Spring Lawn Care

Spring has sprung and cabin fever is high.  Not just cabin fever; COVID-19 cabin fever.  As we start venturing outside and focus attention on the lawn and landscape, here are some spring lawn care tips to keep in mind:

Mowing – the most basic of all lawn care practices and most frequently performed, mowing keeps the grass at a reasonable height and provides some control of broadleaf weeds by removing leaf growth.  Strive for 2 to 2.5 inches for Kentucky bluegrass and 3 to 3.5 inches for tall fescue.  One of the most important parts of mowing is to use a sharp mower blade.  If it’s been a while since you had it sharpened or did it yourself, now is the time.  Here’s a quick DIY video from our friends at Kansas State University:  https://kansashealthyyards.org/component/allvideoshare/video/how-to-sharpen-a-mower-blade?Itemid=101

Fertilizing – unless the lawn is yellow or very thin, there’s no reason to fertilize in early April.  If the turf is looking a little peaked, a light dose – about a fourth of what is recommended on the fertilizer bag – will help pick it up a bit.  Most lawns will benefit greatly from the natural nutrient release of mineralization from Mother Nature, and fertilization can be put off until late May when about 0.75 lbs of nitrogen per square foot or about 3/4ths of the bag recommendation should be applied. Be sure to sweep or blow the fertilizer particles from the sidewalk and driveway back to the lawn.

Premergence Herbicides – thin and new lawns will benefit from an application of a preemergence herbicide such as pendimethalin, prodiamine or dithiopyr.  This application should be put on the lawn in mid to late April depending on the soil temperature.  The sweet spot with soil temperature is 55 degrees F.  You can keep tabs on the soil temperature at: http://www.mgextensionwx.com/.   It’s important to keep in mind that most preemergence herbicide products also contain fertilizer, so it’s wise to cut the rate at least in half, applying half in mid to late April and the other half in late May.  Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

Edging – many homeowners like a neat and trim finished look to their lawn.  One of the best ways to provide this is with an edger.  Edging, however, can be injurious to the lawn.  After all, the process involves cutting into turf crowns and rhizomes.  Like many other operations, edging should be done when it causes the least amount of stress on the lawn, which is April and September for cool season turfs.

Powerraking/Overseeding – if winter left the lawn with thin and bare areas, spring overseeding can thicken up the stand.  The best way to prepare the soil for overseeding is to powerrake.  Powerraking is quite damaging however, and should not be done without overseeding afterwards.  The key steps are: powerrake, rake off the debris and compost it, apply 2 -3 pounds of Kentucky bluegrass or 9 pounds of turf type tall fescue, lightly rake the seeded area with an upturned leaf rake, then keep the seedbed moist, not soggy or dry.  An application of a special herbicide containing mesotrione will keep the crabgrass and foxtail at bay but not suppress the desirable seedlings.  The target for beginning overseeding is a soil temperature of 50 degrees F.  Again, read and follow all label directions.

Aeration – if the lawn does not drain well, it’s probably too compacted.  Renting a core cultivator from a hardware or rental store and running it over the lawn 2-3 times will greatly improve the compaction level and allow water to infiltrate at a greater rate.  As with powerraking, although to a lesser degree, the best times for aeration of a cool season lawn is April and September.

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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