10 Tasks to Prepare Your Lawn for Spring
First the bad news: if you neglect spring lawn care (and related concerns pertaining to your mower), you could end up paying for it the rest of the year. Now the good news: the chores required of you in spring don't entail nearly the amount of work that you'll have to invest in mowing alone throughout the summer months.
In fact, you might need to implement only about half of the following ten tips for spring lawn care, depending upon your own unique circumstances.
Furthermore, there are a few instances below that the task in question is better performed as part of your fall lawn care if you can wait that long.
Raking will be your first task of spring lawn care. You're likely saying, "But we already raked leaves in the fall!" Sorry, but raking is for more than just removing leaves: it's for controlling thatch, too. A thatch build-up of more than 1/2 inch is considered excessive.
But there's often another good reason for a spring raking.
As you survey your lawn in spring, see if there are any matted patches, in which the grass blades are all stuck together. This can be caused by a disease known as "snow mold." New grass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches. But raking will be sufficient to solve this problem.
Just when you should perform any of these spring lawn care tasks will depend upon the climate of your own region.
But Mother Nature provides palpable cues in some cases. For instance, when you're pretty sure the snow season (if you have one) is over in your region, begin raking. Applying pre-emergent herbicides (see Tip #6) should be done sometime between the time the local forsythia bushes stop blooming and the time the local lilac bushes begin blooming.
Check for Compaction
If your lawn is subject to high levels of traffic year after year, it may eventually start to show signs of decline. In such cases, your lawn is probably suffering from compacted soil. For instance, the presence of moss signals compaction (among other things). You can get rid of it, but successful eradication begins with the recognition that moss shouldn't be treated as "just another weed."
Lawn aeration is the remedy for compaction. The good news is that lawn aerators can be rented at your local rental center. The bad news is that the experts recommend postponing lawn aeration until fall. But if during your "spring lawn checkup," you become aware of compaction, at least you can plan on setting aside some time in the fall to take care of it.
Besides compaction, the presence of moss plants also signals acidity. But grass likes a neutral pH.
You can solve this problem by liming your soil. But don't expect a quick fix: the effects of liming are slow to take place.
But first, send a soil sample to your local county extension to determine the extent of your soil's acidity. The county extension will also be able to advise you on how much lime per square foot you'll need. Apply the lime using a fertilizer spreader.
But if your lawn has been doing fine and shows no signs of suffering from acidity, don't apply lime. Liming is only a corrective measure, not a preventive measure. A soil that is too alkaline will also cause your lawn problems, so too much lime is as bad as not enough.
Is your lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic, or neglect? If so, you may need to apply grass seed to fill in those bare patches.
This solution is known as "overseeding lawns." Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Five weeks after the grass germinates, apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.
However, spring isn't the very best time for overseeding lawns. Fall is the preferred time when the new grass won't have to compete with crabgrass, which is killed off by autumn frosts. So postpone overseeding until fall, unless your situation is dire.
Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers. But for those who prefer chemical fertilizers, Scotts provides a schedule for fertilizing lawns. Many experts, however, recommend a lighter feeding in spring and a heavier one in late fall for the types of lawn grasses known as "cool-season grasses." Too much fertilizer in spring can lead to disease and weed problems. And if you have, indeed, already fertilized in late fall, your lawn is still "digesting" that fertilizer in spring.
For those who prefer weed-free lawns, spring grass care is as much about weed prevention as it is about fostering healthy lawn growth. Novices are often surprised to learn that not all lawn weeds are battled in the same manner. Depending upon whether a weed is an annual or perennial, you will use a preemergent herbicide or a post-emergent herbicide against it (although landscapers commonly use both preemergent and post-emergent crabgrass killers -- an indication of how tough that weed is to battle).
Apply Preemergent Herbicides
If you know that you have a problem with the annual weed, crabgrass, then fertilization in spring should go hand in hand with the application of preemergent herbicides. As their name suggests, preemergent herbicides address weed control, not after the fact, but before their seedlings can even emerge. Preemergent herbicides accomplish this by forming something of a "shield" that inhibits seed germination. Don't undertake core aeration after applying preemergent herbicides: to do so would be to "puncture" this shield, thereby decreasing its effectiveness.
Crabgrass begins its assault on lawns in spring when its seeds germinate. Overseeding should be carried out in autumn, rather than spring, based in part on the threat posed by a spring crabgrass invasion. "So why not just begin by killing the crabgrass first with a pre-emergent herbicide?" perhaps you ask. Well, the trouble is that most preemergent herbicides work against not only weed seeds, but grass seeds, as well!
You can appreciate the dilemma here. Overseeding is incompatible with the application of most preemergent herbicides. Yet, faced with competition from crabgrass in spring, you may find it difficult to establish your new grass. So while it's still possible to overseed in spring, it's simply easier to do so in fall. There will be no competition from crabgrass then because the fall frosts kill off crabgrass.
If you must overseed in the spring, look for a product called, "Tupersan." Unlike other preemergent herbicides, Tupersan will not damage germinating lawn grass seed. But if you're committed to staying away from chemicals altogether in your spring grass care, postpone overseeding till fall.
Apply Postemergent Herbicides (Or Pull Weeds)
Keep an eye out for the emergence of the perennial weed, dandelion during the spring season, unless you find the presence of their cheerful yellow flowers in your lawn desirable. At the very least, you'll want to snap off their flower stems before they produce seed. If you're more ambitious, you can dig them out by the roots.
Spraying dandelion weeds with post-emergent herbicides is more effective in fall than in spring. If you do choose to spray, select an herbicide for broadleaf weeds.
If you prefer weed control without chemicals and have consistently practiced organic landscaping, you can harvest these "weeds" as dandelion greens and eat them!
Besides proper spring grass care, there's more you need to do to get ready for a summer filled with lawn mowing. Don't neglect preparations concerning the lawn mower itself.
No other power equipment is as intimately associated with and essential to landscaping as is the lawn mower. You need to have one that will consistently get the job done without any hassles throughout the lawn mowing season. And you should also know how to use one to your best advantage. Consequently, the final three of my ten tips focus on caring for, selecting and using these machines.
Tune Up Existing Lawn Mowers
Mowing the lawn all summer can be tiring enough, right? Why make it more difficult on yourself by putting up with a lawnmower that doesn't start up immediately? When your unit is stubborn about starting up, that can be a sign that it needs a tuneup.
Although it’s often possible to get by without one, it is recommended that you have a mower tuneup each year. Don't put it off till summer or pay someone else to do it. Learn how to tune one up yourself.
Buy a New Lawn Mower
Or perhaps you're fed up with your old lawnmower? Is it time for a change? Research and decide on which type is best suited to your own unique landscaping needs.
Review Lawn Mowing Strategies
"What's there to know about lawn mowing?" perhaps you ask. "You just push the lawn mower and it cuts the grass, right?" At the most basic level, Yes. And if lawn mowing is merely a mindless chore that you perform to satisfy other people (and you really don't care much about the health of your grass), then you needn't know any more about it.
However, if you do care about the health of your grass, there's a bit more to lawn mowing than just keeping your grass short enough to prevent the neighborhood from thinking your house has been abandoned. Spring is a good time to learn (or review) lawn mowing strategies–before it becomes so hot outside that it's hard to think!