8 Tasks to Prepare Your Lawn for Spring

Cutting the grass with environmentally friendly push mower

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When spring is in the air, you'll see the first crocuses or daffodils return, marking the coming of the season. These signs should also signal to you that it is time to get your lawn ready for the growing season. The exact timing of these spring lawn care tasks depends upon the climate of your region. If you get snow in your area, then start when you are pretty confident the snow season is over. Another good indicator is about the time the local forsythia plants stop blooming, and the local lilac bushes begin to flower. For most people, there are eight tasks you should do or think about as you head into spring.

Rake Deeply

Raking is the first thing you need to do when getting your lawn ready for new growth. You probably think, "But, my trees had no leaves falling for months. Why?" Even if you did a phenomenal job of raking leaves in the fall, you still have to contend with thatch. If you are unfamiliar with it, thatch is the layer of mainly dead turfgrass tissue lying between the green vegetation of the grass above and the root system and soil below. This layer, if it becomes too thick (1/2 inch or more), can be bad for the health of your grass. Thatch is why you should rake deeply when raking leaves in the fall.

You still need to rake in the spring, no matter how good a job you did in the fall. You need to remove the grass blades that died over the winter. You do not want that dead grass turning into thatch.

Another good reason for a spring raking is you can find matted patches of lawn. If you inspect carefully and notice the grass blades are all stuck together, a lawn disease called snow mold may be to blame. New grass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches, and raking can solve this problem.

Aerate if You Must

If your lawn gets heavy traffic, such as lots of running and playing in the same spot, this can cause soil compaction. If you see moss, which thrives on compacted soil, you can get rid of it, but you need to look deeper into its root cause. In this case, it is your soil. It needs aeration. A lawn aerator creates openings in lawn turf that allows water and air to penetrate the soil and reach the grassroots. You can rent a lawn aerator at a big box hardware store or, if you have a small lawn, you can manually use a hand aerator to do it. Unless your soil has a high clay content, it probably doesn't make much sense buying a lawn aerator machine.

Spring is not the ideal time to aerate the lawn, but circumstances may require it. If soil is compacted to the point that existing grass can't grow, it may be necessary to aerate in the spring. Generally, though, spring aerating is discouraged because the aeration holes provide a perfect spot for weed seeds to germinate. Weeds (especially crabgrass) are the first seeds to germinate in the spring, and aerating the lawn stirs them up and gives them an ideal home. If you must aerate in the spring, consider around Memorial Day after weeds have started growing but before they go to seed.

Assess Soil

Besides compaction, if you see moss coating the ground, it is a sign of acidic soil. Grass likes a neutral pH. You can neutralize the acid in your soil by adding lime (ground limestone) to it. However, this is not a quick fix. The liming takes hold gradually.

Before you do it, send a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office to determine your soil's acidity. The cooperative extension office is a free educational resource offering scientific-based assistance in agriculture, horticulture, and other areas of expertise. All you have to do is call, check on their website, or visit your local extension office, and they can advise you on how much lime per square foot you'll need. You will need to have a fertilizer spreader to apply the lime.

A soil that is too alkaline can also cause your lawn problems. So, only apply lime as a corrective measure, not a preventive measure.

Overseed

A lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic, or neglect may need an application of grass seed to fill in those bare patches. Overseeding is the process of sowing seed over existing grass. Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Five weeks after the grass germinates, apply quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.

Fall is the preferred time to do your overseeding, but if your grass is in dire need of help, do it. You just might have to contend with some crabgrass cropping up and feeding off of the fertilizer.

Fertilize

Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers. But for those who prefer chemical fertilizers, the Scotts Miracle-Grow Company provides a widely accepted schedule for fertilizing lawns. However, many experts recommend a lighter feeding in spring and a heavier one in late fall for cool-season grasses. Too much fertilizer in spring can lead to disease and weed problems. And if you fertilized in late fall, then your lawn still has fertilizer to feed on in spring.

Apply Preemergent Herbicides

For those who prefer weed-free lawns, spring lawn care is as much about weed prevention as it is about fostering healthy lawn growth. You do not get rid of all lawn weeds in the same manner. Depending upon whether a weed is annual or perennial, you will use a preemergent herbicide or a post-emergent herbicide, respectively. Although, to fight crabgrass, consider using both. Crabgrass is an annual weed and is tough to eradicate.

Crabgrass begins its assault on lawns in spring when temperatures are consistently 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. Preemergent herbicides address weeds, not after the fact, but before their seedlings can even emerge. Preemergent herbicides form a chemical barrier in the top layer of soil that coats seeds and prevents them from growing roots and shoots. If you know you have a problem with crabgrass, then apply fertilizer and preemergent herbicides at the same time or use a combination formula.

If you are using preemergent herbicides, don't plan on doing any core aeration until the fall. You will puncture the shield and decrease the weed killer's effectiveness.

Preemergent herbicides also work against grass seeds, too. So, if you have to establish new grass, it might be difficult if you apply a preemergent herbicide. Overseeding is incompatible with the application of most preemergent herbicides. So while it's still possible to overseed in spring, it's merely 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 preemergent herbicide called Tenacity. It will not damage the germinating lawn grass seed. But if you're committed to staying away from chemicals, postpone overseeding until fall.

Apply Postemergent Herbicides (Or Pull Weeds)

Dandelions are cheerful yellow flowers from the aster family that are also stubborn, perennial growers first making their appearance in the spring. Some people do not mind them, but they can also drive you crazy if they get out of hand. To get rid of this weed, snap off their flower stems before they produce seeds. Or, if you are more ambitious, dig them out by the roots. If you choose to spray a post-emergent herbicide for dandelions, get one for broadleaf weeds. Spraying these weeds will be more effective in the fall than the spring.

For organic green thumbs who do not use chemicals on the lawn, you can harvest the dandelion greens and toss them in a salad.

Service the Lawn Mower

Spring also means it's time to get out the lawnmower and give it a once over. Start it up. Stubborn starts are a sign that it might be due for a tune-up. It is recommended you give your mower a tune-up once a year. In three easy steps, you can get your mower back in tip-top shape. If your lawnmower needs more than a tune-up, then consider getting a new one.