How to prepare your lawn for spring

Rake

The first thing that should be done when the temperature is rising is to rake the yard. Not only will this get rid of sticks and leaves left from the fall, but it will also provide a form of light dethatching. Thatch is the layer of dead grass and organic debris that accumulates on the surface of a lawn. Raking will also help you assess the lawn to see if there are any dead spots that require some attention.

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Monitor the watering

The spring rains typically provide enough moisture to rejuvenate lawns. Allow the grass to green up naturally, intervening with irrigation only when rainfall is scarce, and signs of dehydration become evident in the grass.

With rising temperatures and longer days, there may be a tendency to believe that your grass thrives on deep and frequent watering. However, the opposite is often more beneficial. Opting for a lighter irrigation approach encourages the roots to search for water, leading to the development of a healthier and deeper root system.

Cutting back on watering during this season not only saves you money but also fosters robust and resilient turf. This resilience proves valuable when facing potential drought conditions later in the summer.

 

Aerate... Maybe

Aeration is the process of puncturing holes in the soil to reduce soil compaction and thatch, enhance nutrient and oxygen intake, and improve overall soil drainage for a thriving and resilient lawn. It can be done annually or biannually, during spring and/or fall. It's a beneficial approach for homeowners, especially those contending with compacted turf due to heavy usage. The use of a lawn aerator, available for rent at major hardware stores or a hand aerator for smaller lawns, enables the penetration of air and water to the grassroots.

While spring may not be the ideal season for aeration, as it can provide an environment for weed seed germination as well, addressing severe soil compaction around Memorial Day might be useful. The frequency of aeration depends on factors like soil type and lawn usage. Warm-season grasses benefit from aeration in late spring to early summer, while fall is recommended for cool-season varieties.

 

Fertilize… Maybe

Fertilizing your lawn is a significant aspect of lawn care, but it's crucial to dispel the notion of a cookie cutter approach. The decision to fertilize should be informed by an understanding of your specific yard’s microclimates, and soil composition. It’s also important to note that proper watering is fundamental regardless of your expertise in fertilization.

In Chicagoland, where spring weather can be erratic, a fertilization program may be helpful to alleviate stress caused by fluctuating temperatures. It provides vital nutrients for optimal lawn health. Whether opting for organic or synthetic fertilizers, the choice has expanded to include natural materials, reducing the risk of runoff affecting local ecosystems and wildlife.

Applying a light dose of rapid-release fertilizer early in the season can jumpstart recovery, while a combination of rapid-release and slow-release options suits those seeking convenience over the entire season.

Whether you opt for granular or liquid fertilizer depends on the size of your lawn, with granular proving easier for even distribution. Alternative approaches involve mulching mowers to feed lawns with nitrogen through grass clippings, or organic methods like topdressing with compost. Experts caution against excessive spring fertilization, recommending a lighter feeding in spring and a more substantial one in late fall for cool-season grasses.

Understanding your lawn's square footage, the essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), and opting for controlled-release nitrogen sources contribute to a well-informed and effective fertilization strategy. With at least three fertilizer applications per season, your lawn can thrive and outcompete potential weed infestations, ensuring a lush and vibrant appearance throughout the year.

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Overseed

While fall is the recommended time for overseeding, spring can also suffice for areas in desperate need.  Overseeding can rejuvenate a lawn with bare patches, just be sure there are no freezes coming. It’s also unwise to seed when using a pre-emergent herbicide, as this will keep the grass from growing as well.

Ideally, daytime temperatures should be no less than 60-75 degrees so seeds can germinate and not lay dormant.

Applying a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer during overseeding can support healthy growth, followed by a quick-release nitrogen feed five weeks later. By carefully selecting the appropriate grass seed based on sun exposure, and preparing the soil adequately, you can promote successful germination. Regular watering to keep the seed moist is crucial until germination occurs as well, with a gradual reduction to avoid overwatering.

 

Prune

Dormant pruning in the early spring or late winter offers several benefits for the health and vitality of trees and shrubs. During this time, plants are not actively growing. Pruning during this period encourages vigorous growth once spring arrives, as it allows for optimal wound healing without the risk of excessive sap loss or stress to the plant.

Since the leaves are gone, there’s a clear view to shape trees and shrubs. It’s also easier to determine which branches are dead vs. simply dormant.

When pruning while the weather is colder, plants are also less susceptible to disease or pests. By pruning during the dormant period, gardeners can set the stage for healthy growth and abundant flowering or fruiting in the upcoming growing season.

 

Mow the lawn more often

When you begin mowing, keep the height a little taller and mow more often. Aiming for 3-4 inches of height will help promote growth and will also help with weed prevention. Keeping the grass at this height will cause the grass to develop a thicker stand of turf as well, which will outcompete weeds. Just be sure to avoid mowing wet grass, as this will cause clumps. Water can also weigh down grass blades, causing an uneven mow.