As winter’s cold days shorten, we get some hints that spring is around the corner. When you take advantage of a sudden warm day to get outside, you may notice that your yard needs some spring lawn care attention. After a winter of short days and temperature swings, lawns need some spring TLC to get them ready for the outdoor season. Here’s your Spring Lawn Care Guide for achieving the greenest grass you’ll ever see.
How to Prepare Your Lawn for Spring
While you’ve been hibernating inside, enjoying winter holidays and heat, lawns get little attention. Without the proper springtime lawn care, yards aren’t prepared for the assault of summer sun and high temperatures to come. Here’s your guide to prepping your lawn for a green spring season.
Before you start, refresh your memory on what type of grass you’re growing. Is it warm season or cool season? If you’re not sure, The University of California offers a descriptive guide to understanding these different grasses.
Most of the U.S. grows cool season grass for their lawns. Fescues, bluegrass, and rye are all common cool season grasses. They stay green for most of the year and prefer a bit of shade and extra water in summer. They are generally grown from seeds.
Warm season grasses thrive in hotter climates and go dormant over winter. They are usually installed by sod or sprig. If you have a warm season grass like bermuda, zoysia, or St. Augustine, you probably know its requirements are quite different from cool season grasses.
Does My Yard Need a Winter Lawn Clean Up?
Green spring lawns need the increasing daylight from progressively longer, sunnier days. Remove leaves, sticks, and yard debris with a lawn sweeper or a rake to uncover grass for the most sunlight exposure.
Once you’ve cleared the grass, inspect your yard for trouble spots like bare patches, snow mold, or signs of pest damage. Snow mold is a fungus that visibly damages grass in circular spots across your lawn. It may not be a problem every year, but snow mold often occurs in years with early or heavy snowfall.
If you didn’t test your lawn soil in the fall (or ever!), now is the time. A soil test will let you know if the soil pH needs to be adjusted to support optimal grass growth. It will also let you know which fertilizers you should use for the growing season – and how much. It’s tempting to skip the soil test step, but if you want the best-looking lawn, a soil test is a must-do. You can find soil test kits at any local Extension Office or a good garden center.
Should I Dethatch & Aerate My Lawn in the Spring?
Thatch is the build-up of decaying root material that mats down at the soil surface. If thatch has built up to ½” or more, it can block water and restrict root growth. Plant roots need air and water, so removing the thatch layer and aerating compacted ground helps water, air, and fertilizers reach down to the roots.
If you discover snow mold spots, you can overseed them in spring. Start by clearing away the dead grass to expose the bare ground. We’ll get to seeding shortly!
For cool season grasses, aerating and dethatching are best performed in the fall. Warm season grasses are best done in spring. In either case, if the job hasn’t been done, it’s better late than never!
How to Prevent Weeds in Spring Lawns
For lawns under attack by crabgrass every year, spring is the time to get the upper hand. Apply a liquid or granular crabgrass preventative when daytime temperatures consistently reach 65-70 degrees.
Preemergence forms a chemical soil barrier that reduces the weed seeds’ ability to germinate. Many homeowners find this to be the time the forsythia bushes’ yellow flowers start to bloom – remember this timing, as it’s nature’s warning that crabgrass is coming. If crabgrass has been a problem in the past and you’re using a crabgrass preventer, skip aerating this spring. Aerating breaks the weed-preventing soil barrier you just applied.
Spring is the most important time of year to control weeds. You can kill winter or perennial weeds that have already popped up with a post-emergent spot spray, especially if the weeds are large or widespread. Be sure to read weed killer product labels carefully to make sure they are suitable for your grass type and temperature.
If your lawn has just a few weeds, ditch the spray and focus instead on strengthening your grass to outcompete the weeds naturally!
When to Fertilize Your Lawn in Spring
Fertilization timing depends on your grass type and region. Generally, you want to wait until the grass is fully green and you’ve started mowing. In spring, your grass needs to focus on root growth first. Applying fertilizer too early in the spring will actually encourage weed growth and make it harder for your grass to compete with quick-growing weeds. Be patient with the fertilizer.
