Caring for a lawn in the cooler climate of the Upper Midwest is not as challenging as many gardeners think. Pick the correct grass seed for the hardiness zone, which in the Upper Midwest ranges from 3 to 4 (meaning a minimum temperature range from minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 20), fertilize at the right time and water judiciously, and your reward will be a beautiful lawn that will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Pick the Right Seed
Make sure you use the correct grass seed for your climate. Use cool-season grasses such as Colonial bent grass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescues (including chewings), creeping red and tall and ryegrass, both annual and perennial, according to Jerry Baker's "Green Grass Magic." These grasses are specifically formulated for cooler climates in that they grow during the cool weather and slow down during the hot summer weather. Baker likes to mix 40 percent bluegrass together with 40 percent ryegrass and 20 percent creeping red fescue for a premium cold climate mix that he claims is healthier than using just one formula.
Choose the right amount of fertilizer and fertilize at the right time, recommends "Taylor's Master Guide to Gardening." How much fertilizer to use depends on what type of grass seed you use. For example, bent grass requires a lot of fertilizer, between two and four pounds for each 1,000 square foot of lawn, while Kentucky bluegrass needs half as much. Another way to determine what type of fertilizer to use is to have a soil test taken of your lawn and use those results to guide your decision.
Timing is important as well. In the Upper Midwest, the best time to fertilize is September or October so roots have time to create and store enough food before the cold weather. Alternately, a half-dose of fertilizer can be used in May or June with another half-dose used in the fall.
The best way to water any lawn, including lawns in the Upper Midwest, is to water deeply and infrequently, early in the morning. Nick Christians and Ashton Ritchie, in the book "Lawns," recommend watering twice a week, making sure the lawn receives a half-inch of water at a time. This amount includes any rain that may fall. One way to measure how much water your sprinkler system emits is to place a few 12-ounce cans around the yard, turn the sprinklers on for 20 minutes and then measure the water in the can. Divide one inch by the amount of water in the can and then multiply the result by 20 minutes to determine how long to run the sprinklers.