Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13: Getting a Spring-loaded Start

images-6It won’t be long now.  Warmer temps … Green things popping out from the ground … Spring rains … Trees beginning to bud …

And all that %@#&*?! yard work!

So now’s the perfect time to plan your Spring and Summer lawn program; to consider what changes you might need to make; and to plan the timing of your fertilizing lawn treatments.

If you are forward-thinking, you recognized the need to review your lawns condition last September and October, when the problems would still be fresh on your mind.  If not, just hope your memory didn’t go as soggy as your yard over the Winter!

There were several issues I identified last year with my lawn that I plan to work on this Spring.

Early Spring aerating and over-seeding

One of the problems I noticed was bare spots in the backyard and the usual areas out front that burn to a crisp every year in the Summer sun.  And I must admit, I have neglected to aerate the past several seasons, so I’m overdue for an good aeration and over-seeding.

How core aerator works

How core aerator works

Plan to pick a weekend in March or early April when the weather is warm and the ground is still soggy, which makes working with a core plug aerator easier and more effective.  You can aerate in the rain, if it’s relatively warm.  Aerating when it’s cold and raining is not fun.

Pick up a bag of lawn seed, a rye and fescue mix is what I prefer.  Rent, borrow or buy a drop spreader which is more efficient for putting down seed.  Spread the seed after aerating (over-seeding).  But try to avoid dropping seed if it’s very wet.

Don’t forget to water new seedings if we do not get appreciable Spring rains locally.  That would be unusual.  The point is to always monitor rainfalls, especially if you spent the money to throw down seed!

It’s important to note that all advice provided here is the product of an underutilized mind residing in the head of an AMATEUR lawn aficionado.  The tips you are reading are not the result of training, collegiate study, or professional experience.  They are simply the learnings via the trial-and-error method and ad hoc research of a homeowner – located in Southeast Pennsylvania – who is too cheap to pay someone for an effort he was all too willing and able to do himself.  

With those caveats in mind, take what you read here for what it’s worth.  You can always get similar – if not better – advice from your local lawn product supplier.  It just wouldn’t be so full of charm and humor!  

Fertilizing strategy

Drop spreader

Use drop spreader for seed

For the sake of review, I prefer fertilizing at least five times a season:

  • March – crabgrass pre-emergent (optional)
  • April – Spring weed ‘n feed
  • June – crabgrass post-emergent (optional)
  • early July – grub control (optional)
  • September – Fall weed ‘n feed
  • November – Winter feed

Of the six treatments listed I’ll always go with the two weed ‘n feeds and the Winter feeding as a minimum, then pick and choose from the other “optional” treatments.  It’s been a few seasons since I have felt a grub control treatment was necessary.

Watch the timing of your fertilizer treatments, always giving at least 4 weeks – preferably 6 – between applications.

Lately, my recurring issue has been crabgrass, refugees from a bordering lawn, where apparently no value is placed on lush, green lawn-scapes, free of brownish-yellow weeds and assorted alien species.

It’s just one of the crosses I bear every year.

Rotary spreader, best for fertilizing

Rotary spreader, best for fertilizing

The Plan?  Go whole hog on the crabgrass treatments, both pre and post-emergent, to knock down the crabgrass.  This is probably going to be the routine from here on out, unless the neighbors reach a stage of Enlightenment and figure out how to use a rotary spreader!

I’m betting that once again we won’t need the grub treatment; but that’s something that can be decided by observation in May and early June.  You simply look for the Japanese beetles, which have been not been present in sizable numbers in this area (eastern Montgomery County, PA) for several years.

Crabgrass Pre-emergent: Watching the Soil Thermometer

Edited to add:  A casual reader reminded me that applying a pre-emergent after a seeding would retard the germination of the grass seed as much as it would the crabgrass.  

I will take it one step further and caution that any treatment that prevents germination (pre-emergent or a weed n’ feed) should not be applied for at least six weeks after a seeding!

As for my Spring strategies, I will not be applying crabgrass pre-emergent to the same areas I plan to over-seed after aerating.

mature crabgrass plant

mature crabgrass plant

OK, whatever you do, don’t run out of the house to buy a soil thermometer!  Yes, they do have them.  But it’s not likely you would use it but once a year, unless you’re really obsessive about keeping the carrots in your garden at a toasty temp.

Anyways, it’s not like pre-emergent temps are a Magical Moment.  You can be off a day or two and the Universe will not implode.  So put the car keys down and keep reading!

Anyways, the issue with applying a crabgrass pre-emergent is the soil temperature during the early Spring when a pre-emergent is best applied.  Soil temps must be over 55°-60° for crabgrass seed to germinate; and since germination is what you want to prevent, you must wait for said seed to be in the process of germination for a pre-emergent to work most effectively.

Poa annua

Poa annua

Pre-emergent, which will also prevent the growth of poa annua, retards root growth by forming a chemical barrier in the soil.  (And no, I had no idea what poa annua is until I looked it up … just now!)

Personally speaking, I simply wait until we get at least 3-5 days of air temps above 70°, since the ground takes longer to warm up than the air above it.  You can also watch for the blooming of the forsythia, since that has been traditionally linked to warming ground temps.

Unlike your other weed ‘n’ feeds, crabgrass treatments must be watered into the soil to be effective.  Suggest you watch the forecast and try to apply said treatment prior to a decent rainfall.  If no rainfall occurs after 3-4 days, you should water the lawn to activate the pre-emergent.

obligatory Forsynthia shot

obligatory Forsythia shot

Miscellaneous tips and preps

  • Now is a good time to get your lawn equipment in top working condition.  Start looking into qualified lawn mower repair and maintenance businesses. Compare prices and get your mower in for its seasonal tune up now.  (Or just go to Sears as I usually do.  Sears will usually run a pre-season maintainance special for mowers.)  If you are a dedicated mower or you did not have your mower serviced last year, make sure the service person replaces the mower’s cutting blade.
  • Read up on aeratingfertilizingdethatching, and other lawn-health related topics.  Only you have the best, closest perspective on what your lawn needs.
  • A great source for turfgrass information is the Penn State Center for Turfgrass Science.  These people are THE Professionals!
  • With that in mind, pick a good weather day and complete a walk-around survey of your lawn.  Note bad spots where thinning or bare areas exist. Look for spots where thick dead growth lies just beneath or even blocks out underlying grass plants that might need dethatching.

In short, get ready for another lawn season.  The time you spend and planning today will ensure the biggest dividends from your lawn work all season; and it will give your lawn the best shot at surviving the hottest stretches of the upcoming summer.

One last tip:  If you are on the down slope of Hill 50, consider using this time before Spring to work on your body’s core muscle groups.  Nothing will put you behind your Lawn Schedule like a balky back!

5 thoughts on “Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13: Getting a Spring-loaded Start

  1. Does CML have any links to companies that do home visits on old sears tractors? My current repair man out of Maple Glen is done with the Sears product. Any help would be appreciated


  2. Just wanted to say that a lawn mower blade can be sharpened many times before it has to be replaced. I like to sharpen my lawnmower blade in the beginning, middle & end of the growing season although I use my mower right into December for “leaf” management. Thanks.


    • Agreed … I am assuming most of us don’t want to be bothered doing it ourselves. But yes, if you do your own maintenance, sharpening the blade as you suggested would be the smart thing to do.


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