spread Rates – Check the label before you buy. For instance, calcium chloride (CaCl2) is slightly more expensive than sodium chloride, but it requires less product, works at lower temperatures and does not contain cyanide, unlike sodium chloride (NaCl, rock salt) which does.

3.  Avoid Using de-icers that Contain Urea – Urea has is also used as a lawn fertilizer due to its very high nitrogen content.  De-icers with urea are marketed for their dual deicing/fertilizing properties.  The idea is that not only will it de-ice your driveway, but when it washes away, urea’s fertilizer properties will boost your lawn growth. Sounds like a good buy, right? Well, not exactly.  Urea is actually a more costly method of deicing, compared to others.  It performs poorly under temperatures of 25°F, and can burn the lawn edges if it lies concentrated for any length of time.   If you are drawn to urea because of its dual deicing/fertilizing purpose, keep in mind that in the spring when the rain and melts come, the soil in your lawn will still be frozen for some time before thawing.  It is likely that the urea will still run off of your lawn and into a storm drain or local waterway. Excess urea in our lakes, rivers, and streams is not a good thing because the nitrogen in the urea can cause a chemical imbalance and endanger the water source’s ecosystem.

4.  Shovel Early and Often – The best method to keep your pavement clear is to remove fresh snow before it has a chance to harden into ice. de-icers work best when there is only a thin layer of snow or ice that needs to be melted, so shovel first, break up any ice patches you can, and then add the salt.

5. Minimize Traffic Across Turf – While not specifically de-icer related, this tip is important because your grass becomes very brittle and cell walls actually crack when they the blades are frozen and then stepped on. While your lawn will usually grow out of this kind of damage in the spring, constant traffic can do irreparable harm. Avoid activities like creating huge heavy piles of snow while shoveling, walking across your lawn to go check the mail, or sleigh riding on a fine lawn, even in deep snow. Pet traffic should also be minimized if possible.  All of these types of activities can cause brown areas to appear in early spring.


Salt Damage in Landscape Plants via Purdue Extension


Early Spring Rundown from Red Hen Turf Farm: Jump Start Your Lawn for 2014


We are excited to get the season kicked off, and wanted to let you know about a few things that are coming down the pipeline…

Start of the Season – We’re are optimistic that we will begin harvesting sod on April 7th. This is, of course, dependent on the weather. Give us a call if you want to be added to our “First to Know List,” and once we officially decide when our first day of cutting will be, you’ll be among the first to know.

Red Hen's NEW SHOP

Red Hen’s NEW SHOP

Red Hen’s NEW SHOP – We broke ground on our new – MUCH LARGER – shop last fall, and have started moving our equipment over there.  The Office part of the shop is still being built, but we’re hoping to be completely moved by mid-year.  We’re excited about the fact that our new shop will give us the space to keep larger inventories on hand, so we can readily supply you with the fertilizer, seed, straw blankets, and an ever-growing list of other lawn care-related products.

WHERE is our new shop at?  You’ll be able to see it when you come visit us because it’s located in our current parking lot, just west of where our shop has been located for decades.

2014 … Best Year in a Long Time?  – We sure hope so!  Never hesitate to let us know how we can help make this happen for you.  We’re always happy to give you sod quotes anytime, on any size job.
If you have questions about our 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod, grass seed, fertilizer, herbicides / pesticides, or even problems/issues you need a second opinion on when it comes to your customers’ job sites …We’re just a phone call <574-232-6811> or email <jcooper (at) redhenturf (dot) com> away.

Crabgrass  – Is it time to apply a crabgrass preventer?  No, not yet.  We’ve been looking at weather forecasts for the next few weeks, and it looks like April 15th – May 1st would be a great time to apply a crabgrass pre-emergent like our Pro-Ap 15-0-3 Fertilizer PLUS Calvalcade Crabgrass Preventer (here’s the label).

Details on our 15-0-3 + Crabgrass 

  • Size of bag: 50 lb.
  • A 50 lb. bag covers 12,500 sq. ft. when applied at 4lbs/1000 sq. ft.

