Tips for early spring lawn care

January 15, 2013

Starting early with lawn care is the best way to get results. Act just before spring or right at the beginning of the season to provide your lawn with the foundation it needs for a lush, green cover. The following tips can be a great help:

Tools and Materials

Lawn mower Lime or sulfur amendment Lawn fertilizer
Sprinkler system Weed killer or herbicide

Step 1. Boost overall soil health. Spring is an excellent time to check soil health. If your lawn is compacted, aerating it will help. The holes created by the aerator allow air and water to reach roots and fertilizers to settle in. Test your soil to determine its nutrient levels and acidity/alkalinity (pH) level so you know what to add. All soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, such as compost.

Spreading a thin layer over your entire lawn will enhance your soil’s ecosystem, which in turn will support healthy grasses. Also, if your soil pH is too acidic, apply lime to raise the pH or “sweeten” it; use sulfur to lower the pH of alkaline soil.

Step 2. Know when to fertilize. Fertilizing lawns helps build dense turf that crowds out most weeds. Thin grass and bare spots invite weed seeds to sprout and take hold. Fertilize lawns when they’re actively growing.

In southern regions, early spring is the start of the growing season for heat-loving turf grass species, including buffalo grass, zoysia grass, Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass. These plants are awakening from their slumber after the cooler months and, if properly cared for, will flourish all summer long.

Observe your lawn and apply lawn fertilizer as soon as the grass begins growing vigorously, which may be early spring in some regions and several weeks away in cooler locales. Plan to fertilize again in summer.

In northern regions, spring is a time of rapid growth for the area’s cool-season grasses, including ryegrass, fescues and Kentucky bluegrass. These grasses prefer cool weather and will grow vigorously until hot weather slows them down. Then they’ll resume growth in fall. Fertilize cool-season grasses in spring when they begin active growth—which may still be a few months away—and again in fall to provide the nutrients they need, when they need them.

Step 3. Water well. If you’re installing a new lawn, look for new grass seed technology. These new seeds are enhanced with a special coating that helps the plants produce a thicker, healthier and more drought-tolerant lawn compared with untreated seed. Lawns grown with these seeds, offered from brands like Pennington and Scotts, may use up to 30 percent less water, saving you time and money.

When it comes to watering, more isn’t necessarily better. Turf grasses need adequate water to grow healthy and strong as too much water invites disease and actually can make grass more sensitive to drought. Unless you’re living in a region that has experienced a prolonged drought, you can put off your watering until daytime temperatures reach 80.

Set your sprinkler system to provide a thorough watering about once a week. If rainfall hasn’t been adequate, set it for 1/2 to 1 inch of water each time. Apply water slowly, so it sinks in rather than running off. This technique encourages plants to grow deep roots that are more drought-tolerant than shallow roots. Allowing grass and soil to dry between waterings also minimizes disease, since most are caused by fungi that need moisture to spread.

Step 4. Controlling weeds. The best way to control weeds is to have healthy, vigorously growing lawn grasses. Control early-sprouting weeds with a pre-emergent herbicide—corn-gluten-based formulas are eco-friendly options. These herbicides inhibit seed germination, so don’t use them on newly seeded areas. Consider herbicides such as EcoSMART.

Step 5. Mowing. Allow grass to get a strong head start before you begin mowing, reaching a height of 3 or 4 inches, depending on the type of grass. Use a mulching mower and leave grass clippings on the lawn where they’ll break down and recycle the nutrients they contain. Then, plan to mow frequently enough so that you remove no more than one-third the grass blade each time you mow.

Step 6. Lawn care to-dos for the spring.

In the south:

  • Over-seed thin or bare spots.
  • Begin preparing soil for new lawns.
  • Aerate established lawns when compacted soil is moist but not wet.
  • Consider installing efficient irrigation systems.
  • Apply a thin layer of organic matter.
  • Wait to apply fertilizer until lawn is growing vigorously.
  • Begin preparing sprinkler systems.

In the north:

  • Begin evaluating lawns once snow melts.
  • Read up on new technologies, such as smart-seed lawns.
  • Consider installing efficient irrigation systems.
  • Learn about eco-friendly weed and pest control.
  • Shop for a mulching mower.