Alex’s Lawn and Turf Blog

Lawn care tips from the experts

Intro to Fertilizer 101 with “The Turf Whisperer”

June 6th, 2012

As you walk down the fertilizer aisle in your local hardware or home improve store it can sometimes be a little daunting.  What do they mean by “Weed and Feed”? What is “pre-emergent”? Do you choose granular or liquid, and which is better? What do those numbers on the bag mean and why are they important? Does “natural” or “organic” fertilizer really make my lawn safer?  All of these are important questions to ask and knowing the answers will help in you making the right decision for your lawn.

Over the next series of blog posts we will be covering these questions and more when it come to understanding what exactly your lawn needs and how you can ensure a healthy, lush and green lawn through the entire season.

Before I go into explaining all of the intricate details regarding fertilizer, the first thing we need to accomplish is to have a working knowledge about the needs of your turf. A start to that is to go outside and actually walk your property. Without trying to come off as too much of a “tree hugging hippie”, barefoot is the best way to walk through a lawn.

As you walk through your grass (bare foot right?) feel the turf under your feet, is it dry and crunchy? Does your turf feel hard and bumpy? Does the ground make a “squishing” noise as you step? All of those characteristics can tell you about the moisture levels of your soil. If it seems dry and crunchy, or hard and bumpy it could mean that you are not getting sufficient water on your lawn. If it feels like walking on a sponge and is making a squishing noise as you walk, it is a sure way to know you are either getting too much water on your turf, or you might have a drainage problem. The ideal feel of your turf under your feet should be cool yet dry, middle range firmness, and a uniform texture.

Now that we have determined the moisture content and retention traits of your turf, the next part is to find out its structural composition. The first thing I would tell you to do is a little on the drastic side, but it may teach you a lot about your property. Find a secluded part of your lawn and cut out and peel back a square foot of the grass, make sure to try and leave it in tact (like a flap) in order to replace it later. Then take a small garden trowel and dig about 6 inches down into the ground trying to keep the trowel scoop intact so you can see the layers. Look and see what the composition of the soil is. It is fairly easy to see if you have a sandy, clay, or combination soil type. This will help in figuring out how easily certain fertilizers will be received by your turf and how long it may continue to be effective.

And the last part of finding out what your turf/lawn’s traits and characteristics are is to test the levels of the soil. The University of Minnesota Extension Office is a great resource for this service and for as little as $15.00 you can get a complete analysis of your soil and be able to properly address its needs and requirements. Go to and follow the instructions on the website on how to properly take a soil sample and where to send it into. For a video regarding taking a soil sample and how the process works, see Alex’s Lawn and Turf’s YouTube channel for our Fertilizer 101 series of videos coming soon at

Our next blog post will be explaining what a “Weed and Feed” and “Pre-Emergent” fertilizer is and how it benefits your lawn. Until next time, “May green be the grass you walk on. May blue be the skies above you. May pure be the joys that surround you

“The Turf Whisperer”

How to Work WITH Your Lawn Care Vendor Towards a Green Summer!

June 4th, 2012

Green LawnWe all know that guy down the block that seems to have the “perfect yard”. As a property owner it can be hard sometimes to achieve those same results, and often the lawn care vendor you are working with gets the blame. The truth of the matter is that your lawn care vendor is on your property usually only once a week. There are six other days in that week that your property may need some attention and care outside of the contracted services with your lawn care vendor.


I cannot stress how important water is to your property, from the turf, to the trees, to the ornamentals and garden beds, if it is green; it needs water and lots of it. The general guidelines I give my clients would be to ensure that a minimum of two inches of water (from either the rain or ancillary watering programs) end up on you turf throughout the week. The water will help keep the plants on your property cool from the hot summer sun, and also acts as a delivery vehicle for nutrients to the plants.