SNOW MOLD – Image Source: Purdue Cooperative Extension www.agry.purdue.edu

Snow Mold  – If there is a year to see SNOW MOLD in your yard, this is the year.  Any raking or mowing that you can do in matted turf will help disturb and limit further disease development.  LEARN MORE about it via Purdue Extension’s publication at THIS LINK.


Late-Spring/Early Summer Lawn Care Tips for a Beautiful Lawn All Summer Long – Part 2 of 3


Tip #2 (of 3)

– The Best Time to FERTILIZE Your SOIL is


“If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it’s because they take better care of it.” – Cecil Selig

  NPK RatingsLend Mother Nature a Hand – Mother Nature has her ways of naturally fertilizing your lawn’s soil.  For example, did you know that during lightning storms, nitrogen atoms are released which are then absorbed by the rain, and when the rain hits your lawn, the nitrogen goes into the soil and your lawn is fertilized? There are at least 17 essential nutrients required for plant growth.  Plants get these nutrients from the air, soil and water.

Typically, even with Mother Nature’s best efforts to REPLENISH these nutrients, your lawn still needs help from you to be lush and green.  Commercial fertilizers contains many of the nutrients that nourish your grass as it grows, including the 3 nutrients at are most crucial to plant growth:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K) 

On bags of store-bought Fertilizer, you always see 3 Numbers that represent the N-P-K Rating.  If you want to learn more about these N-P-K numbers, check out this Wikipedia article.  Basically, each number is the percentage of N-P-K in the fertilizer.

For example, a 50 pound bag of 25-0-10 fertilizer is made up of:

  • 25% Nitrogen (N) … so 12.5 pounds of the bag’s contents is Nitrogen
  • 0% Phosphorus (P)
  • 10% Potassium (K) … so 5 pounds of the bag’s contents is Potassium
  • 65% other materials like fillers, carriers, etc. that help improve the flowability of the fertilizer, make the nutrient analysis possible, or condition the fertilizer to have special traits …
Cool Season Grasses vs. Warm Season Grasses –

There are a multitude of grass varieties, but did you know that they basically fit into 2 categories of grass types … Cool Season type Grasses and Warm Season type Grasses? Each grass type is better suited for either warmer or cooler climates, and is sensitive to factors like air temperature, soil temperature, moisture, and soil type.

Q: What type of Grasses are best suited for the climate here in Indiana?  A: If you guessed Cool Season Grasses, you are CORRECT.

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

Again, grass (like any plant) needs Nitrogen and other essential nutrients, especially during times of active root growth.  If you fertilize your grass when it’s naturally dormant, you’re wasting fertilizer (and money!) The healthier and more vigorous your lawn is, the better it can hold up to stress from heat, drought, traffic, and pets. Grasses also grow best with a REGULARLY SUPPLIED application of nitrogen and other nutrients, so if you space your fertilizer applications too far apart, then your grass will grow fine for a while, then slow way down, and then speed up again with the next application. An irregular supply of fertilizer leads to uneven growth spurts and actually puts stress on your grass, giving it little competitive ability against weeds and disease. cool v warm season grasses

Fertilizing with Step Programs … Uninformed Customers = Big Money for Lawn Fertilizer Companies  –

Lawn Fertilizer Companies stand to make a lot of money from prescribing 4-Step and 5-Step fertilizer programs that do NOT take into account YOUR GOALS for how “perfect” you want your lawn to look or the UNIQUE NUTRITIONAL NEEDS of your lawn.

Q:  Since every lawn has its own unique history of maintenance, use, and abuse, HOW can you possibly know what nutrients your lawn’s soil is lacking (or has too much of)? A:  Have your soil tested by a certified lab.  At Red Hen Turf Farm, we recommend that you do a soil test for every 10,000 sq. ft. of lawn, every 3 years.  We regularly use A&L Great Lakes Laboratories for our farm fields’ soil testing, and feel confident about recommending them to our customers.  The current cost is $8.35 per each soil sample, plus the cost of shipping the soil test bags to the lab. If you use our Soil Testing Procedures (available by CLICKING HERE), the results are sent to us and we will translate them into layman’s terms and work with you to make recommendations for fertilizing your lawn based on its particular nutritional needs.