Now is also when your soil test results come in handy. If you tested in the fall (or just now in spring), your soil test results will advise specific recommendations on the type of fertilizer (N- nitrogen, P-potassium, and K-phosphorus) and amount to apply. At your garden center, look for fertilizers that match the recommended N-P-K numbers (or some fraction of them). Read the fertilizer instructions carefully for details on what type of spreader and what application rate to use – they’re often different for each fertilizer brand.
Follow your soil test advice carefully. More fertilizer is not better! Over-fertilizing leads to thatch build-up (which means more work for you) and poor water quality in both creeks and your local drinking water. Stick to the recommendations from your soil test. It may surprise you how much, or little, you actually need.
(Fertilizer Application Chart by Colorado State University Turfgrass Extension)
How to Overseed Your Lawn in Spring
Overseeding is best done in the fall for cool season grasses, unless you have a few bare spots you need to fill. Spring is the right time to overseed a warm season grass that needs to bulk up.
Apply seed at the recommended rate – read the seed bag instructions carefully. Too much seed can clump together and fail to grow because of too much competition.
Keep the seeded area moist but not wet, with frequent watering 1-2 times per day. When purchasing your seed, look for products with moisture-retaining ingredients or lightly cover with straw. Never use hay, as it contains weed seeds.
How Much Should You Water Your Lawn in the Spring
Water is essential for grass blade and root growth, but the amount of water your grass needs depends on the grass type, soil type (sand or clay), geographical region, and even property slope. Your goal is to water long enough so that the ground is wet to the grass’s root depth. Dig a shovel in to peek at how deep that actually is!
Sandy soils need more watering than heavy clay soils. But no lawn grass thrives in swampy or bone-dry soil. Make sure to move your sprinkler around the yard so that water actually soaks into the ground and doesn’t simply run off. The best time to water your lawn is in the early morning when it’s cooler, less windy, and more humid outside. Less water will evaporate, and more of what you apply actually gets down to the roots.
‘Footprinting’ is the crispy, off-color spots your grass shows when it’s dry. It’s a sure sign that it’s time to water. Aim to water your grass less often but more deeply to encourage roots to dive deep into the soil. Your summertime lawn will be greener and healthier for it!
When to Start Mowing Your Lawn in the Spring
The time to start mowing your lawn in spring also depends on your grass type. Remember that spring lawn care is about getting your grass ready to endure summer’s heat. Cool season grasses should be kept tall to conserve moisture, while warm season grasses are often kept fairly short.
In either case, mow often. Remove only small amounts of the grass blade each time. Adjust your mower height before you start so that you never remove more than ⅓ of the grass height each mow. Washington State University Extension offers a handy lawn care calendar with a monthly mowing schedule.
Extra water and fertilizer will encourage excess grass growth, which means more mowing for you. Save yourself some time by watering and fertilizing only as much as needed. If possible, use a mulching mower blade to return the grass clippings and their nutrients to the soil. They will decompose quickly. Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings don’t cause thatch – over-fertilizing does!
If you apply chemical fertilizers or weed killer to your grass, think twice before using the clippings in a flower or vegetable garden. As the grass clippings decay, they will spread unwanted chemicals.
Take Time for Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance
You and your mower will be spending some time together this summer, so get your mower in peak condition. Start with a full tune-up at a local shop or consider replacing your walk-behind mower if it’s not making the cut, especially if you want to switch to an electric mower or riding lawn mower. If you’re into DIY, change the mower’s engine oil and replace the air filter and spark plug each season. Spring is also the time to sharpen your mower blades. Make this a practice every four to six mows to keep the blades cutting cleanly. This way, they won’t leave ragged brown edges on your grass.
Identify Lawn Pests & Insects
Lastly, work to identify anything bugging your yard. In spring, you can treat for white grubs that munch on grass roots, identify and treat invasive ant mounds, and trap or kill moles or voles tunneling underground. Some of these pests may require extra help. If you have a persistent pest, look for a licensed expert who specializes in your yard’s varmint. Getting on top of pest problems early is the key to successful management.
Spring is a welcome time of renewal. Enjoy the greenest yard on the block this year. Focus on these nine tips for spring lawn care, and you’ll set yourself and your yard up for a successful and low-maintenance growing season.