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Spring Lawn Care

10 Tasks to Consider Before the Mowing Season

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backyard lawn with trees Mark Turner/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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: spring lawn care doesn't entail nearly the amount of work that you'll have to invest in mowing alone throughout the summer months.

In fact, most of you will need to implement only about half of the following ten tips for spring lawn care, depending upon your own unique circumstances. Furthermore, I point out in 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.

 

Spring Lawn Care Tip #1: Raking

Raking will be your first task of spring lawn care. Okay, I can hear the groans coming from all lands near and far, wherever grassy carpets are cultivated: "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.

Thatch is the reason why I recommend that, when you rake leaves in the fall, you make the effort to rake deeply. Don't just skim the surface, so as to remove the leaves. A deep raking will remove thatch, too, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone. Even if you followed this advice in fall, I still recommend a spring raking: it will remove grass blades that died over the winter -- dead blades that are just waiting to become thatch!

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 a light 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 preemergent 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.

 

Spring Lawn Care Tip #2: Check for Compaction

If your lawn is subjected 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," as I explain in my article on getting rid of moss.

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.

 

Spring Lawn Care Tip #3: Liming

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 (read my fertilizer spreader review if you're in the market for one).

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.

 

Spring Lawn Care Tip #4: Overseeding

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 (see Page 2), which is killed off by autumn frosts. So postpone overseeding until fall, unless your situation is dire.

 

Spring Lawn Care Tip #5: Fertilizing

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.

In addition to the above tasks of spring lawn care, don't forget weed control and making sure your mower is ready for the mowing season. These two subjects are covered on Page 2....

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