Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Getting started, Planning lawn treatments

It’s official!  Spring has sprung in southeast Pennsylvania!

Spent the second half of a fine Spring afternoon this weekend making my Winter Clean-up and Lawn Inspection mow of the front yard.  Plan to do the same on the Back Meadow on Friday, weather permitting of course.

Proof that Cranky Man has an adequate lawn!

I like to split this initial cut, clean-up, and health check in two parts because to do it right takes time.  Much more time than a simple mow.  And with the additional effort of raking out the Fall and Winter debris of leaves, twigs, doggie droppings (both domestic and imported), dead growth, etc. etc. etc. … my back begins to ache and my attention starts to wander.  So dividing the project into smaller parts is best suited for a quality effort and a complete diagnosis.

My diagnosis usually goes along the lines of the following:

  1. How is the overall health of the lawn?
  2. Are there areas that need an extra level of effort to give a good Spring start and an improved chance of surviving the summer?
  3. What needs to be done in those areas?
  4. Should we aerate or dethatch?
  5. What’s the prospective schedule for lawn fertilization and treatments look like?

For me, these questions always start with the lawn in front of the house.  It’s the area that gets beat up by sun and heat every Summer due to an eastern exposure and lack of shade trees.  My backyard is ALMOST on annual cruise control, so long as I fertilize and weed treat sufficiently to overcome the neighbors’ lack of Lawn Attentiveness.  As was the case last year, you can anticipate a repeat of Operation Digitaria to protect The Homelands from the scourge of Neighboring Crabgrass!  More on this in a later Epistle!

So anyways, my answers to the Five Questions of Lawn Health were:

  1. Pretty good.  Actually downright lush!  Largely due to a light Winter and an early Spring.  For the most part we can proceed normally as any other Spring.   
  2. Worst problem area along the driveway

    Except for the areas I saw that need some help.  As mentioned above,  Summer’s sun and heat does damage every year.  It can’t be helped, though we try to prevent it.  This year we have the usual areas out front that have bare spots, where heat-damaged grass died off completely and nothing has as yet taken root.

  3.  Usually I just let Nature take Her course and see what happens.  But this year I have decided to be a bit more proactive in these annual trouble spots.  To see if maybe we can give these areas a leg up on surviving the summer without the noticeable bare spots developing again in July-August.  So I have decided to re-seed these areas.  But before I do, I am going to fill in the holes with quality topsoil, seed over the areas, then lightly cover the re-seeded areas with peat moss.  Covering the seed LIGHTLY (!) with peat or topsoil keeps the seed moist when you WATER it and keeps the birds from eating your seed.
  4. Aerate … Yes!  I’m overdue on that because I never got around to it last year.  But it will have to wait until the end of April, maybe early May.  Dethatching?  No.  I dethatched a few years ago; and even if I thought it needed it, I would wait until the Fall to do it.  But certainly you can dethatch in the Spring, if you think your lawn needs it!
  5. Since I am planning a rather extensive seeding operation as described in 3. above, I will probably apply my April weed ‘n feed only to the Back Yard – the unseeded – lawn.  I will skip the Front Yard because applying a weed ‘n feed over a newly seeded lawn will prevent grass seed from germinating.  I can probably get away without the April weed ‘n feed for the Front Lawn because I usually apply it TWICE a year (Spring & Fall), not just in the Spring.  But not applying a weed ‘n feed will mean more work controlling weeds in certain Front Lawn areas; but I’m willing to try this to get my front lawn in better overall condition.  If your weed problem is bigger that your bare-spots problem, I would definitely apply the weed ‘n feed and skip the re-seeding until September then skip the Fall weed ‘n feed.  

So there’s my Spring Action Plan!  What does your’s look like?

A high traffic area along the landscaped beds

PLANNING LAWN TREATMENTS

In general, I like to apply fertilizers and treatments five times a year!

