Spring is in the air and soon we’ll be seeing our lawns begin to green up for the season. What can you do to help thicken your turf and have the greenest lawn on the street? Follow these 5 tips for some great results this spring!
1. Start with raking
Raking your lawn will help wake it up for the spring and will clean up it’s appearance. Raking stands up matted down grass, removes dead grass and thatch that cover the new crowns and will allow water and air to better penetrate into the ground. It will also clean up damaged areas due to snow molds and rodent damage.
2. Aerate and over-seed
Once the ground has dried to the point that it is not too spongy and there are no puddles or standing water, it’s a great idea to aerate.
Aeration has many benefits for your lawn. It reduces compaction on the surface and breaks through thatch, allowing air and water to better penetrate into the soil. It also disturbs the roots of your existing grass, encouraging them to grow and better establish themselves for the season. Don’t clean up the plugs left on the surface, these act as a topdressing by bringing beneficial bacteria and nutrients to the surface.
The best time to over-seed is right after an aeration. The soil will be a little less compact, making it easier for the new seedlings to establish their root system. Some seed will also fall into the holes left by the aerator which will quickly fill in these spaces which are now great places for the seed to establish.
3. Fertilize, but not too early!
When the ground temperature rises, your turf will begin to re-establish and strengthen it’s root system. Even if your grass doesn’t appear to be growing yet, it’s quite busy preparing for the season underground.
At this point, your grass plants are using nutrients they stored up last fall. They should have everything they need for their spring root growth. If you fertilize now, you will add an abundance of nitrogen which will spur plant growth. By doing this, you take the focus away from root growth. The weaker the root system of your lawn, the less it will be able to handle heat stress and disease throughout the year.
A good time to begin fertilizing is late April or early May when ground temperatures reach 12-15 degrees C. Use a fertilizer designed for the spring, with a high nitrogen(N) percentage, low or zero phosphorous(P) percentage (it is already present in our Southern Ontario soil and is damaging to our lakes and rivers) and a potassium(K) percentage as high as possible.
4. Test your soil
You can purchase soil test kits at many hardware stores or garden centres, or you can have a professional company do it for you through an accredited lab for more accurate results and better recommendations. Soil testing looks for pH and nutrient problems that can affect the ability for your turf to absorb nutrients. A soil that is too alkaline or acidic will not release the nutrients that your grass needs, even if you fertilize. Nutrient imbalances can weaken or thin your turf, making it more susceptible to weeds and disease.
Many soil problems can be fixed over the course of a year or two by adding granular soil amendments. Fertilizing more heavily may mask these problems temporarily, but can make them worse over time.
5. Wait before you begin watering and cutting
If you’re like us, you can’t wait to get out there to start manicuring your lawn. Hold off a while and let nature do it’s work!
If you have an irrigation system, your irrigation contractor will likely be out soon to get it maintained, repaired and running. Be sure to switch it off once it has been checked out so that you don’t water too early. Even if we have a warm spell for a week or two, leave your lawn to dry out. A moderate amount of stress is good for your grass. It will encourage root growth deeper into the ground where there is still plenty of water. Once temperatures reach 20 degrees for several weeks and the rain tempers off, water once a week.
Letting your lawn grow a little longer will help choke out weeds. Wait until your grass gets to be around 4” tall, then maintain it at 3” for the rest of the season. Mowing too early will give those pesky weeds more room and sunlight to take root and establish.