Growing a thick and healthy lawn is not rocket science but it does require some science, and some work.
Spring lawn wake up – without the coffee (for the lawn, recommended for you)
The first thing to do in the spring is to rake the lawn: manually, or with the help of a dethatching attachment for your lawn mower. Another option is to rent a Power Raker from your local hardware store. I can’t wait to tell you about this fun option.
In its most basic element raking allows the roots of your lawn to breathe (air is 76% Nitrogen – aka free fertilizer) after being choked by snow all winter (if you live in the abominable northern climate like I do). Raking is a messy chore but this simple investment of time and effort is one of the best things you can do for a healthy and beautiful lawn. Simply put: the lawn can breathe easier and access rain, fertilizer and air without any old thatch suffocating the lawn’s root system.
Most people rake manually with any leaf rake because the “power raker” machines are a back-breaking endeavor. Between pushing the machine with spinning rotary blades tearing up the grass, and the bags that get clogged every 20 feet forcing you to stop and empty them out, and all the clean-up, believe me, power raking is not for the faint of heart. If you chose to power rake, and live to tell, you are Superman.
Timing: If you rake when the roots are cold and tender, you can do more damage than good. A general rule of thumb is when you see more green grass than brown, and grass is actively growing but not super thick – that’s the best time to rake or power rake. Tip: when the guy with the best lawn on the block is raking, you probably should be, too. Early April.
Technique: gentle raking of the dead thatch by is enough. Cover all areas of the lawn with a quick short raking motion. Be sure to clean up all the thatch debris and put in your yard waste container or some decomposable bag to haul to a compost site. If you leave that old dead grass on the lawn, it doesn’t do you any favors. Think of showering with soap and then not rinsing. Sounds good, right? Bag it up, dude.
Fertilizing: The first application of fertilizer should be applied after raking your lawn. That way the fertilizer pellets or liquid (whichever is your preference) can activate without having to dissolve and wash into the roots. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions when applying any fertilizer product.
The old adage “if a little is good, a lot is better” does not apply to fertilizers. Don’t believe me? See what happens but don’t come crying to me when your lawn is chemically burned and you have to spend $5,000 re-sodding your lawn. Actually, I know a guy…
Free tip: if you use a fertilizer spreader that isn’t listed on the package, try a test area to see how heavily the fertilizer is being applied to prevent accidental over/under application. I cannot stress this point enough. Also, if watering is necessary after application, don’t over-water and dilute or wash away your hard work.
Some early spring fertilizers include a crabgrass preventer chemical (e.g. Dimension). This provides a temporary barrier that prevents the crabgrass weeds from germinating when the soil reaches 55 degrees F. But it doesn’t last forever. 60 days of prevention is consistent for most granular products on the market. Generally by July or August that barrier is gone and some yards will begin showing crabgrass.
If you don’t know what crabgrass looks like – Google it. It is a wide-spreading weed with thick blades growing out from a center root, that is a darker green than your established lawn. They are ugly and noticeable when mature – not to be confused with quackgrass – “quack like a duck” as I tell my clients. Crabgrass can be killed fairly easily but quackgrass is a bugger.
Extra credit: Quackgrass is a light green, fast growing, wide leaf blade that grows aggressively in patches of thin lawns. And it spreads over time if the lawn around it is not thick enough or healthy enough to choke it out. If you have quackgrass spreading in your lawn, it’s not hopeless, but pretty close to think you can ever get rid of it without extreme measures. Think complete chemical burn of all your grass, or complete removal of old lawn and starting over from sod or seed. Preventative maintenance is best whenever possible with quackgrass.
Why is quackgrass so tough to kill? It’s in the grass family, so the selective herbicides that only kill weeds (e.g. Trimec 992) but don’t harm grass, can’t touch the quackgrass. So hand removal or a non-selective herbicide (e.g. Round-up) are your only options to kill it. One of my most creative clients designed a long-handled trash pick-up tool and super-glued sponges to each pincher, and then very carefully dipped the tips of the sponges in Round-up concentrate (so it was less likely to drip) and then swabbed each blade of quackgrass when it grew taller than his established lawn. It worked!
So to recap, what are you going to do first in the spring?
If you have specific questions about your lawn, please contact me below via email!