The Word is WAIT

If ever there was a year for cabin fever, it’s 2021.  In mid-March, all Midwesterners are ready to do something outside in the lawn, landscape, veggie garden, patio…anywhere but inside.  Add to that the feelings of enduring COVID-19, and the need to do something outside is almost at a fever pitch.

Sooo, what happens?  The family member assigned to lawn detail looks out, sniffs the air, sees the lawn greening up, the crocus and daffodils pushing stems and blooms and a few leaves starting to grow from a perennial flower or two – and proclaims “It’s time to start on the lawn”!!

Is that wrong?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, fertilizing and seeding the lawn is a good activity to help the lawn recover from winter injury and grey snow mold disease, but no, it’s not a good time.  Actually, depending on the soil temperature and whether the lawn was fertilized in October or November, it’s about a month early.  So, the word is wait.

With spring seeding, it’s important to take a page out of the veggie gardener’s playbook and seed according to the soil temperature.  Just like with peas, carrots, cucumbers and corn, where some can be planted around the first of April and others in early May, lawn seed requires a soil temperature of 50-55 degrees F in order for it to germinate and start to establish.  As of today, the soil temperature in central Omaha is 43 degrees, which means if you seeded today, the cold, wet soils would not be conducive to germination and the seed would likely just sit there and pout…and probably start to rot in a couple of weeks.

With fertilization, in most years, especially with established lawns, the natural mineralization of the soil under the grass plants will release enough nutrients to green up a lawn without applied fertilizer.  It’s best to wait on fertilization until late May, after the spring surge of growth from Mother Nature.

If the lawn has a history of heavy weed pressure from crabgrass and foxtail, a preemergence herbicide can help to suppress germinating annuals, which would be best applied in mid to late April, or when soil temperatures warm to 55 degrees F.  Again, the word is wait.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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