Ten steps to improve the look of your lawn this spring and keep it in shape all year long.
Americans love their lawns which is a good thing since there is over 30 million acres of lawn used for playing on, backyard barbecues, or just as a canvas for gardens that need to get in shape in the upcoming months.
Test Your Soil
A soil test is the most important step in any lawn care plan. A soil test gives you precise measurements of pH as well as the quantity and availability of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Contact your local cooperative extension service to conduct the test which cost around $20. (http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ ) Note: Most home test kits are only accurate for pH testing.
After you have the results from your soil test, you will know what mix of fertilizer you need and it all depends on the type of grass you have. Your soil test will show where your soil is deficient and point to what amendments are needed. You can also take the results to a gardening center and get their advice. The best choice is a slow-release, organic fertilizer, and apply it to the outer edges of your lawn, then cover the middle, overlapping each pass by a few inches. You may have to mow more frequently afterward, since you're adding nutrients at a time of rapid growth.
Maintain Calcium Levels
About 90 percent of common lawn weeds are linked to a lack of calcium in soil. Lawns should have a calcium-to-magnesium ratio of 7 to 1. If your soil test shows a lower ratio, spread high-calcium lime over your lawn, which will boost its ability to absorb nitrogen and synthesize proteins which will help the lawn crowd out the weeds.
Add Organic Matter
In the spring your lawn will benefit from compost, whether you make it yourself or get it from your garden center. Apply a ½-inch layer over your lawn and rake it into the surface. Finished compost should smell earthy and slightly sweet; avoid using compost that's still steaming, which indicates it's not fully decomposed yet. One yard, which is equal to 27 cubic feet, will cover 600 square feet of lawn.
Crabgrass germinates when the soil temperature reaches about 56 degrees F, which typically occurs in mid-April in many regions. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide, or use corn gluten if you prefer a natural product, after the soil has reached that temperature for a few consecutive days. Crabgrass doesn't grow well in the shade, so you don't need to add chemicals in well-shaded parts of your yard.
Use spring showers as your cue to get out and pull up any weeds. They typically grow faster after a rain making them easy to spot. The wet ground also makes them easy to remove, roots and all.
Dull mower blades tear off grass rather than cutting it clean, leaving ragged tips that allow disease to set in. See my article on How to Sharpen and Balance a Lawn Mower Blade - https://knoji.com/how-to-sharpen-and-balance-a-lawn-mower-blade/ . During the growing season, sharpen the blade after every 10 to 12 hours of use.
Some people prefer a very short lawn, but that does help the lawn. Let the grass grow to a length of about 3 to 3½ inches, and maintain that height all season. This allows the lawn to shade the weed seeds, and in the summer it shades the soil, reducing evaporation. In the fall, you can go back to cutting it short—weed seeds aren't as abundant then, and evaporation is less of a concern. However if you have Bermuda or seashore grasses like paspalum they can be kept at a height of 3/4 to 1 inch. These grasses are found in the South and coastal regions.
If you're starting a lawn from scratch, April is the best month to lay down sod. The temperatures are cooler and the lawn has time to take root before the heat of the summer. Look for varieties that match your property whether you have full sun, shade, or a combination. Sod should be fresh when you lay it and stay away from rolls that have been sitting outside for a while. Get a watering schedule from your supplier and be prepared to water the sod heavily for a least 2 weeks.
Aerating typically depends on the type of soil and grass you have. If you have a clay soil, you should aerate twice a year, spring and fall. If you have sandy soil, you should aerate once a year or even every other year, in the spring or fall. If you have warm season grasses, late-spring to early summer is in most cases the best time to aerate. If you have cool season grasses, late summer or early fall is the best time. Don’t aerate your lawn if you have weed problems as aerating will actually spread the weed seeds and make the problem worse. Water or dampen your lawn before you aerate to allow for better penetration. If you are planning on aerating, do it just prior to fertilizing or seeding.
See my article on How to Eliminate Weeds in your Lawn: knoji.com/how-to-eliminate-weeds-in-your-lawn/