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The end of winter marks the beginning of spring lawn care and maintenance to ensure your yard looks its best as the days get warmer. This guide reviews the basics of spring lawn care, including when to rake, water and fertilize to keep your grass healthy and attractive.
Rake the Yard
Avoid walking or working on your lawn until after the spring thaw, to prevent damaging the grass.
- Before your first mow of the year, rake your yard thoroughly to loosen matted grass clumps and alleviate thatch. Thatch consists of a layer of leaves, roots and dead grass blades that build up between the live grass and the soil, which can keep water and air from reaching the grass.
- Spring tine rakes are recommended for the first rakes of the season.
- Do not rake when the soil is soft or muddy, which makes you more likely to pull up healthy grass crowns.
Aerate the Soil
Another way to reduce thatch and the effects of compacted soil is to use a core aerator, which removes plugs of soil so more air, water and nutrients can reach the grassroots.
- Aerate cool season grasses in early spring or autumn.
- Aerate warm season grasses from late spring to summer.
- Aerate clay soils or highly trafficked parts of the lawn once a year.
- A thriving lawn will need core aeration every two or three years.
Fertilize the Grass
Apply spring fertilizer about three weeks after the grass starts greening or following the first two or three mowings. Apply too early and you risk feeding weeds and creating fertilizer runoff.
- Water your lawn a few days before applying fertilizer to avoid burning the roots. Choose the best lawn fertilizer based on the type of grass, climate and any persistent growth problems, and check the directions to avoid over-fertilizing.
- If you have crabgrass issues, use a fertilizer with a crabgrass preventer in early spring. Read the directions on your product to know how long to wait after using the crabgrass preventer before you can apply a weed killer.
- If you have common or broadleaf weeds, use a weed and feed product when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Water the lawn first to ensure it is damp, but do not apply if the weather forecasts rain within the next two days, as it can wash away the product.
- When your lawn is thick and healthy, it should crowd out most weeds. The roots of the grass should also stay shaded, so they can better withstand the summer heat.
- Use a spreader to ensure you apply the right amount of fertilizer and distribute it evenly across your grass. Read the directions on your spreader to know what settings to use.
- Walk back and forth in straight lines on each pass when you apply the fertilizer.
- Follow the directions on the product for how much fertilizer to use and when to reapply it.
Seed and Lime the Lawn as Needed
Plant grass seed in bare spots in your lawn or wherever growth is sparse. Consider seeding while applying a slow release nitrogen fertilizer. Early spring and fall are ideal times for reseeding.
- Spring is the best time to test your yard’s pH to determine if your soil is too acidic. Most grasses grow best when the soil pH is between 5.8 and 7.2. If your soil is too acidic, you can see an influx of moss, weeds, diseases and insect pests.
- Use a soil test kit to find your soil's pH or ask a county extension agent if he or she can test for you.
- In many parts of the country, lime application can make the soil less acidic and help the grass better absorb fertilizers and nutrients from the soil.
- Soil pH changes over time, so retest yearly until your results are balanced. Afterwards, an established lawn can be tested every three years or so.
- Spring and fall are the best times to add lime to a lawn that needs it. Use soil test results to know how much lime to apply and follow the directions on the lime package.
Tip: Grass planted in spring may need extra watering, weeding and other attention during the summer. Fall seeding requires less fuss.
Water the Lawn
Spring irrigation varies by region. In general, grass needs an inch of water per week, whether from rain or a spring lawn care routine with a garden hose, sprinkler or irrigation system.
- To avoid evaporation in the heated air during late spring and summer, water early in the day, before 10 a.m.
- When you water your lawn, water deeply to encourage long, deep roots.
- A way to test whether your lawn needs watering is to step on and off your grass and see how fast the blades bounce back. If the blades are slow to bounce back or are wilted, curled or dull in color, it may be time to water.
Mowing and Lawn Care Tips
Before mowing in spring, inspect your lawn mower and perform any necessary maintenance, such as changing the oil or spark plugs. Make sure your lawn mower blade is sharp to guarantee a clean cut. Be safe, and always remove the spark plugs before doing any work on your lawn mower.
- Start mowing when the ground is dry enough and grass is long enough to require cutting. Avoid mowing too low: Grass cut too short allows sunlight to reach the soil and encourages weed seeds to germinate.
- Consider setting the mowing height high enough to remove only the top one-third of the grass blades. Longer grass blades encourage deeper, healthier roots, but may require mowing more frequently.
- Check your mower’s manual to see if it has a recommended setting for your specific type of grass.
- Consider lawn mowing early in the evening, when the temperatures are usually cooler and any fog or dew has dried. Don’t mow when it’s raining or just after a rain, as the mower will not cut your lawn evenly and may become clogged with clumps of wet grass.
- Vary the pattern each time you mow. This helps prevent ruts from forming and keeps the grass from always bending in the same direction.
- Mowing should be done when your grass needs it, not on a set schedule. Grass usually needs to be mowed more often in the spring and early summer than at the end of the growing season.
Tip: Make sure your lawnmower's tank is empty of gas at the end of mowing season so you can start the next cutting season with a fresh tank.
Dispose of Lawn Clippings as Needed
It's acceptable to leave grass clippings on your lawn unless they begin to form a thick thatch layer. Then remove the clippings and dethatch your lawn as needed.
Tip: If you use chemicals on your lawn, do not add the clippings to a compost pile.
Effective DIY lawn care during spring can save you time and effort later in the year. Follow these lawn care tips to make sure that your grass is greener.
When determining how much grass seed or mulch you need, don't guesstimate, calculate. Know exactly how much you need with our project calculators.