Spring is just beginning for those in the northern states. Many gardeners are getting anxious to shake off the winter doldrums and start working on their lawns, landscape beds and gardens again.
After being teased by Mother Nature in mid to late February with warm temperatures, the last month or so has been cold, snowy, wet and just down right miserable. During those few couple of warm days the grass began turning green, Tulips and Daffodils pushed through the soil and buds on the trees and shrubs were getting ready to open.
One thing to keep in mind; it is only the middle of April and the chance for temperatures to drop below freezing is still a real possibility. In fact, for much of the northern US, the chance for frost can persist until at least Mother’s Day.
5 checklist items for early spring start-up:
Walk and survey – I know that I plan to walk around my lawn this weekend to see what did and didn’t survive through winter. I do know that my Day Lilies and Irises all have white tips due to the bitter cold temperatures. These plants will survive just fine and the white tips will eventually turn brown. They may look a little ragged for a few weeks, but they are hardy plants and have adapted to the cold weather. It is still a good idea to take a walk around your lawn on a warm sunny day to see how things fared during the winter months.
Compost – If you are in the mood to do some work around your yard, rake up the leaves that have inevitably blown in during the winter. There have been some fairly significant wind storms in March and early April, so picking up dead branches will also be an early outdoor task. Put the leaves and branches in your compost bin, although you may have to cut up the branches into smaller pieces unless they are of significant size then they can always be used for firewood.
Scan for disease – Check for possible disease activity, such as Snow Mold. Look for patches of matted grass that appear to be glued together. It is easy to “cure” your lawn from Snow Mold damage by using your fingers in a raking fashion to break up the matted grass. In some cases, large sections of a lawn can be affected, so using a flexible-tine rake is the best option. Lightly rake the spots to break up the matted grass to allow new grass to grow back and fill in the matted patches.
Fertilize – Applying a spring fertilization is another important task. When cool-season grasses come out of winter dormancy, the end for food is important. Don’t worry if it rains or even snows after your lawn has been fertilized. Any type of fertilizer, whether applied as a liquid or granular, needs water to wash it into the spoil where it can be taken up by the roots.
Time your planting – It is still early, although I have seen some garden centers already displaying “cool weather” plants like Pansies and Violas. In most cases, there are still another 3 to 4 weeks before annual plants can be planted. Some garden plants can be planted early, such as lettuce, or if you are using cold frames to start vegetable plants. The ground is still wet and it has to dry out before tilling the soil. In the meantime, draw up some plans of where you want to plant, search the Internet for different flowers and landscape ideas. There is plenty of time before you get out the shovels and rakes.
Spring is the time for lawn renewal, gardens and landscape beds. It is the time of year for visits to your local nursery or gardening store to gather new annual and perennial flowers, vegetables, shrubs and maybe even a tree or two. You also might just want to add some color back into your outdoor space after the boring and washed out colors of winter.
It’s only natural that many people want to revitalize their lawn by adding new seed to help increase the density of their turf. Cool season grasses take a beating during the winter, often looking worse when they first start greening up than they do after a particular hot and dry summer. Those first few warm days that seem to cause buds to swell and the first signs of green to poke through make us anxious for the warmth of spring and summer. We want our lawns to look great again, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen – yet.
When Do I Plant Grass Seed in the Spring?
Cool-season grasses, bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue and tall fescue, take time to begin growing in the spring. Soil temperatures have to reach the 45 to 55-degree mark before growth starts to pick-up. It is also the minimum temperature for cool season grass seed to germinate. The soils take a good deal longer to warm than air temperature. In some cases, these soil temperatures may be delayed until late April or even mid-May. If seed is applied now, it could become water-logged and rot before it ever has a chance to germinate.
In order to have success planting grass in the spring, you have to be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions.
9 Questions to Ask Before Planting Grass in the Spring:
Have both annual grasses and broadleaf weeds been controlled in the past and are not a current problem in your lawn?
Have common insect and disease activity been reduced during the past year?
Has the lawn been core aerated or other soil preparation activities taken place?
Does the lawn have a sprinkler system that has been activated for the current year?
If not, do you have sprinklers that can be turned on for two to three weeks, or even longer and may need to be turned on two or three times a day to ensure the seedlings will survive?
Do you understand that the lawn will need more water throughout the summer?
Do you understand that you cannot apply a crabgrass preventer to the area for this year?
Do you understand that you cannot apply any broadleaf weed control to the area until after the seed has germinated and been mowed at least three times?
Are you set to fertilize the new seed to help it grow and prosper?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, than you can go ahead and seed this spring. If not, it’s better to wait until fall to seed your lawn.
March 20 was the first day of spring, and for those of us that live in northern Illinois, we were greeted with about an inch of snow. It should all melt by this afternoon, but it was a reminder that we can still get snow in early spring through March and even into April.
If you are like me, you are itching to get outside and do something in the fresh air. Being cooped up inside the house since last December is beginning to wear on my nerves. I did not have a chance last week to complete one lawn maintenance project that I have heard being repeated by many of my co-workers—cleaning up after their dogs.
Clean Up After Your Dog
Cleaning up after your dog is an important task, not only for your health, but for the health of your dog. Fecal matter can harbor many pathogens that can transmit diseases. If their feces stays on the ground too long, it can result in damage to your lawn or it can work as a fertilizer and your lawn can end up with bright green dots scattered across it. Dog waste can also contribute to phosphorus pollution as it will decompose with the normal spring rains and find its way into lakes, rivers and streams.
Pick Up Branches, Especially If You Have Squirrels
Another lawn maintenance project you can complete in early spring is picking up all the branches that fell during the winter. In my own situation, squirrels seem to relish chomping off the tips of the branches on my big silver maple. I am not sure why they do it, but it happens every year. One of the theories I heard that I agree with is squirrels are neurotic and just like to do quirky things. Other theories have to do with using the branches as nesting materials to feeding on the sugars that can be found in the cambium layer. Regardless of the reason, they can make a big mess, so I clean up the branches every spring.
Apply a Spring Fertilizer
It is still too wet to do much work on the lawn, but it is a good idea to apply a spring fertilizer as long as the soil is not too soft. It has been a long winter, and the grass will start coming out of its long winter nap. It will quickly utilize the fertilizer as it begins growing again. It is impossible to predict how quickly it will warm up this year, but I can guarantee that it will do so.
Cleaning up after your dog, picking up branches and fertilizing your lawn are three tasks you can complete to get your lawn maintenance started in the spring. As it warms up and dries out, then you can start some light raking or planting bed preparation. Another year of mowing your lawn will start soon, so make sure your mower is clean and tuned-up. Be sure to sharpen that mower blade as well.