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Science and the Environment

Yard Care 101: Advice from University Experts

Emily McTavish


John Clark, Assistant Director of Facilities Management at Missouri State University, says keeping your grass at a length of three to four inches is best.

“The longer that you leave it, the more root growth that you have,” Clark says. “So the closer to that four inches that you have the deeper your roots are going to be and they’re going to have more access to water. You don’t want to mow below two inches. We’re not maintaining greens, golf greens in people’s backyards.”

Joe Fearn, Head Groundskeeper for Drury University, says “mowing taller” will help keep grass nice all summer.  He says mowing your lawn too short actually means mowing more frequently.

In addition, the longer grass is more tolerant to changing weather, insects and other variables.

Also, doing yearly checks of your lawn mower will keep performance high. Fearn suggests checking the blades for sharpness, oil, spark plugs and tires.


City Utilities is asking Springfield residents to water their lawns according to their house numbers. Houses ending in an even number are asked to water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Odd numbers are asked to water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Mondays are supposed to be a day off.

Fearn says watering deeply is ideal so the plant roots are forced to go deeper. Fearn suggests testing your irrigation system to see how much water is dispensed over a certain period of time.

“Put out catch pans and run the system for ten minutes, and measure how much water is in the catch pan,” Fearn says. This will allow you to be more effective when watering.

“Water when it’s cool and water as late in the evening as you can to minimize the amount of time the turf is wet,” Fearn says.

In addition, Fearn says to program your irrigation system to not keep running while it is raining, and lawns don’t even need to be watered within a week of rainfall. He says Drury’s lawns stay green two to even three weeks without irrigation.

Credit Emily McTavish / KSMU
Drury University. Getting a soil sample tested by the University of Missouri Extension will help determine what nutrients are present or lacking.


Before buying or applying fertilizer to your lawn, Fearn recommends taking a soil sample and having it analyzed by the University of Missouri Extension.

“Healthy turf, if you’re mowing it properly, doesn’t need a lot of fertilizer,” Fearn says.

Clark says he sees many people fertilizing just to fertilize without knowing what’s needed in their yards. He agrees the soil sample will assist your lawn care.


“Weeds, they’re anything that you don’t want,” Clark says. “So a tomato plant could be a weed if it’s in your pepper plants because it’s not wanted there.”

Clark says treatments for weeds, whether organic or otherwise, still will not get rid of weeds completely. However, weeds can be signs.

“If you’ve got a shady area, you’re going to have chickweed,” Clark says. “Dandelions mean that you have low calcium. So weeds actually show you indicators of what you’re missing in your soil.”

Clark also says that soil test will determine what nutrients are present or not in your yard.

Credit Emily McTavish / KSMU
Roses in full bloom at Missouri State University.

Flora Care

Flowers are blooming in abundance on both Drury and Missouri State’s campus.

“What we’re trying to do here on campus is we’re trying to plant more perennials,” Clark says. “It’s more sustainable that way. We’re not planting every year.”

Clark says they have been trying to extend the blooming season on campus with daffodils in early spring and irises in time for spring commencement. Currently, Clark says oakleaf hydrangea are in full bloom on campus.

For annuals, Fearn suggests asking a ‘big box store’ when a new shipment will come in. He says the plants are cultivated in ideal conditions, but sitting at stores instead of being planted right away makes for less than desirable plants. 

For more information on specific flowers and plants, Fearns says Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder can be of assistance.

Fearn is also offering more advice and welcoming questions on lawn care on Drury’s Grounds Facebook page.