So, WHAT are your GOALS for your Lawn this year?  Generally, the more pristine you want your lawn to look, the more “steps” or applications of fertilizer you’ll need plan on doing.

Fertilizer burn on a Kentucky bluegrass lawn   - Image Source: Purdue Turf Tips Website

Fertilizer burn on a Kentucky bluegrass lawn – Image Source: Purdue Turf Tips Website

First, it is important to know that if you apply too much Nitrogen at once, you will probably end up burning your grass. To avoid the chemical burn from too much Nitrogen, you’ll want to apply no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet with each application. Also (and please read this sentence ONE MORE TIME): It is very important to read the label on the fertilizer bag. 

My Goal is a Picture-Perfect Lawn (Highest Maintenance – 3 to 5 Steps): 
  • Fertilize your lawn once every 6-8 weeks during its active-growth periods.
  • Generally, this means that each year, you’ll want to apply 3 to 4 pounds of Nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
  • For regular, even feeding of your lawn, break up the yearly requirement of Nitrogen into the appropriate number of applications … For instance, for Cool Season Grasses plan on 1-2 fertilizer applications in the Spring and 2-3 applications in the Fall.


My Goal is a Pretty, But Not-Quite-Perfect Lawn (Lower Maintenance – 2 Steps): 
  • Fertilize once in Spring and once in Fall for Cool Season Grasses and you will still have a pretty nice lawn.
  • A lower-maintenance lawn typically requires 1 to 2 pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year so, again, break up the yearly requirement of Nitrogen between these 2 applications.


My Goal is to Fertilize as Little as Possible and Still Have a Decent-Looking Lawn (Lowest Maintenance – 1 Step): 
  • Fertilize Cool Season Grasses once a year in the Fall, but remember to apply no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Whichever way you go, here are some tips from Purdue Extension for how to apply your fertilizer, although here at Red Hen Turf Farm, we recommend using a high-quality, properly calibrated Broadcast Spreader (aka Rotary Spreader) rather than hand-held Drop Spreaders (aka Gravity Spreaders) because Drop Spreaders generally take a lot more time to use, and they tend to give you a more consistent spread pattern.

Red Hen Turf Farm … Yep, We Sell Fertilizer, But We Want to Help You Make Informed Decisions Even if You Don’t Buy From Us

So, here we are.  It’s northwestern Indiana in mid-June, and for the majority of homes have Cool Season Grasses to tend to, and you still have time to nourish your lawn with your second (or even your first) late-Spring round of fertilizer.

  • If you’re dealing with dandelions and other broadleaf weeds, you could go with our phosphorus-free 22-0-5 + Trimec Fertilizer (a combination fertilizer / broadleaf week killer + Iron).
  • If you’re looking for a good all-around fertilizer without any weed or pest-control, our 25-0-10 Fertilizer is a good (also phosphorus-free) choice that has an extra boost of Potassium (K).  Potassium helps plants by increasing disease resistance, strengthening cell walls, increasing winter hardiness and drought resistance
  • If you’d prefer a more organic approach, something like Suståne’s Natural Lawn & Landscape Fertilizer might be the way to go.

Not sure where to start?  Having issues with your lawn that you’re not sure how to deal with? Are you ready to take a more informed approach to your lawn care? Contact Red Hen Turf Farm at 574-232-6811, and we’ll be happy to chat with you.  Our current hours are Monday – Friday 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM EST, and Saturday from 7:30 AM – 11:30 AM EST.  

In case you missed Part 1 in this series, check out

“How to Know if You REALLY Have a White Grub Problem (and Chances are, You DON’T)”


PART 3 OF 3 (sort of) 

The Window for a Fall Grass Seed Planting Will Be Here and Gone Before You Know It! 




Late-Spring/Early Summer Lawn Care Tips for a Beautiful Lawn All Summer Long – Part 1 of 3

Tip #1 (of 3)
– How to Know if You REALLY Have a White Grub Problem
(and Chances are, You DON’T) –

Q: So what are those white grubs, anyhow?

A: Grubs are NOT worms.  White grubs are larvae that will grow into beetles.

There are more than a half-dozen species of beetles that have a grub stage in their life cycle.

