Spring Cleaning for Your Lawn: Laying the Foundation for a Summer Showcase
As Easter approaches and signs of spring are slowly appearing (emphasis on slowly) in Southeastern Wisconsin, it is time to start thinking about lawn care and maintenance. Your yard may not look like it needs much care at this point, particularly as the ground is still fairly hard and heavily saturated with snowmelt and precipitation, and the grass itself has not quite sprung to life. However, it is critical to start caring for your lawn in the spring, soon after the winter melt, to ensure its health all summer long.
The best time to prepare the lawn is in the fall, just before it goes dormant during the winter months. If properly prepared, the lawn awakens as the temperatures warm after resting and germinating throughout the winter and is ready to grow heartily. If not properly prepared in the fall, there will be more work to do this spring. For new homeowners or homeowners who had no control over the fall treatment, it is best to assume there was no winter preparation.
The following are some important tips for spring clean-up, which will help keep your lawn beautiful, keep weeds under control and maintain its health through drought and extreme heat. They are common sense for conscientious homeowners, yet are worthy of reminders:
Remove Debris: dead branches, leaves, and winter detritus are not only unsightly as signs of spring try to push through your property; they can also adversely affect the lawn’s health. Raking up matted areas of lawn should also be a part of the spring clean up. These are areas that can harbor snow mold and diseases in the lawn. This will improve airflow and nutrient retention, help prevent disease and insect infestation, and lay the foundation for healthy lawn growth throughout the summer.
Core aeration is a great boost to your lawn in the spring, particularly when the lawn has become compacted. An aerator loosens the soil and allows the grass to grow more easily, in addition to allowing water and air to reach the root zone faster. It is important to core aerate before the soil temperature reaches 55-60 degrees, as voids in the lawn will invite aggressive weeds to seed.
The winter clean up is also a good time to assess any damaged turf that needs to be reseeded. Turf repairs should be performed prior to the application of any pre-emergent weed control to give the seeds enough time to germinate and be somewhat established. This can be tricky, as pre-emergent crab grass control must be applied before the soil temperature reaches 55-60 degrees, at which time weed seeds will have begun to germinate. If scheduling does not allow enough time to accomplish both, it is better to wait until fall to perform turf repairs, as the pre-emergent weed control will prevent ANY seed from germinating, not just weeds.
Fertilizing is also an important step in preparing the lawn after a winter slumber. If the lawn was properly fertilized in the fall, it may not need an additional layer in the spring, as cool weather grasses are particularly good at holding onto fertilizer from the fall and using it all winter long. It is a necessary component for a healthy lawn through the summer months, giving it the strength to withstand the heat months and drought.
Lastly, don’t start with the lawn tools too early, before the grass has properly woken up and is fully turning green. Doing so could pose the risk of compacting the grass or killing new shoots before they are fully mature. A few solid weeks of consistently warm temperatures with the lawn turned mostly green is a good indicator for its readiness for mowing and aerating in the spring.