  1. Spring weed ‘n feed … mid-April …  There is nothing wrong with seeing a few early Spring weeds on your lawn, so don’t panic and run out to buy weed ‘n feed right away.  If you use a granular weed treatment, it actually works quite effectively on weeds already present on the lawn.  So you’ll get’em eventually!  Patience, grasshopper, patience.  If you do apply a weed ‘n feed IN A GRANULAR FORM, which is used to kill a visible and significant weed presence, make sure you apply it when the grass is wet (an early morning dew or following rain that will not return for 48 hours).  Forty-eight hours of rain-free weather is needed for the active weed agent to work effectively.  (If you are applying weed ‘n feed for prevention as opposed to treatment, then you can use a weed product in a time-release form (i.e. non-granular pellets) that will eventually kill any present weeds – just more slowly – and provides for longer weed prevention.  In this scenario, the lawn does not have to be wet.)
  2. Preemergent (anti-crabgrass) … Memorial Day weekend … Previously I was under the misapprehension that pre-emergents should be the FIRST treatment your lawn gets as early as late March.  But recently I was schooled in the fact that a pre-emergent has a short (approximately 3 months) lifespan on the ground and is MOST effective when applied just before Crabgrass Hunting Season begins.  Since crabgrass germinates and blooms when the summer temps get HOT, applying it in March or April will not cover your lawn through July and August unless you re-apply.  Who wants to do THAT?!?  Caveat:  The dates used in all these treatment suggestions are based on MY experience in Southeast Pennsylvania.  You may have to tweak the order and timing of some of these treatments if your regional summer temps are different.  
  3. Anti-Grub treatment (if needed!) … 4th of July give or take a week …  Grubs (fat white worm-type thingies) will usually hatch and begin feeding in late June-early July, so this is the best time to apply a grub control.  However, this is routinely one treatment I will forego, depending on what I see in grub and beetle activity.  In recent years, we have seen much fewer Japanese beetles during our summers, following several summers where the beetles were prolific.  So I have skipped this treatment the past two years.  Furthermore, several readings have suggested that even if you find grubs present in your lawn, there may not be enough of them to warrant a relatively expensive (relative to fertilizers) grub application to eliminate them.  One suggestion was to survey a patch you suspect has turned brown from grubs and “flap scalp” the turf from the underlying soil.  If you find evidence of more than 10 grubs per-square-foot, then a grub application is essential.  This product should be WATERED into the lawn within 2-3 days to be most effective!
  4. Fall weed ‘n feed … mid-to-late September … I’ll usually apply a preventative or “momentum-type” application of the non-granular weed ‘n feed.  Again, if significant weeds are present, apply when the lawn is wet and during a period where 48 hours of rain-free weather is expected.  
  5. Winter fertilization … no later than Thanksgiving … The final lawn treatment on the year feeds your grass one last time before it goes dormant for the Winter.  The nourishment is stored in the grass’ roots and provides a burst of growth in the Spring when temperatures start to rise. 

Once you develop a plan for you lawn, try to stick to it as best you can.  But flexibility is essential should conditions (heat, excessive rain, heavy grub and Japanese beetle presence, neighbors who don’t care or follow your advice, etc.) warrant a change in course.

Remember, it’s not just a lawn; it’s part of the family!

12 thoughts on “Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Getting started, Planning lawn treatments

  1. I agree with 2 Son finally some lawn advice. There was a time not to long ago that the advice came without reading about Christmas in TX just glad to see it back with plenty of time to react.

    • Christmas in Texas??? What the Sam Hill are you talking about?!?

      Here’s a tip for all you whiny grass fans … Any time you want lawn advice just glance down the right sidebar and look for the “Find it here faster” section. Click on the words “Lawn care’ and VIOLA’!! … Lawn posts!! They might be older ones; but lawn advice doesn’t generally change all that much.

      So stop your sniveling!

          • Sounds like reader input indicates significant interest in #2 Son’s comments, 1 wonders how awesome a #2 Son blog would be at demanding blog attention from America…….

            • I say, Go for it! You will never really know whether it will work for you – or for anyone else – until you try it. ONe of the “tips” I read before starting was that you should have a concentration of interest (not the exact wording) that would classify your blog. But I think that’s more applicable for professional blogs. My subject matter – as you well know – has been all over the map. That works for me, which is the really important part in my opinion!

              Just be patient and build a good bit of content before you invote the outside world in. I was writing for about a month before I let the cat out of the bag.

              Give it a shot! If you have any questions, give me a call.

    • I have an extremely broad fan base with a wide range of interests and needs. I do the best I can to meet all they demand. There’s only so much I can do.

      Thanks for your patience …

      • Nobody wants to hear bloggarist complaints about their fan base’s desires. Just do as your told and write more stuff for everyone including the owners of turf. The fans have lifted you to the pinnacle of blogjistics and they / we can take you down. Remember these true and famous words:

        “If the fans don’t come out to the ball park, you can’t stop them.”
        Yogi Berra

        • The logic there has my head spinning.

          BTW … You’ll be interested to know that I’m working on a Phillies blog for the 2012 season! Unveiling opening week with a guest writer reporting directly from the Phils opener in Pittsburgh!

  2. Finally some lawn advice.

    I wonder if you could put some light fencing or rope (say like at a golf course) down the edge of the driveway for a while to see if your bare spot can survive better in summer without foot traffic at least part of the year.

    I had heard that lawns without heavy traffic (mowers, etc.) do not require aeration. I also had read where dethatching should be done in July when the lawn grows the most.

    I would assume that alternating mowing patterns would be covered before too much of the mowing season has passed.

    I may take a moment in September to inspect the results of this year’s lawn plan.

    • As a word of caution, these priceless tidbits of Turf Wisdom MUST be adjusted for your particular locale!

      For instance, no SANE East Coast denizen would do anything as labor-intensive as dethatching in July! a). It’s hotter than Hades here in July, and b). Due to a) NOTHING grows here in July or August but electric bills and short tempers!

      As stated in last year’s encyclopedic fount of Lawn Intelligence, dethatching in this necl of the woods is best done in September!

      As for the rope-off suggestion, that might work if the issue was indeed “high traffic” in that area. But I believe that the area along the driveway is more affected by the HEAT thrown off the baking tarmac. I have considered the “rope off” technique for those 1-2 areas where traffic is a definitie issue.

      As always, thanks for the input!

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