In Indiana, the beetles that have a white grub / larva stage in their life cycles include:

  • Japanese beetles
  • Masked chafer beetles (aka June beetles)
  • European chafer beetles
  • Asiatic garden beetles
  • Oriental beetles

Q: My lawn had some grubs this spring. What should I do to kill these horrible insects?

A: Most people are caught up in the hype of killing every grub. 

The truth is that most grubs do VERY LITTLE HARM, and it’s completely normal to have SOME grubs in your lawn.

Q:  What do you MEAN, it’s normal for me to have grubs in my lawn?

A. Almost every yard has grubs, and we’ve been hearing that there seem to be more grubs this spring than there have been for the past few spring seasons. 

Most grubs do very little harm. However, most expert entomologists believe that until you reach 5-10 grub larvae per square foot, there are not enough of them in one location to do damage to your lawn, and until you are seeing 5-10 grubs per square foot, there likely is no need to even consider using chemical insecticides to kill them.

(NOTE:  There is not a universally accepted grub damage threshold among the expert scientists who study these beetles and their larvae, but if you read various studies on this topic, the range does seem to fall within 5-10 grubs per square foot.)

In the spring, the grubs that were in the soil last fall move up closer to the soil surface from their over-wintering location down a foot or two in the soil.

While the grubs do some spring-time feeding on grass roots, it’s rarely enough to cause enough damage that you’ll notice the effects on your lawn lawn. After a few weeks of feeding, the weather will warm the soil and the grubs will pupate about 3 to 6 inches from the soil surface.  The pupa will develop into adult beetles in May, June and July  (the timing for when they become adults depends on what kind of beetle they are since different beetles have different life cycles.)

Life Cycle of the Japanese Beetle via the University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science website

Life Cycle of the Japanese Beetle via the University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science website

Lawn insecticides do not work well throughout the pupa or adult stages because the beetles are not doing a lot of feeding during these times.

The adult beetles fly around for miles, so killing off spring grubs will have no effect on how many beetles will fly in from elsewhere to lay eggs.  Again, different beetles lay their eggs at different times of the year.

Q:  But my Lawn Fertilizer Company says I need to kill these grubs in the spring. 

A. Again, the presence of grubs in your lawn is normal, and is typically not harmful at all. 

The real trouble starts when people are flooded with advertisements about grub-killing products that don’t tell the whole story.  Frankly, there are numerous insecticides sold in the spring that claim to give season-long grub control. For most people’s lawns, this just means that you are paying for a season of chemicals on your lawn that are simply not needed.

In fact, some of these chemicals will also kill beneficial insects that make their home in your lawn.

Grubs are not particularly susceptible to pesticides unless they are in a stage when they are feeding actively, so springtime is pretty much the LEAST effective time for white grub control.

In Indiana, the most-damaging grub stage occurs in late summer after eggs hatch and newly hatched grubs are aggressively feeding on turf roots throughout the summer and fall.   Therefore, wait until late-June to early July to apply a grub-control product. This will allow the insecticide to get fully incorporated into the soil to control the new grubs which are just hatching, are closer to the surface, and are more susceptible to the effects of pesticides.

Trying to treat grubs in the spring is pretty much a waste of time and money.

In fact, because, through the eyes of the average homeowner, the chemicals don’t appear to be working with springtime applications, there’s a tendency to over apply the grub-killing products, and that’s when excess chemicals tend run off into our water supplies, causing harm to human health and the environment.

Japanese Beetle Life Cycle - Image Source: University of Minnesota Extension

Japanese Beetle Life Cycle – Image Source: University of Minnesota Extension

Q:  But if I don’t kill the grubs, won’t they keep multiplying and getting worse?

A. There is no relationship of the number of grubs in your lawn from one year to the next.

If a lot of adult beetles are noticed in July (remember the threshold of 7-10 per square foot), then a treatment in August MIGHT be warranted.  Also, keep in mind that during wet summers, the beetles typically lay their so far apart in the grass that the grubs don’t do harm. On the flip side, during cool summers or very hot summers, grubs die from diseases and drying out, so again, very often treatment is not needed.

