Tips for a full, flourishing lawn this spring
Here's a warm thought on what's probably a brisk day: Imagine leisurely walking barefoot across the lush emerald carpet that blankets your backyard and the feel of that soft, freshly mowed grass between your toes.
The problem is, imagining won't get you there. Ensuring a vibrant and healthy green lawn takes careful planning and hard work.
The experts agree that it's not too early to address lawn maintenance and repair issues.
"Wait until spring, and it will likely be difficult to find the right contractor you might need to hire," says Jill Sandy, a professional gardener and founder of the home and gardening blog ConstantDelights.com. "And for do-it-yourselfers, there are several steps to start doing or thinking about before spring arrives."
Palmer Higgins, CEO of Mainely Grass, a Maine-headquartered lawn care company, agrees.
"Preparation well in advance is key because no one can perfectly predict when spring weather will arrive and the growing season really gets underway. You want to make sure you have the tools, products, or service providers lined up so that you're ready for the growing season," says Palmer.
To improve your chances of creating and preserving a healthy and low-maintenance lawn, follow these suggested steps:
• Clear the area. Remove any leaves, yard debris, moss, and weeds and prune trees and shrubs. "Remove any diseased or damaged plants or branches as well," says Sandy.
• Have your soil tested by a cooperative extension (visit tinyurl.com/coopext21 to find one in your area), third-party laboratory, or lawn care service. "A soil test will tell you exactly what nutrients your soil is missing. You want to correct any nutrient deficiencies before seeding or sodding," notes Holly Maguire, manager of Simple Lawn Solutions in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida.
• Address uneven sections. You may need to level out parts of your lawn to improve drainage. "Before spring, check for any overly soggy sections on your lawn, which can indicate dips and valleys that need to be filled in with soil and leveled," says Sandy.
• Consider installing a sprinkler system. This will ensure proper and consistent irrigation of your grass and reduce the threat of premature wilting, browning, and dead grass.
• Aerate your lawn using a machine aerator or liquid aerator. Do this after the last frost but before seeding.
• Apply a pre-emergent. "This should be done a couple of weeks prior to seeding, as this can affect the germination rate of the seeds," says Maguire.
• Seed or sod early in the season. "Once temperatures hit 60 degrees, it's time to sod or seed. Lay down starter fertilizer a day or two before planting for optimum results. With seeding, once the seeds are in the ground, the top inch of soil should be kept moist consistently until there is germination, which can take anywhere from four to 20 days," Maguire explains.
• Water infrequently but deeply in the early morning. "This way, water can reach the full root zone and promote deep rooting," advises Higgins. "We recommend two to three watering events totaling one to two inches of water per week from either rainfall or irrigation." If you're not sure how much water your sprinkler or irrigation system provides, spread five empty cans across your yard before watering and measure the water depth inside each thereafter.
• Once your grass is at least an inch high, scale back on the watering to let the soil dry out. "Add an application of nitrogen at this time to assist in the growth rate," Maguire says.
• Don't begin mowing until the time is right. With newly grown grass, it should be at least 3½ inches high before cutting. This means you may have to wait at least two months after germination before mowing. Aim to let established grass grow to roughly 1½ times the recommended height before mowing, with the goal of cutting off no more than one-third of your lawn's height at a time.
• Fertilize your lawn once every four weeks during the active growing season. "Instead of using artificial means, it's always recommended to use natural fertilizers," Sandy suggests.
"Having a perfect lawn takes time, dedication, and experience," cautions Maguire. "Even if you get your lawn to a point where you are satisfied, it doesn't stop there -- it's all about maintaining it. But if you start early and do plenty of research and prep, you'll be in better shape."