It is almost invariably true in all areas of life that effective preparation (you might even say, getting your ducks in a row) is the key to getting good results.
As it is in life, then so it is in gardening and, especially, in lawn care.
Get your lawn off to a good start in spring and you’ll find that it will be healthier, it will grow more strongly and it will look great for the rest of the year.
If you’re any kind of gardener (even one for whom gardening simply means mowing the lawn once a week), then when the days lengthen, the ground unfreezes and the snows melt away, life begins to feel good again.
Surely, only the most hard-hearted of people can fail to feel a sense of hope and renewal on a spring morning when they see the first spring bulbs poking through the soil, hear the first returning migratory birds or get their first whiff of exhaust fumes from the neighbor’s spluttering, ancient lawn mower.
Ok, maybe you don’t love the smell of exhaust fumes in the morning, in which case you can refer your neighbors here to get some pointers for a new machine.
But if spring is in where you are, this spring lawn care guide, will get your lawn off to that ideal start for the growing season. At the end of the article, you’ll find some links to various tools to help you get the work done well.
Clearing and brushing
First things first – clear your lawn of any twigs, branches, leaves or other debris that may have accumulated over the winter. You’ll need to pick up any large material by hand but it will definitely be more efficient to use tools if you have the right ones to available, especially if you have a large space to care for.
You can use a hand push lawn sweeper or one that can be attached to your riding mower or lawn tractor for this job. These tools have the added advantage of also brushing up the lawn and raising the grass stems that have been pushed down flat by snow and winter rains. If you are going to use a lawn tractor or riding mower, make sure the ground is not too soft or you could do a fair bit of harm to the grass and the structure of the soil.
If you don’t have ride on lawn equipment, a stiff brush will enliven the grass stems and your lawn mower bagger should gather all the small debris quite adequately. However, read right through this article before your first spring mow because there’s some important advice about cutting towards the end.
This is more usually a job for fall, but if you didn’t do it then, do it now. Dethatching involves removing the dead grass, weeds and other material that are located around the live stems of grass, crowding out them out and depriving them of air, light and water – in fact the University of Missouri calls thatch the enemy of lawns.
For smaller spaces I usually use a spring tined hand rake. Drag it through affected areas and you may be surprised how much non-grass material is in your lawn.
In larger spaces you can use a hand push dethatcher, or a riding mower attachment.
If you have a moss problem, you may wish to apply moss-killer a few weeks before dethatching because if you rake out live moss you can end up spreading the problem around rather than curing it. In any case, moss is often a sign of poor drainage and/or soil compaction, so you’ll need to deal with those problems as well to bring about a lasting solution (see aeration below).
Once again, you can use your lawn mower bagger to collect up the material that has come loose. This will make great compost, so make sure you put it on your compost heap rather than disposing of it elsewhere.
Again, this is usually a fall job, but if the soil under your lawn is hard and compacted it’s best to do it before the growing season gets into full swing, so that that you give your lawn the best chance to thrive.
Aeration involves opening up the soil around the grass roots to allow water, nutrients and air to penetrate deeply. It also prunes the roots, encouraging fresh root growth. Test whether you need to do it by trying to push a screw-driver into the soil. If it goes in easily, you don’t have a problem. If you have to force it, you probably do.
Smaller areas of grass can be aerated with a garden fork and a bit of effort – push the prongs of the fork in hard and pull them out straight.
As ever, there are mechanical tools for taking care of larger areas.
photo credit: geraldbrazell
Use a selective broad-leaf weed killer if you want a dandelion free lawn
It’s never been my practice to use herbicides extensively. There is always a danger of lawn-weed killers affecting the sub-lawn roots of surrounding shrubs and trees, not to mention the risk of affecting the eco system that supports soil fauna, such as earthworms. This is important because those little creatures are nature’s way of caring for our lawns, by aerating with their burrows and fertilizing with their waste products.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for lawn perfection quickly, you may need to resort to the chemical weapons.
Choose a selective broad-leaf weed-killer. These kill weeds and not the grass. Be careful not to use general herbicides like glyphosate (or something that contains glyphosate) because they will kill your lawn as well as the weeds and you’ll be re-seeding a few weeks later, rather than admiring your lawn’s beauty.
Don’t use weed-killers until later in spring, when the weeds are growing strongly. Apply the selective weed-killer a few days after you have mown, when the soil is moist and the weather warm, dry and still. Those conditions help to ensure that the active ingredients stay where they are intended to be and are quickly circulated around the weed’s sap transporting system. Wait a few more days before you mow the lawn again.
When you see complete die-back of the weeds, use your de-thatching tools to rake out the remains.
If, by this stage in the process, you find you have bare or thinning patches on your lawn, you can re-seed where necessary – but wait until at least six weeks have elapsed since you applied any weed or moss killers.
Break up the surface (gently) with your rake and sow seed at the rate of about ½ to 1 ounce per square yard (17-34g per m2).
Apply a nitrogen rich fertilizer once the lawn and re-seeded areas are growing strongly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure you don’t overdo it. Slow release fertilizer is preferable. Too much fertilizer at once will burn and kill your grass as effectively as any weed-killer. If your underlying soil is healthy and you have carried out the other maintenance tips outlined here, then you can afford to under-do the feeding. Consider also the available organic lawn care products for natural lawn feeding.
Depending on where you live, your lawn could have put on fair bit of growth during the winter. As always, the temptation will be to cut low so that you don’t have to cut frequently. Don’t do it!
The best advice generally is to keep your cut height fairly generous. This is because longer grass leaves can photosynthesize more which stimulates root growth, as well as shade the soil and conserve moisture.
In spring it is even more important to keep your cutting height high for the first few cuts.
If you cut the lawn too short before it is growing strongly, it can’t very easily put on the growth that it needs to produce the long leaves that then help it photosynthesis and stay healthy. So cut when you need to but don’t cut too short.
Points to take away
Remember, you only need to do the jobs outlined here that are necessary in your particular case. For example, if you’re soil is soft and not compacted, don’t worry about aeration until fall.
- Follow the order of working set out above and you won’t go far wrong;
- Clear debris, dethatch and aerate to get the right basic conditions for new growth;
- Weed, re-seed and feed to allow your lawn to grow away strongly;
- Don’t over-feed and don’t cut too short;
- Most of all, enjoy the fresh air (exhaust fumes permitting).
Finally, what do you think? Have I missed any vital steps? Do you have any further tips or tool recommendations to add to this article? Please let us know what you think by commenting below.
Tools for the Job
Hand push aerator/ground preparation tool:
Grass Stitcher GSD-002 20-Inch Double Grass Stitcher
Greenworks 14-Inch 10 Amp Electric Dethatcher With 3 Position Depth Setting
Alan Titchmarsh Springbok Lawn Rake
Hand push aerator:
Rolling Lawn Aerator
Bosch AVR 1100 Verticutter – power scarifier
Lawn Tractor attachments from the Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide Store – US buyers
Lawn Tractor attachments from the Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide Store – UK buyers
Go to the Lawn Tractor Toolshed home page