Beginning this month, there is always a renewed interest in our lawns. Spring is the time to prepare your lawn for the rest of the year, and here are a few good management practices that will help you keep a healthy lawn throughout the season.
Mowing at the proper height is a great start. The recommended mowing height for tall fescue is 3 to 3.5 inches, and for Kentucky bluegrass the height is 2 to 2.5 inches. Mowing at the best height for the grass encourages a deeper root system, discourages weeds, and helps reduce watering. Do not just assume your mower setting labels are correct, spend a little time and check the accuracy. Setting up your mower is a relatively easy task. Park your mower on a concrete or other hard surface and measure from the blade to the surface to get the proper height. There is no need to be exact but within ¼” inch will do. Following recommendations for mowing height and frequency will make your lawn care duties easier and result in a more attractive yard.
A good sharp blade throughout the mowing season is also very important. Surgeons use very sharp instruments so the cut will heal quickly just as you should do with your blades. When your mower blade cuts the tip of the grass blade, the wounds are susceptible to infections and insects. The sharper the blade, the quicker your grass will recover.
Another tip is to mow often so that only one-third of the grass blade is removed at any one time. During the spring, the lawn may need to be mowed more than once a week. Mowing off more than 50 percent of the leaves at one time causes scalping, which results in an increase in weed competition and in the death of some grass plants during the hot summer.
A good fertility program for your lawn should be based upon a soil sample. Most of the time, you should not apply nitrogen in the spring. Nitrogen promotes top growth and will only increase your time on the mower. For most fescue lawns, nitrogen should be applied in the fall to help develop the roots, increase density, and prepare the plant for the spring green up. Higher maintained lawns can benefit from a small dose of nitrogen early in the spring, but be careful.
While mowing the lawn, what should be done with the grass clippings? The answer is, leave the clippings on the lawn. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn saves time, money, and energy, since you don’t have to stop and empty the bagger or buy trash bags. Clippings also add free fertilizer to the lawn, possibly as much as 25 percent of the lawn’s annual nutrient needs. Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings do not significantly increase thatch. Clippings contain 75 to 85 percent water and decompose quickly. Thatch is a tight, intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems, and roots that develops between the green leaves and soil surface. A little thatch is good, since it helps moderate temperature extremes at the soil surface and provides a cushion effect on the surface.
Weeds can be a big problem in home lawns. Good weed management starts with a healthy lawn so make sure you are mowing at the proper height and fertilizing correctly before attacking your weeds. There are two types of weed control, pre-emergent control and post-emergent control. Pre-emergent is the best way to control the most common home lawn weeds such as crabgrass, dandelion, and many others. Most pre-emerge products come in combination with a fertilizer so make sure the nitrogen content is very low for spring application or you will be mowing more than you planned.
Timing your pre-emerge application is important. You must make sure that you get it applied before the weeds you are trying to control start growing. As soil temperature increases this spring, your weeds will start to germinate. Instead of monitoring your soil temperature, there are “indicator” plants that will let you know when you need to apply your weed control.
A good indicator plant for pre-emerge application is the forsythia. When you see the bright yellow flowers starting to bloom, it is time to apply your pre-emerge. Make sure to follow all label directions when applying control products.
These tips are just some basics. Different grass varieties and soil types require unique management practices. Your local Extension Office has detailed information on home lawn maintenance and will take your soil samples for testing to help you customize your lawn maintenance.