Gentlemen, start your engines!
March 2016 has been a wacky ride so far in the SouthEast Region of Pennsylvania. Started off nice enough; then turned windy and stormy; followed by two days in the 80s; then back to raw, windy Ides of March weather. Now, there’s a whispered rumor of snow for this Sunday.
In other words, perfect late Winter lawn weather!
To complete the picture the early blooming trees are already out in pink, white, and lavender. Soon Spring will have officially sprung!
As any dedicated lawn nerd knows, now is the time to get to work. You had your post-holiday Winter weekends all to yourself, where your biggest worry was over-napping. (At least mine was …)
So let’s get crackin’ …
1. Love your Equipment, and it will Love you back!
Get your lawn mower into the shop for a seasonal tune-up that includes blade replacement.
I’m pretty good in Equipment Condition, having just bought a new grass-eater last June. I will get a full season out my mower before worrying about a pre-season tune-up next year. As for other equipment … like trimmers, edgers, and leaf blowers … I tend to simply use them until they die. To me sending them into the repair cycle is hardly cost-effective, given the relative affordability of smaller equipment and the Cheapness of their Owner.
This year I plan to add a new blower/sweeper. I just need to figure out if another gas model is needed, or if an electric version will do the job without too much aggravation.
2. Cut the lawn short to clean it up!
First thing I do every Spring is low-cut the lawn (i.e. lower than I would normally dare during the rest of the year). This makes it easier to clean up the entire lawn of Winter debris, including loose twigs and soggy leaves.
After cutting one section (maybe 3-4 passes) I will use a rake to make sure I get up all the sodden leaves and debris buried deeper in the grass. Particularly when it comes to those nasty, rotting leaves, it’s best to get them up. Otherwise they tend to become a block to new spring growth, and if allowed to collect can kill underlying grass plants.
obligatory Forsythia shot
3. Look to the Forsythia to Vanquish the Crab!
Crabgrass … That bane of Summer lawns, proliferates in the heat of the Summer. The hotter, the better for the little bastards!
But crabgrass seedlings, left dormant over the long Winter, germinate in the early Spring, roughly around the time when average soil temperatures exceed 55° for three or more days. Of course figuring out when that magical moment occurs is a bit more complicated than simply checking out ambient air temperatures since the ground always takes longer to warm than the air above it.
Fortunately, Mother Nature provides its own ground temp indication in the form of the Forsythia. When the forsythia blooms, the ground temperatures will be just about right for your first lawn application of the season (Preemergent). But if you cannot wait for Miss Forsythia to show her yellow blossoms, ’tis better to apply a preemergent early than late.
Frankly, I only concern myself with the front lawn at our house, since it’s the portion that gets exposed to the hottest periods of sun. Our backyard is significantly more shaded, so crabgrass from experience has never been a serious issue …
Well, except for my one neighbor, who several seasons ago was raising more weeds than grass, including a copious assortment of bastard crabgrass plants. They are much better lately. We even cooperate on chickweed eradication. But I still apply several passes of preemergent (and weed ‘n feed) along our common border. I view it as similar to prophylactic doses of antibiotics!
4. Is Aerating over-rated?
How core aerator works
I have written much on the whys, hows, and wherefores of aerating your lawn. Aerating has numerous benefits to your lawn, especially if your lawn suffers a lot of foot traffic during the Summer. Click HERE to link into a short discussion of aeration benefits and the proper equipment to use.
Aerating is a preferred time to add a layer of grass seed, known as over-seeding, to thicken your lawn. It’s not necessary for lawns already sufficiently thick, and most lawns will thicken – if well fed – during the Spring growing season. Skip over-seeding if you don’t need it!
BIG HINT TIME: I know some people who will aerate twice every year. Personally, I do it once a year, and even skip it if my timing doesn’t allow for it. But trust me … If you aerate your lawn at all, don’t do it in September when Summer-baked soil will make ground penetration almost impossible. Aerate in the early Spring when Winter snows and Spring rain renders the soil softer and easier for the aerator to do its job properly!
5. Weed ‘n Feed done right at the right time.
Timing is important – for several reasons – when applying weed ‘n feed. The first crucial factor is to make sure, if you applied a preemergent earlier, to wait 4-6 weeks before applying any other fertilizer.
Second, decide whether you need a “direct application” to eradicate weeds that are present, or whether your lawn is sufficiently weed-free to use a simpler momentum-type product to maintain your lawn’s present balance. Direct application products require wet conditions, either by using a liquid spray or by applying a sandy-type dry product early on dew-soaked mornings or right after a rain.
Your last “timing consideration” when fighting weeds is to watch the weather. Weed control products require 48 hours of rain-free weather. Otherwise the rain washes the direct-application product off the weeds, defeating the primary purpose of using them.
I like the sandy, dry weed ‘n feed products. They have become harder to find, but Scott’s has a good dry product, Scott’s Turf Builder Weed ‘n Feed 3. Fortunately, my lawn is tight on the weed control front, so I use a momentum-type, sustained release in pellet form. Using a momentum-type product takes a lot of the guess-work out.
So now you are primed and ready to get your lawn off to a Spring-loaded start. Remember … What you do in March and April has much to do with how your lawn will look in July and August!
And while I can’t guarantee you that all that work and exercise will make you look like this rather self-absorbed lawn fan, …
… I can assure you your lawn won’t look like his either!