The importance of fertilizing your turf, trees, ornamentals and garden beds is something that a lot of homeowners don’t seem to properly understand and applications of fertilizer are usually one of the first items to get cut from a budget in order to lower lawn care costs. This is one of the most detrimental things you can do to your property. Imagine if you knew of a parent that told you in order to save money, they have decided to no longer feed their child, instead they will just make sure they have plenty of water and get a haircut every week.

Weed Control

Second only to fertilizing your property is the importance of weed control. Not only from an aesthetic point of view with it assisting in keeping flower beds looking manicured and lawns looking lush and green, but physically it is considerably easier for your turf and flower beds to thrive if they do not have to compete with weeds for nutrients and water. Making sure to control the weeds on your property will increase the visual appeal 10 fold over a season.


I cannot tell you how many times I hear back from an irate homeowner because they feel as though they are getting the short end of the deal when a lawn care vendor “skips” mowing service for that week. I will tell you that in late August and early September, it is very common to not mow a site every week.  We do this to ensure the safety of your turf. When it is 97 degrees outside and it has not rained in two weeks, it could be very harmful to cut your turf. From the weight of the equipment on very fragile and dry grass blades, to the opportunity for the fresh cut blade to get burnt from the high sun, it is not always beneficial to mow your site. But that does not mean there are not other things to be doing on the property. Work with your lawn care vendor and tell them you understand the importance of skipping a mowing service and ask them if it is possible for them to maybe spend time working on weed control or clean up instead.

Pruning and Trimming

Trimming and or pruning of the trees, bushes, plants and ornamentals on your property will not only make the property look great with a well manicured appearance, but also assists the plants in establishing healthy new growth. However, if not done properly, or within the appropriate time frame, it can hinder the plant instead of helping it. Most of your perennials need to have the blooms removed once they have wilted in order to ensure that vital nutrients are not being wasted by the plants. Some shrubs and grasses should be “dead headed” at the end of the season, and others should not. Make sure to be aware of the plant material on your site and what it’s needs are, and work with your lawn care vendor to create a plan for maintaining those plants, trees, and ornamentals.


One common error on a property is that the site never gets “hard edged” by a lawn care vendor. It is very important to ensure this is done a couple times during the season. Yes, it does help in giving that highly coveted crisp  look to the turf and hard surfaces, but the hidden benefits of hard edging is to separate the soil/turf from those hard surfaces. Concrete, pavers, and other hard surfaces conduct and store the heat from the hot summer sun. When those hard surfaces are in contact with the turf and soil, that heat gets transferred and is detrimental to your turf. Grass needs “cooler” temps and soils to survive, if the soil gets too hot it will die back. Once the turf dies back, it opens that soil to the invasion of heat loving plants, WEEDS. That is why you will often see large weed accumulations next to curbs, patios, and sidewalks. Hard edging creates enough space between the two surfaces that the heat does not transfer and it promotes the healthy growth for your turf.

Mulch and Rock Beds

Mulch can be expensive on some properties, and rock is even more expensive. Often, those expenses are not planned for when it comes to topdressing a property or even replacing missing mulch and rock due to run off or other environmental reasons. However, that rock and or mulch is serving not only an aesthetic purpose, but also acting as a barrier at times to assist in the prevention of weeds erupting in areas they are unwanted. Many times a property will ask what it would cost to address the needs on their property when it come to their rock and mulch, and when they get the proposal they are amazed at the price tag so they decide to red-line the project. Instead of looking at it as a “lump sum” try and work with your vendor to possibly “split” the project into phases if spreading the costs out over the year would make more sense.

If you heed the advice given in this article, and work WITH your lawn care vendor in accomplishing the above tasks, I can guarantee a healthy and beautiful property throughout the season.

Areas of Service

Circle Pines, Blaine, Mounds View, North Oaks, Lino Lakes, Hugo, White Bear Lake, Vadnais Heights, Arden Hills, New Brighton, St. Anthony, Shoreview, Roseville, Little Canada, Maplewood, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Grant, Mahtomedi, Oakdale, Hugo, Stillwater