Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Grass to Garden: What You Need to Know

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Spring fever is in the air and I’ve started to receive several plant/gardening questions – we are all anxious to get outside!  You might have the same question about your yard, so I thought I would share my response with you all.  Check in tomorrow to learn more about houseplants.


I wanted to start a new vegetable garden/perennial garden in a space that is currently lawn.  Do I want to avoid having lawn care spray for broad leaf and fertilizer in this area? Last application was last fall.

This is a great question.  It is easy to get caught up in the flowers and foliage of our gardens, but equally important is what’s happening below ground.  What we see as “dirt” is really a complex living system that provides structural support and nutrients to our plants.

I’m not a lawn expert so I can’t give a quick “yes” or “no” answer to this question.  But thankfully, all chemicals are required to provide application and impact information to the public (called material safety data sheets).  You can find MSDS online or ask your chemical applicator for a copy.  And once you understand a few basic terms, the MSDS are easy to understand.

There are hundreds of different chemicals used in the green industry.  Chemicals used to remove unwanted plant material are called herbicides.  All herbicides are either pre-emergent or post-emergent.  Pre-emergent works in the soil to inhibit seed development while post-emergent works on plant material already leafed out.

We can also distinguish between herbicides with the terms selective vs. non-selective, contact vs. translocated and residual vs. non-residual.

  • Selective herbicides are applied to an area and only affect specific plant material (like broadleaf weeds in a lawn) while non-selective herbicides affect all plant material in the area.
  • Contact herbicides work only on the specific area of the plant where applied while translocated herbicides have the ability to move to other areas of the plant.
  • Residual herbicides remain in the soil after the plant material has been killed while non-residual herbicides break down and are no longer active.

Let’s circle back to our question about herbicide and fertilizer applications to grass soon-to-be garden.  With the above herbicide chemical terms in our back pocket, our biggest concern will likely be the residual properties of the herbicide used.  Are the used herbicides still active in the soil?  If a pre-emergent herbicide was used, we especially need to know if it is still active in the soil if we want to start vegetables or flowers from seed.  Look for residual information on the MSDS or ask your chemical applicator.

Most herbicides do not have long-lasting residual.  But if this is a concern, you could simply build a raised flower bed and bring in new soil.

When it comes to fertilizer, I am always an advocate of incorporating organic material rather than synthetic fertilizers.  Organic material also allows you to improve the soil structure of your garden, especially important for water retention and drainage.

Do you have a plant or gardening question you would like answered?  Add a comment below and I’ll try to answer!

See you in the gardens.


Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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