Q.  Why does my lawn have grubs, but my neighbor’s lawn seems grub-free?

A. Keep in mind that the adult stage of the grub life cycle is a beetle, and beetles can fly. 

Random chance does play a role in where the beetles lay their eggs. Adult beetles like to lay their eggs in lawns will full-sun and plenty of soil moisture. The masked chafer beetle and Japanese beetle lay eggs in July, so if the weather has been dry but your lawn is watered and surrounded by dry lawns, it is a prime target for egg laying.

Q:  Look, I just don’t like the thought of grubs living in my lawn … I’d rather be safe than sorry.

A. Pesticides are powerful things that should only be used when necessary.   

These chemicals can kill beneficial insects right along with the grubs you are trying to target.  Pesticides can also cause pollution. One thing for sure, the advertising for grub control insecticides has inspired the use of pesticides when they were not needed.

We urge you to consider the information in this post before resorting to using products that promise to make your lawn grub-free.

That said, there are circumstances where treating for grubs may warranted. 

You might consider using a fertilizer with added grub-targeting pesticides, like the 15-0-3+IMI that we sell (+IMI means that the 15-0-3 fertilizer has an added chemical called “Imidacloprid,” a widely used and powerful insecticide that can also affect non-targeted beneficial insects.)

If you think you might truly have a “grub problem,” contact Red Hen Turf Farm at 574-232-6811, and we’ll be happy to chat with you. 

Our current hours are available HERE – http://redhenturf.com/About_location.htm 



Late-Spring/Early Summer Lawn Care Tips for a Beautiful Lawn All Summer Long  –  Part 2 of 3:

– The Best Time to FERTILIZE Your SOIL is



Low potassium fertilizers, bad for lawns, good for profits.


In 2007, when the price of fertilizers went through the roof, fertilizer manufacturers sought a way to maintain profits in a way that did not cause sticker shock to consumers.  They did this by totally removing phosphorus and drastically reducing the amount of potassium.  Removing phosphorus was good because most soils in Michiana naturally contain enough for lawns, as well as being the responsible environmental thing to do.  Reduced amounts of potassium in fertilizers kept profits up for manufacturers, but has resulted in lawns that range from looking okay at times to lawns having poor color, poor draught tolerance, poor disease resistance, slow recovery from insect damage, and poor spring green up.

Nitrogen, the first number on a bag of fertilizer gets the most attention, because it is the most abundant ingredient and has the quickest, most noticeable response.  Phosphorus is the second number on a bag and is a “0” most often.  Potassium, the last number, is the silent workhorse in a grass plant.  Just as good assistants make the boss look good, soils with enough potassium make a lawn look good.

Experts say the amount of potassium that should be applied varies between one third and one half of the amount of nitrogen depending on soil type.  This means the last number on a bag should be between one third and one half of the first number.  If the first number is about 30, then the last number should be between 10 and 15.  If you look at a bag of the most common, popular fertilizers, the last number is around 3, which means the fertilizer contains only about one third of what the plant needs!  Is it any wonder that some lawns look worse and worse each year as the turf uses up the potassium in the soil?

What can you do?  If you are really fussy about your lawn, have your soil tested to determine potassium levels.  Send it off to a lab because quick strip tests are not accurate.  Red Hen Turf Farm will send a soil testing kit to you upon request.  If the results show low potassium levels, a supplement fertilizer, 0-0-60, can be added to raise levels.  Then make changes in your yearly program by either changing brands or regularly adding the supplement.  Read this article to learn How to Evaluate A Fertilizer Program.

If you like your current fertilizer but it needs more potassium, you can apply a supplement.  0-0-60 fertilizer can usually be bought at garden stores or Red Hen  and should be applied spring and fall in addition to your other fertilizer at the rate of 1 lb. per thousand sq. ft.

If you don’t want the work of making extra applications, you can buy fertilizer that has the recommended amount of potassium.  It is unlikely it will be a popular brand at a box store.  You can try your local garden center or come to Red Hen Turf Farm.  Our fertilizer programs are specially designed to meet the potassium needs of turfgrass.

For more details about potassium and fertilizing, see our links section and Google “potassium for turfgrass.”  Look for articles that discuss the grass species you have, as they will be more appropriate.