The snow has finally melted, the birds are chirping and you’ve traded your parka for your spring jacket. While sipping a coffee on the back deck for the first time in what seems like ages, you notice what a mess the winter has made of your lawn.
Spring is when we come out of our ‘winter hibernation’ mode and begin to think about cleaning up our gardens and getting our lawns back into shape. Follow these 5 steps to set up your lawn for success this year!
Rake and/or de-thatch your lawn
It is best to give your entire lawn a good hard rake. This will perk up any matted grass and rake out any thatch (dead grass matted on top of the soil). Doing so will allow better airflow to the base of the grass plants which will reduce the chance of molds and fungi taking hold of your lawn. It will also allow water and fertilizers to better penetrate into the soil.
If you don’t have the time or endurance to give your entire lawn a rake, focus on the areas where snow was piled as well as any visibly damaged areas.
If you see any pink or white matted areas this is snow mold. The grass in these areas will likely recover if raked up.
De-thatching is similar to raking but is much more aggressive. It can be done with a de-thatching rake or by a machine known as a de-thatcher (or power-rake). De-thatching should be done if your lawn has a heavy thatch layer or is infested with creeping bentgrass
Treat any areas that may have had snow or salt piled on them
Winter road salt will damage your lawn. In excess amounts, salts are toxic to plants and will bind to the soil. This could kill areas of your lawn around your driveway, sidewalk and other walkways. Salt damaged areas will also be prone to weeds that can better handle the saline soil.
The best way to treat for salt is to sprinkle pelletized gypsum in these areas. The calcium in the gypsum will bind to the soil and unbind the salts allowing them to be washed away by the spring rain or your irrigation system.
Gypsum will last in your soil for 6-8 months. It is best applied in the late fall as it will work into the soil and prevent salts from binding, but you will still see benefits from a spring application.
Pelletized gypsum can be purchased from your local garden center or your lawn care provider. It is recommended to use a product specially designed for turf or agricultural use. Do not use gypsum from sheet rock or other building products as it will not distribute properly into the soil.
Aerate your lawn
Lawns become compact through traffic, rainfall and natural settling. Over time, compacted soil becomes tough for roots to penetrate and limits the water, oxygen and nutrients available to the roots.
A lawn aeration will reduce the compaction on the surface of the soil and will stimulate root growth as well as allow water, oxygen and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the soil.
Aeration is most often done through using a lawn aerating machine. This
machine pulls 1-2″ plugs from the soil, leaving them on the surface to break down. This method helps break up thatch and top-dresses the surface with your native soil. It will also bring beneficial microorganisms to the surface which will help break down the thatch layer.
Over-seed and/or top-dress your lawn
Over-seeding is one of the most important things you should do to your lawn in the spring!
Over-seeding is the process of spreading a high quality grass seed over an existing lawn. It will help thicken your lawn and reduce bare spots. It will increase weed resistance as well as introduce different turf cultivars that are more resistant to pests and disease.
Purchase an over-seed blend from your local garden center. Garden centers typically purchase their seed from local suppliers and will contain seed cultivars that are better designed for your area. Choose a seed that will grow best in your lawns conditions (a full sun blend for sunny areas, shade blend for shade or an all-purpose mix for partial shade or mix of conditions).
Top-dressing your lawn with a good quality triple-mix or black soil will help add nutrients to your soil and will promote the growth of your over-seed.
Fertilize – but not too early!
A proper ferilization program is essential to a great looking lawn. The essential nutrients will help strengthen your turf .
When choosing a fertilizer, be sure to get a good quality slow release blend. It is best to choose a phosphorous free blend (ie. 20-0-10) as Southern Ontario soils naturally contain a sufficient amount of phosphorous. Phosphorous is water soluble and will wash away into storm sewers, in turn polluting our rivers, lakes and streams.
Many people (and lawn care providers) fertilize their lawns way to early. It is best to wait until your lawn has begun to grow vigorously before your first fertilizer application. This is usually early-mid May, or when lilacs begin to bloom.
In the early spring, your turf is establishing and strengthening its root system. Fertilizing too early will force top growth. Not only will you need to cut your lawn earlier, you will take your lawns focus off its root growth which is essential to enduring the stresses of the summer.