Preparing your lawn for the growing season…
Like most Canadians, you probably take pride in having an attractive lawn, after all it adds aesthetic value, and curb appeal to your home. Most people don’t think of their lawns as a collection of plants, but that’s actually what a lawn is. In fact, a 4000 sq. ft. (approx. 370 sq. meters) lawn can contain as many as 4,000,000 individual turfgrass plants.
Many people in the past have used lawn care products like herbicides, and insecticides to maintain their lawns, however, “Cosmetic” pesticide use is now banned in the provinces of Ontario & Quebec, and strict restrictions have been imposed in many other communities across Canada. Don’t fret though… There are ways to have a healthy lawn without the use of pesticides if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
So what can you do starting this spring to promote a healthier lawn, and become the envy of the neighbourhood?
The objective of any spring lawn care program is to encourage maximum root density, and depth to prepare the turf grass for the dog days of summer. Healthy soils, along with proper fertilization, watering, and mowing practices will help you achieve the manicured lawn you so desire. But first things first… we need to build a strong foundation before the summer heat, and drought arrives. The following tips will ensure you’ve laid the groundwork for a prized lawn.
Mower maintenance – Early spring is a good time to give your lawn mower a tune-up. Mower blades should be sharpened, engine oil changed, new spark plug(s) installed and filters cleaned or replaced. Adjust your mowing height to ensure that the lawn will be mowed a 6-8 centimetres (2.5 – 3 inches) as this will ensure the turf grass is being maintained at its optimum height.
Raking – Your first task of spring lawn care should be to rake your lawn out using a sturdy leaf rake. Raking is for more than just removing leaves. It’s also for controlling thatch (a tightly bound layer of dead grass, including leaves, stems, shoots, and roots, that builds up on the soil surface at the base of the living grass of a lawn) too. A deep raking will remove excessive thatch, and grass blades that died over the winter – dead blades that are just waiting to become thatch.
Another good reason for a thorough spring raking is to survey your lawn. Look to see if there are any areas where the turf grass appears to have matted patches, in which the grass blades are all stuck together. This can be caused by a disease known as “snow mould” (a type of fungus causing a disease that damages or kills turf grass after snow melts, typically in late winter. Its damage is usually concentrated in circles that measure 3 -12 inches in diameter, although yards may have many of these circles, sometimes to the point at which it becomes hard to differentiate between the different circles. Snow mould comes in 2 varieties: pink or gray. While it can affect all types of turf grasses, Kentucky bluegrass, and fescue lawns are least susceptible. New turfgrass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches, however, a thorough raking will be sufficient to solve this problem.
Core Aeration – Is the process of mechanically removing small plugs of thatch and soil from the lawn to improve natural soil aeration. It will increase the health of your lawn and reduce its maintenance requirements through the following means: improved air exchange between the soil and the atmosphere, enhanced soil water uptake, improved fertilizer uptake, and usage, reduced water run-off and puddling, encourage stronger turfgrass roots, reduce soil compaction, enhance heat and drought stress tolerance, improve resiliency and cushioning, and enhance thatch breakdown.
Fall is the best time to aerate cool season turf grasses – when they are actively growing. If you missed out on aerating your cool season lawn last fall, spring is the second best time to perform this critical cultural practice. Any time you aerate will also be a great time to top-dress your lawn with an organic soil or compost material. All soils benefit from the addition of organic matter.
Over-seeding – Although fall is the best time of the year to seed cool-season turf grasses there is a short “window of opportunity” you can take advantage of in the spring… Grass seed will start to germinate when the soil temperatures reach 10 degrees Celsius (50degrees F). A good indicator plant is the blooming of Forsythia – when you see the yellow blooms, the soil temperature is around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees F). It’s best to get your seeding done early enough so the new turfgrass plants have time to mature and develop strong roots before the summer stress period.
Fertilization – Go easy on the fertilizer in the spring. Too much of a good thing will cause a flush of growth at the expense of the roots.
A light spring application – around Victoria Day will keep the turfgrass plants healthy and give them a nice green colour boost. The amount of fertilizer that you apply in late spring should never exceed 1/2Lb Nitrogen per 1000ft. sq.
If you missed your fall fertilization, you can make it up with a couple very light applications. The key here is to wait until the turfgrass plants are actively growing (usually around mid-April) and then apply ¼ to 1/2Lb Nitrogen per 1000ft.sq.. Follow this application up with another light application 6 weeks later (Victoria Day).
Stay tuned for more helpful tips and tricks on how to maintain your home lawn like a turfgrass professional.