Spring is finally here, and after a harsh winter it's time once again to get your lawn back to its top shape. While it's true that you really only need sun, water and fertilizer to create a lush landscape, there are a few things you can do to help make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood.
Step 1 - Examine
Lawns take a big hit during those long winter months, so the first thing you need to do to get your lawn back to its healthy state is examine it for wear and tear. Make notes of any spots in the grass that are barren, overgrown with weeds, or are uneven. Plan to address those issues accordingly.
Step 2 - Clean Up
Avoid doing any work on your lawn until the soil dries out, as heavy foot traffic and raking can pack down soggy soil and damage the grass. Once the soil is dry, use your leaf or garden rake to gently remove all the dead stuff left over from winter including leaves and fallen debris. This will also help fluff up your grass and allow it to breathe better.
Step 3 - De-Thatch
All kinds of grasses are prone to developing excess thatch. Thatch is the buildup of dead grass between the soil and the grass blade. Excess thatch is a problem because it prevents air and nutrients from circulating properly. In order to remove thatch, take a thatching rake through the lawn to remove the dead grass, leaves and other debris.
Step 4 - Aerate
Sometimes your lawn will get so compacted over the winter that nutrients are not able to penetrate down to the root system. That is why it's important to aerate your lawn which, simply put, is just poking holes in your yard to improve circulation. You should aerate your lawn twice a year, in spring and fall. Aerators come in many different kinds, including a handheld version that makes the process easy, though it is a little more time-consuming.
Step 5 - Seed
If your lawn has a large number of bare spots, then consider re-seeding those areas to promote growth. First, till the bare spots to a depth of 3 inches and then smooth it out. Add compost or starter fertilizer, and then spread the seeds. Sow half the seeds in one direction and the other half in another. Finally, rake it again and then make sure you follow a regular watering schedule, allowing water to properly drain. Remember, with seeding make sure you aren’t using any weed control chemicals until you’ve mowed new seedlings at least four times.
Step 6 - Weed Control
Weeds are a constant pest to any lawn. One way to deal with them is to use a non-selective herbicide to eliminate their food source. While you might be tempted to go the herbicide route to take care of those dreaded weeds, you can also deal with them naturally. Many experts avoid using herbicides because a healthy grass will choke out those pesky invaders naturally. Coupled with regular mowing, which will help cut off weeds like dandelions and crabgrass before they have a chance to spread, and watering, healthy grass is your best defense.
Step 7 - Fertilize
Every lawn needs a solid meal to remain healthy. Most experts agree that lawns should be fertilized twice a year, including once in the spring and once in the fall. When choosing a fertilizer, it’s best to test the pH of your soil to know what nutrients you might need to add. In general, pick a complete fertilizer that includes additional micronutrients over the common N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphate-potassium) kinds. Also, make sure you don’t over-fertilize, as that can lead to thatch development.
Step 8 - Water
Watering routines depend on the type of lawn. If your lawn is well established, then only water once a week but make sure it is a good and deep watering. If your lawn is newly seeded, water every day for about 10 minutes in order to dampen the seeds without creating a lot of runoff. After the grass is ½ inch tall, lengthen your watering by five to 10 minutes. If your lawn is sandy, then it will tend to dry out faster and will need more frequent watering. If it is clay, then it will hold moisture better and won’t require as much watering.
Step 9 - Mow
The key to mowing correctly is to avoid cutting the grass blades too short. Ideally, you should only be mowing the top third of the grass when you cut, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of grass. Taller grass helps create more shade for the soil that prevents it from drying out and it also promotes better development of the roots. Additionally, taller grass will help keep the weeds away. With that in mind, raise the blade on your mower to the highest it can go and start cutting.