Spring Lawn Care

By National Gardening Association Editors

Spring is around the corner in most parts of the country, and soon the lawn grasses will begin growing again. What can you do to ensure you have a beautiful lawn this summer? Here are some tips.

  1. Evaluate your lawn, looking for low spots where water collects. Grasses need good drainage, so fill in those spots with topsoil or consider planting water-loving perennials there instead of lawn. If there are areas worn by repeated walking, install a path or stepping stones.
  2. Gently rake and remove old leaves, sticks, and other debris from the lawn.
  3. Test the soil. You can use a home soil test kit or send a sample to a testing service. Soil should be tested every few years so you can make the necessary adjustments in pH and nutrient levels.
  4. Most lawn grasses grow best when the soil pH (a measurement of acidity/alkalinity) is between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil test indicates the pH is lower than 6, apply lime to "sweeten" it.
  5. Wait to apply fertilizer until the grass is actively growing. Once growth begins, use a broadcast spreade to apply a lawn fertilizer, ideally one that contains some slow-release nitrogen. Because lawn fertilizers are high in nitrogen, avoid spreading lawn fertilizer in perennial beds or under flowering shrubs, because nitrogen encourages lush foliage at the expense of blooms.
  6. Evaluate bare spots to determine the problem. For example, grass won't thrive in dense shade, so consider planting a shade-loving ground cover under trees. Wet areas, spots where topsoil is thin due to buried rocks, and compacted soils can all lead to poor grass growth. You'll want to fix the problem, if possible, before reseeding.
  7. When reseeding bare spots, choose the proper type of grass for your growing conditions. Prepare the area by loosening the soil if it is compacted, adding some compost, and raking it smooth. Sow the grass seed, lightly rake it in, then water gently. Cover the area with a thin layer of straw to conserve moisture and discourage birds from eating the seed.
  8. If the weather is dry, water established lawns deeply, but no more than once a week. Frequent light sprinklings encourage shallow roots that are susceptible to drying out. The exception to this is newly planted areas, which need watering every few days until the grass is growing strongly.
  9. The best deterrent to weeds is a lush, healthy lawn, so concentrate your efforts on providing the grass with the best growing conditions possible, which include plenty of sun and rich, well-drained soil. Hand pull the occasional weed. If you choose to use herbicides, follow label directions and remember they may damage perennials and shrubs so apply them with care.
  10. If you are renovating a large area, loosen the soil by tilling, then add compost to boost the soil's nutrient levels and encourage beneficial organisms. Rake the area flat, sow the seed, gently rake it in, then roll it with a lawn roller to compress the seed into the soil. Broadcast a high phosphorus fertilizer to promote strong root growth. Water, then cover the area with a thin layer of straw.
  11. If your soil is compacted, aerate your lawn to allow water and fertilizers to better reach roots. Then apply a thin layer of compost over the lawn to provide nutrients and feed soil organisms, such as earthworms, that help keep soil from compacting. A tow-behind aerator makes it easy.
  12. Lawn grasses differ in the type of care they need. For example, some grasses are prone to thatch buildup more than others, and warm-season grasses should be mowed at a lower height than cool-season grasses. Try to determine what type of grass you have so you can care for it properly.

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