It’s alive! Hard to believe, after being buried under snow and ice for the last couple of months – but your lawn lives. And after the beating it’s taken this winter, it’s probably in need of some serious turf-TLC.
A healthy summer lawn starts with spring maintenance. Winter can alter soil pH, compact the soil, and create conditions that invite weeds and disease. So what can you do when winter’s receding snow reveals bare spots, weeds, and other problems with your patch of green? Here are some easy tips for a lush, feels-good-between-the toes and Bay-friendly lawn.
A common problem that plagues lawns, particularly in high-traffic areas, is soil compaction. Densely packed soil makes it difficult for grass to take root and allows hardier weeds to take over. To test your yard for this problem, stick a pitchfork into the ground. If it can’t penetrate more than 2 inches, the soil is probably compacted and should be loosened with an aerator.
Another common lawn ailment is thatch, a tangle of above-ground roots and old grass clippings that can make it difficult for water and nutrients to soak down into the soil. You can break up thatch with a specially designed rake or with a mechanized de-thatcher for larger jobs.
If your lawn has bare or brown patches, you may need to re-seed. There are a few simple steps you should follow to ensure seeding success.
First try to identify the unhealthy soil conditions that kept your lawn from thriving in the past. A soil test will show what nutrients your lawn is lacking. A common problem is low pH levels. This can be corrected with an application of lime. Once you’ve corrected your soil composition, aerate the ground to avoid any problems with soil compaction.
Seed coverage is recommended in pounds per square foot. Roughly estimate the size of the area where you plan to plant. If you’re seeding a large area, it is best to use a broadcast spreader, but smaller areas can be seeded by hand.
Grass seeds germinate at soil temperatures around 65 degrees. Seed your lawn as soon as the spring days consistently warm to this level.
Once your new grass is well-established, you can encourage its growth and discourage weeds by applying a combination of fertilizers and herbicides.
Fertilizer can help your lawn grow thick and lush, but if it’s not used properly, it can actually damage the grass. In Maryland, fertilizer can only be applied between March 1 and November 15, when turf is actively growing. Applied too early or too late, the fertilizer won’t be absorbed and will simply run off, eventually landing in the Chesapeake Bay. Choose a fertilizer – we like Turf Trust – with slow-release nitrogen that limits run-off and is better for the environment. Follow product directions for when and how much you should water after applying fertilizer.
Herbicides must also be used with care, as their effectiveness often depends on when they’re used. If you have a widespread weed infestation, it’s best to apply a pre-emergent herbicide now, before the seeds germinate in the spring. But don’t apply herbicides if you plan to plant new grass – the herbicide will also prevent grass seed from germinating. There are products that can be used to control crabgrass that are safe to use at the same time you seed. If you are unsure, ask the garden center staff for assistance. For more isolated problems, spot treating with a non-selective herbicide should be enough to do the trick. Ultimately, the best way to discourage weeds is to have a thick, healthy lawn.
When it comes time to mow, follow the “cut it tall, let it fall” rule. Even though it will reduce the number of times you have to mow, cutting your grass short is harmful to your lawn in the long run. Cutting it too short removes nutrients stored in leaf blades and exposes the soil to sunlight, allowing weeds to take hold more easily. Taller grass is better able to compete with weeds, thanks to a larger root system and a higher tolerance for heat. It also shades the ground, allowing the soil to retain water more effectively. Set your mower height so that you’re only cutting off the top one-third of the blades. This places less stress on the grass, and the smaller clippings are able to decompose more easily.
Now you’re ready to pull out the garden lounger, kick off your shoes – and enjoy your beautiful, lush lawn.