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As your lawn wakes up from its winter slumber, there are things you can start doing almost immediately to clean it up and get a proactive start on maintenance.
A Note on Timing
While it may seem beneficial to get out as soon as the weather begins to warm up, a little patience can go a long way to maximize the results of your work. Wait until your lawn has mostly greened up to begin mowing, aeration or other maintenance. Too much traffic on the lawn before it’s green and actively growing increases the chances of killing off new shoots before they mature, or compacting the soil.
Turf Type Matters
Understanding whether you’ve got cool-season grasses (such as bluegrass, fescue and rye) or warm-season grasses (such as Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia) is important to knowing which maintenance tasks you’ll need to perform, and when it’s best to perform them.
Cool-season grasses have two primary growth periods: one in the spring and another in the fall. They can struggle and go dormant in the heat of the summer, so spring maintenance should focus on strengthening the lawn to better deal with summer heat.
Warm-season turf grasses begin growing shortly after the final spring frost and hit their full growth stride as the midsummer heat cranks up.
Here are some maintenance items you can perform to help your lawn be more beautiful and weed-free this season, with notes on timing for warm- and cool-season grasses:
Yard Raking and Cleanup
Most lawns require some debris cleanup first thing in the spring. Raking up leaves and other organic material helps ensure your lawn is getting the sunlight it needs to green up quickly. As you rake, make sure you are being gentle as not to damage the turf, and use a leaf rake and not a hard garden rake. Make note of any areas of the lawn that may be compacted (and need to be aerated) or have excessive thatch (and need to be dethatched).
You won’t necessarily need to fertilize your lawn in the spring, particularly if you applied fertilizer last fall. But depending on what type of fertilizer program you’re on, spring can be a good time to have your soil tested to check available nutrient levels. Cool-season grasses can benefit from a light fertilizer application in spring, once the grass is actively growing. Note that some pre-emergent weed control also includes a fertilizer, so you do not want to over fertilize. For warm-season grasses, it’s best to fertilize in late spring as soon as the lawn greens up and is actively growing.
Regardless of whether you have warm- or cool-season grasses, a spring application of pre-emergent herbicide can be very beneficial for your lawn. For control of annual weeds, such as crabgrass and foxtail, you want to apply the weed control as soon as the soil temperature consistently reaches 55 degrees. Often, your local extension office can help you understand the soil temperatures for your area. If you plan to perform any seeding to your lawn, you will want to choose your herbicide carefully, as most will prevent the germination of grass seed. According to the University of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, the only pre-emergent herbicide that can be used with new seeding is siduron, which is commonly sold as Tupersan.
Cool-season grasses can be planted anytime the ground is not frozen and the soil is not too wet. Then, as the ground temperature rises above 50 degrees, the seed will begin to germinate. The goal is to plant as soon as conditions allow to give the grass as much time to establish before the stress of summer heat bears down on it. Fall is a better time to plant cool-season grasses, so your focus for spring planting should ideally be on filling in bare spots. Warm-season grasses should be planted when soil temperatures are consistently in the 60s and all threat of frost has passed.
You may find that if your lawn went into the winter in a well-maintained condition, it may not need all of these steps to be ready for spring. Lawn maintenance you performed in the fall, such as aeration or dethatching, may or may not need an additional spring application. It all depends on the condition of your lawn coming out of winter. And if you maintained your mower in the fall, you won’t need to do another comprehensive service in the spring.
Spring Maintenance Techniques for a Healthy Lawn— University of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County
Spring Lawn Care Tips— Lawncare.org
5 Spring Lawn Care Tips— HowStuffWorks.com
Spring Lawn Care Guide— TodaysHomeowner.com
Spring Lawn Care Tips – The Red Light-Green Light Version— Michigan State University Extension