Documents: Container & Small Space Gardening:

Prepare Your Lawn For Spring
by Joyce Schillen
November 12, 1999

It’s time for my obligatory article on spring lawn care. I’m not a big fan of lawns. My idea of a nice lawn is a little one, one that’s surrounded or intermixed with perennials and carefully-selected ground covers serving as alternatives to traditional turf. I can almost guarantee that if you convert areas of an expansive lawn into more interesting plantings, the “curb appeal” of your home will jump, along with your house’s value.

But, back to lawns. The timing is perfect now for lawn care since grass is ready to take off and grow. If at least half of your lawn is in good condition, you can have it looking superb by mid-summer.

Here are a few tips for getting your lawn, whatever its size, in top-notch shape.

•Dethatch: A moderate layer of thatch up to 3/4-inch thick is beneficial. It cushions grass blades from traffic, buffers it from extremes of heat and drought, and keeps annual weeds from germinating. Let it get too thick, though, and it keeps water and nutrients from penetrating.

Mow grass to 3/4-inch tall and remove the clippings and built-up thatch with a hand rake, power rake, or mower attachment. Adjust blades to 1/2-inch from the surface so you don't churn up the soil or damage live roots.

•Aerate: Roots need oxygen just as much as they need water and nutrients. The best way to let oxygen in is to remove small plugs of grass and soil with power equipment designed for the job. Equipment can be rented. To keep the holes from caving in, backfill by spreading a thin layer of sand.

•Fertilize: A spring tonic of fertilizer (about 3-1-2) will give grass a boost and help it outgrow some of the turf diseases such as red thread and rust that are common around here.

•What about growing lawns organically? Studies at Cornell University show that high quality, organic lawns are feasible over the long run, but they do tend to cost a little more. Pre-packaged organic fertilizers don't compare well economically with synthetic products. Of course you can always spread a little cheap manure.

•Should you use lawn fertilizer that contains a weed killer? “Weed and feed” products are a fast way to control lawn weeds, but they also have the nasty habit of damaging other nearby plants and knocking off the beneficial bugs.

A few other options are:

1) hand-pulling;

2) spot-treating weeds with herbicides using a paint brush — it prevents wind drift, and much less is required; or

3) change your standards and accept the violets, English daisies, and clover that just love to intermingle with grass.

•Reseed: Bare patches can be filled in by replanting with plugs of grass, laying sod, or by seeding over the area. Loosen soil and add organic matter first.

Choose a type of grass seed that's compatible with your existing lawn. If you're not sure what you have growing, select types that do well here. Cool season grasses like fescue and perennial ryegrass are good. Seed blends have the best chance of surviving over the long haul.

Apply seed evenly, lightly cover with peat moss or bark dust, and press down into firm contact with the soil. Keep newly seeded areas constantly moist with frequent, light waterings until seed germinates, then water longer but less often.

•Mowing: Don't mow new grass until it reaches 1 1/2 inches tall. Then for best health, keep lawns clipped to between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 inches tall.

•Watering: When grass fails to spring back up after being walked upon, it’s time to water.

Joyce Schillen, Author of "The Growing Season" (ISBN 0-936738-12-x)



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