Ten spring lawn care and maintenance tips to prepare your lawn for the growing season.
Not all of these are Must Do’s. The most important items on this list are:
- When to fertilize
- Crabgrass control and other common lawn weeds
- When to start watering
Keep in mind…the goal of your spring lawn care is to encourage maximum root volume and depth to prepare the grass for summer heat and drought. Healthy soils, fertilizing, watering and mowing practices will help you achieve this.
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- Wait until the soil dries out before you start working in your yard.
- Sharpen your lawn mower blades and change the oil.
- Help the snow melt by spreading piles.
- Have your soil tested if it has been more than three years.
- Mow low to remove the dead grass tops.
- Aerate your lawn if it didn’t get done in the fall.
- Overseed bare spots.
- Apply crabgrass preventer (pre-emergance) around Easter.
- Light nitrogen fertilizer application around Memorial Day.
- Wait to water your lawn until late spring/early summer.
Early Spring Lawn Care Tips
1. Take It Easy on the Soil
Don’t be in a hurry to start working in your yard. Let the soil thaw and dry out before beginning your spring lawn care chores.
Foot traffic on wet soils will cause soil compaction problems. Even worse damage is caused by walking on lawns where the soil has thawed on top and is still frozen underneath, shearing roots in the frozen soil from the grass plants on top.
If you get too aggressive with raking, mowing or aerating – any activity that will open up the turfgrass canopy exposing it to sunlight – you risk damaging fragile new growth and giving early germinating weeds the jump on your lawn grass. Wait until your grass is actively growing.
2. Sharpen Your Lawn Mower Blades
Early spring is a good time to give your lawnmower and other power tools a tune up. Sharpen your lawn mower blades, change the oil, spark plug, and filters.
3. Help the Snow Melt
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that gets a lot of snow, help it melt by spreading the piles and removing it from shady areas. This keeps snow molds from developing as the ground thaws.
Spring Lawn Care Chores To Do When The Grass Starts Growing
4. Had Your Soil Tested Lately?
Or at least once over the past four years? Available nutrients in the soil are depleted over time and need to be replenished by applying fertilizer. A soil test will tell you how much, if any, nutrients your lawn needs. It’s the only way to determine whether or not liming is needed, and how much to apply. The results will include fertilizer and liming recommendations that you can use to develop a fertilizer treatment plan.
A soil test is also a valuable tool for diagnosing problems with your lawn, garden and landscape plants.
A soil test generally costs $20 to $30 depending on the service that you use. I recommend the Soil Testing Kit from Yard Mastery or the MySoil Kits available on Amazon. These are professional DIY kits that combine accurate soil testing technologies with an easy to use process. The report includes fertilizer recommendations tailored to your soil, site, and grass types. Results are available online within 6-8 days.
Order one kit for each area of your yard (i.e. one for the front lawn, one for the back lawn, and don’t forget the landscape beds).
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5. Mow Low To Remove The Dead Tops
Once your lawn starts to green up, give it a good short cut to remove the dead grass tops. This will give the newly emerging leaves the sunlight they need and get them growing. Take care not to cut it too short – scalping and damaging the crowns of the plants.
If you are a ‘grasscycler’ it’s OK to collect the clippings and excess debris this first mow of the year.
6. Core Aeration
Aerating benefits your lawn in several ways: reduces soil compaction, controls thatch, stimulates new root growth and improves water, air and nutrient filtration.
Fall is the best time to aerate cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses should be aerated in the summer – when they are actively growing.
If you missed out on aerating your cool-season lawn last fall, spring is the second best time to get this done. Just be sure you aerate before you apply a crabgrass preventer.
A good time to topdress with compost is right after you aerate, all soils benefit from adding organic matter.
Thatch Control – Aerating will help control thatch and is less damaging to grass plants than power raking. If your thatch layer is over 1/2″ deep, you’ll want to consider dethatching with a power rake. Again, wait to power rake until your grass is actively growing and wait to apply crabgrass preventer until after you rake.
7. Overseed Bare Areas
Fall is the best time to seed cool-season grasses. However, there is a short ‘window of opportunity’ you can take advantage of in the spring…
Grass seed will start to germinate when soil temperatures reach 50° F. Get your seeding done early enough so the new grass plants have time to develop strong roots before the summer stress period.
Overseeding works best when combined with aerating. Seeds will find their way into the aeration holes where they are protected, make good contact with the soil, and germinate quickly. Skip the crabgrass control if you overseed because it also works on grass seed.
Plant warm-season grasses after the danger of frost has passed – late spring into early summer.
Important Spring Lawn Care Tips
8. Crabgrass Control
Crabgrass prevention is a very important spring lawn care chore. Spring is the time to prevent crabgrass. If your lawn is dense and vigorous, consider taking chemical weed controls off your spring lawn care list. A dense and vigorous lawn will not allow weeds to invade…its the best weed control.
Crabgrass is a prolific seeder. If you had crabgrass last year, expect to see it again this year and consider using a preemergence herbicide. These crabgrass preventers stop weed seeds from germinating, so you will want to apply them before seeds germinate to get the best control. This will be when soil temperatures reach 50° F. Many gardeners plan to apply their preemergence around Easter. Blooming forsythia is another good indicator – when you see the yellow blooms, the soil temperature is 50° F.
Don’t worry if you are late applying preemergance – crabgrass and other weed seeds are germinating all season long and you’ll still get some control…better late than never.
Preemergance herbicides will control a broad spectrum of weeds along with crabgrass and many products will give you three to six months control.
9. When Should You Fertilize and How Much?
Go easy on the fertilizer in the spring. Too much will cause a flush of growth at the expense of the roots.
Cool-season grasses – including Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass – should receive the majority of their annual fertilizer in the fall, that’s when they will benefit the most. Lawns that were fertilized in the fall will green up early and won’t need to be fertilized until late spring. A light spring application – around Memorial Day – will keep them healthy and give them a nice green color boost. The amount of fertilizer that you apply in late spring should be less than 1/2 lb Nitrogen/1000 ft2.
If you missed your fall fertilizer, make it up with a couple light applications. Wait until the grass is actively growing (around mid-April) and then apply 1/4 to 1/2 lb nitrogen/1000ft2. Make another light application six weeks later (Memorial Day).
Warm-season grasses benefit from summer fertilizer applications, that is when they are actively growing. Wait to fertilize Bermudagrass, zoysia, St. Augustine, and other warm-season grasses until they green up. At least 75% of the lawn should be green. Fertilizing too early in the spring can cause a flush of growth that can damage the plants if there is a late heavy frost.
10. Wait to Water
The last item on your spring lawn care list should be watering. It’s tempting to start watering in early spring, but there is usually plenty of rain to keep your lawn healthy. Wait to water until the weather gets warm and dry.
It’s ok to let the grass show signs of drought stress – this will actually cause to roots to grow deep searching for water. Waiting until the weather turns hot and dry encourages deep rooting and that will prepare your lawn for the dog days of summer.
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