After a long winter, it is exciting to get back outside and get your yard in shape. Planting annuals and sprucing up the trees and fences might be front-of-mind, but don't overlook your lawn. The backdrop of your home, a healthy green lawn is easy to take for granted. However, a neglected lawn, full of bare spots, thinning grass, and hard, uneven areas is an eyesore.
Getting a neglected lawn back into shape is much more difficult than doing regular maintenance to keep it healthy. Spend some time this weekend working on your lawn to ensure it looks its best all season long.
In years past, early spring meant aggressively raking every inch of your yard. We know now that this is not necessary and can even be harmful. The raking was meant to remove thatch — dead grass that accumulates on top of the soil. However, thatch can actually help things along. It provides nutrients for the grass as it breaks down and helps soil retain moisture. Instead, lightly rake the lawn to remove debris that accumulated over the winter.
Soil testing gives you an idea of what your soil needs for your lawn to look its best. Too much acidity encourages moss to grow, choking out the grass. Alkaline soil makes it difficult for grass to absorb nutrients.
The cooperative extension service in your county typically handles soil testing. You provide a soil sample and they recommend any amendments that will bring your soil closer to a neutral pH, which is the preference of most lawn grasses.
Aerating is not always necessary. If you do decide to aerate, you may not need to go over the entire lawn. Moss often grows in areas where the soil is compacted — if you have children or pets that play in a specific area, the lawn is probably pretty packed down there and would benefit from aeration.
You can rent a lawn aerator or hire a lawn service to perform this task for you.
Lawns with bare patches or sparse growth benefit from overseeding. Even a lawn that looks decent can get an aesthetic boost from this practice. You don't even need to perform any soil prep, just spread the seed over your lawn.
If you have bare spots, you may want to cover the seeds in that area with a light layer of straw. This protects them while they germinate and establish roots. Applying a slow-release fertilizer when overseeding gives the grass an added energy boost.
Herbicides are a safe way to keep lawns weed-free and looking good. Weeds can easily choke out grass, which, over time, thins the lawn and affects its overall appearance. To get your lawn weed-free, use both pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides. This gets rid of annual and perennial weeds.
To reduce the impact of these herbicides on the environment, only put them where you really need them, rather than opting for wholesale application. Also, if you have overseeded your lawn, read the directions on the herbicide carefully. Applying it too closely to the time of planting can affect the germination of your grass seeds.
Applying fertilizer keeps your lawn looking its best. You can use a natural product like compost, or chemical fertilizer. Topdressing your lawn with compost is easy and safe, and while there are safe chemical fertilizers, too, it is important to follow the directions closely. Over-fertilizing is not only a waste of product but can burn your lawn.
Raking, overseeding, and fertilizing will get your lawn in great shape. You will know it is healthy if the sparse or bare patches start filling in quickly.
Before you mow the lawn for the first time in the spring, change the spark plug, air filter, and oil. Remove any dry grass from around the blade, and sharpen or replace the mowing blade. Fill the tank with fresh gas or make sure the battery is fully charged.
Don't aim for a lawn that looks like a putting green — raise the blade so your grass is between 3 and 4 inches after mowing. Taller grass has a healthier root structure and will tolerate heat and dry weather better. Some grasses, such as Bermuda, do well if kept a little shorter, but regardless of the length you settle on, never remove more than one-third of the length of the grass when you mow. Think of it as pruning!
Your lawn may look amazing, but problems could still be lurking below the surface. For instance, grubs are beetle larvae that feed on the roots of grass while they mature. They can destroy your lawn before you realize you have a problem. Later in the spring, consider applying a product specifically for managing grubs.
Give your lawn a polished look by using an edger around walkways and flower beds. This creates a crisp line where your lawn ends and soil or concrete begins. Add fresh mulch to any flower beds. Depending on the depth of the existing mulch, you may want to remove some of the old before adding new. Those crisp lines, along with a flourishing green lawn, will make your yard the talk of the neighborhood.