Chapter 3 – Everyone’s lawn looks great in April

One early Spring evening while attending a soiree at my friend Bob’s house, he took me on a tour of his spread and pronounced how great his lawn looked.  I couldn’t help but level my candid Unofficial Lawn Guru assessment.

“Bob, everyone’s lawn looks great in April.”    

He was not pleased.  But the fact is, you could grow grass on your uncle’s bald head in April.  Between the wealth of wet Spring weather and the normal spurt of growth all plants enjoy as Spring breaks upon the land, it ain’t hard to grow anything in April.  The trick to developing and maintaining a full, healthy lawn is how it looks in July and August.  And how it looks in July and August has a lot to do with what you do with your lawn in April and May.  Admiring God’s Spring handiwork only gets you so far!

Of course the converse of my ULG assessment is also certainly true … that everyone’s lawn looks significantly worse in July and August (at least in this region of the country).  And yes, this includes Cranky Man’s home turf!  The real test of lawn health then is how well your grass rebounds in the following cooler months of September and October, as well as how it looks the following April when we start the cycle all over again.

And what you do in April and May is clean-up, fertilize, mow and aerate.  We have covered clean-up and aerating.  Today I’ll tell you what little I know about fertilizing.

DISCLAIMER:  These casual lawn tips are the product of trial-and-error experiences in the Philadelphia region of the Mid-Atlantic; and in no way reflect any formal training or pretentious claims to know what-the-hell I’m talking about .  Results may vary – and vary wildly – given your region, conditions, and level of common sense.  The lawyers made me do this.  Reader beware!

Fertilizing:  Generally I fertilize five times a year, running from crabgrass (early Spring), weed ‘n feed (late Spring), insect (mid-Summer), weed n’ feed II (early Fall), and winterizing (late Fall) treatments.  I rely on two types of Spring lawn fertilizing, crabgrass pre-emergent and weed n’ feeds.    

I concern myself only with a crabgrass pre-emergent (apparently there are several kinds).  The most important aspect to consider is timing when using a crabgrass pre-emergent.  If applied too late, it will not prevent crabgrass seed from germinating.  If applied too early, it will wash away or be absorbed too deeply in the soil to be effective.  Since crabgrass seeds germinate in the Spring when ground temperatures reach 55-60 degrees and stay there for several days, I recommend waiting until temperatures warm a bit to apply a crabgrass pre-emergent.  Since crabgrass treatments last for about three months, this should cover your lawn for most of the prime crabgrass season.

On the other hand, regular weed ‘n feeds can be applied as soon as the first weeds pop up.  Hopefully, these are popping up on your neighbor’s lawn, not yours.  But either way, a properly applied weed ‘n feed will not only kill whatever weeds you get, it will also give your lawn a nice growth jolt.

If you don’t have a “weed problem”, then you can apply a weed ‘n feed at any time.  However, if you have active weeds on your lawn, it is best to apply a weed ‘n feed after a rain heavy enough to thoroughly wet the grass, or very early in the morning when the lawn is dew-soaked.  Weed ‘n feeds are active weed killers that work by clinging to weed leaves and blooms.  Wet grass helps the fertilizer cling to visible weed plants.  So it is also critical that there be a 48-hour rainless period AFTER you apply the weed ‘n feed which allows the active ingredients plenty of time to do their dirty work.  So pay attention to rain forecasts before applying!

In years past, I would usually apply the weed ‘n feed now to give the lawn a growth spurt; then apply the crabgrass pre-emergent later, since I needed it only as a preventative measure.  However, I noticed last summer that crabgrass was popping up in places I had not seen it in a while.  The culprit turns out to be my non-compliant next-door neighbor, who has not as yet subscribed to the Unofficial Lawn Guru Code.  It’s a veritable weed and crabgrass farm over there!

So this year I will be in full weed-combat mode, with primary battle lines drawn along the northern frontier.  And this week – assuming continued warming – I will be applying a crabgrass pre-emergent in an attempt to lay down an effective defensive perimeter. 

This means I will push weed ‘n feed back until late May, which is fine considering the near weed-less condition of my thick green spread of lawn lushness. 

If you face a situation like mine, with non-compliant or semi-compliant neighbors causing unwanted weeds on your lawn, do what I do.  Buy a bit more fertilizer than you need to cover your spread, and apply it liberally to the offending lawn along the contested border.  You’ll be laying down an effective perimeter defense.  And if your neighbor sees you violating his airspace, he’ll think you’re just being Good Neighbor Guy.  He will never suspect your undercover guerrilla weed-warfare strategy!  So it’s …

Damn the dandelions!  Full speed ahead!!           

Good luck, and be careful out there!

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