Fielding Questions: Lawn problems, more carrot tips, better tulip bloom

Gardening columnist Don Kinzler revisits the causes and remedies for patchy lawns this spring, shares additional tips for coaxing carrot seed to germinate, and more.

Lawn Problems May 20, 2023.jpg
Reader Mike G. asks gardening columnist Don Kinzler what he can do about dead spots in his lawn. It's a common problem for many this spring.
Contributed / Mike G.

Q: Large patches of my lawn appear to be dying out, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve tried reseeding without much success. Some spots were dying last year, but the spots have increased. Any suggestions? — Mike G.

A: Thanks for asking, Mike. I’ve been inundated with similar lawn questions, and I wrote last week’s garden column summarizing all the many causes of these lawn situations. Because there are so many, and the symptoms are similar, it’s very difficult to diagnose exactly what’s happening, but the column lists possibilities.

Growing Together columnist Don Kinzler breaks down why local lawns are ailing and what homeowners can do to restore the yards.

The second half of last week’s column provides remedies, summarized as follows: Fertilize lawns as we approach Memorial Day. Raise the mowing height to three inches. There’s no need to bag clippings. Spot spray weeds instead of broadly applying herbicide. Water deeply and less often, avoiding frequent light sprinklings. Be sure to fertilize again around Labor Day.

If no green shoots appear soon, reseed patches with a mix containing at least 50% Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. Power-raking or core aeration before seeding can also help. Fertilize newly seeded areas with a lawn fertilizer labeled for new seed.

Good luck, and if it’s any consolation, your situation is shared by many. Heat stress from the past two summers has been tough on lawns. Even irrigated lawns suffer during prolonged heat, because our lawngrass types are adapted to a generally cool climate.


Q: Last week I wrote about the old-time method of coaxing carrot seed to germinate better in the garden by laying a board over the newly planted row. I received a number of confirmations from gardeners who have used the method successfully. Following are several comments.

A: Brad E. writes, “I first used the old board trick in 1995 and I think it’s the most effective way of improving chances of a successful crop. One does need to be careful to check for germination regularly.”

Ken E. adds, “I’ve used the board method for over 40 years, which was shared with me by a wonderful gardener friend. At the time, she said to spread the seeds as wide as the board (I use a 2-by-12-inch plank) which lessens the need to thin seedlings, and you can grow more carrots in almost the same space as a narrow row.

“Mixing a small amount of fine sand with the seed also helps keep the seed spaced. After planting, pat the seeded area so the seed is in good contact with the soil. Water lightly and place the plank over the row. Check both morning and afternoon, and as soon as you see small greenish white shoots, remove the plank and keep the soil moist.”

Scott K. notes, “I’ve had great success with this method, and the germination rate is about 80%. I make the row the width of the hoe, about four inches. I sprinkle the seeds the width of the row, being sure not to get them too close. Then I rub soil between my hands over the seeds to lightly cover the row.

“Next, I bridge the board over the row about two inches above the soil, which keeps the row damp, even on sunny days. I water as necessary until they germinate. The board also protects the row in case of hard rains.”

Q: My tulips always bloom well the first spring after fall planting, but then the following years they come up weaker with less flowers. What am I doing wrong? — Jennifer L.

A: There are two ways to encourage tulips to remain strong year after year. First, start with types that are known to be stronger perennials, having the genetics that allow them to return for multiple years, instead of “running out.” The most popular are the Darwin hybrids, which are available in a rainbow of colors.


Second, fertilizing the tulips at bloom time is vital. Immediately after blooming, while the leaves are still green and healthy, the tulip plants are already forming flower buds deep within the bulbs. Those flower buds are next spring’s bloom.

To produce those flower buds, the tulips need nutrition, which is provided by fertilizer. At bloom time, or right after, apply granular or water-soluble fertilizer to the tulip bed. An all-purpose, well-balanced fertilizer labeled for flowers is fine, or it can be special bulb food, if available.

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If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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