By: Lisa Briggs | April 24th, 2019
The ups and downs of this spring’s weather have us all reeling. One day it’s sunny and 70 degrees and we are over the moon, popping in pansies and wondering when the tomato plants will be ready. The next temps barely make it to a drizzly 50 and we’re back in the doldrums. But the cooler temps and weekly wet weather are good for the plants, especially our lawns.
We get lots of questions about lawn care at this time of year and it’s no wonder. It is a huge morale booster when our lawns magically green up overnight. And once this happens, there are a few things we can do. First, assess your lawn. Start by looking for bare patches and then make a plan to deal with them. Undesirable weeds will quickly make themselves at home when the grass is thin. There are several causes – physical damage, snow mold, and inadequate sunlight.
Physical damage stems from a number of things. Maybe a car got stuck and slid off the drive and onto the lawn. Perhaps you salted the sidewalks with a heavy hand. Whatever the cause, it’s time to fix the problems and re-seed. If the culprit was ice melt, flush the area thoroughly with water and top-dress with a layer of soil or compost. For ruts and holes, fill in with some soil and tamp the space. Then re-seed with grass seed appropriate to the light conditions.
Whether you are overseeding your entire lawn, or just filling in patches, you’ll need to prep the area before seeding. Remove old clumps of grass and rake the soil smooth. Apply an inch of topsoil or compost. After you have finished broadcasting the seed, cover it with a thin layer of straw. Be sure to keep the area damp by watering lightly every day until the seeds begin to germinate. Once the new grass has emerged, water the area a couple of times a week until the blades are about 3-inches high
Snow mold shows up as light gray or vaguely pink spots in the lawn that turn to beige as the temperature rises. The grass itself appears matted down. Snow mold often occurs more in shaded areas where the snow melts more slowly. The best thing to do is to vigorously rake the areas to remove the thatch. Then feed the grass with an application of fertilizer. Unless the damage is particularly severe, your lawn should recover.
Now for the issue of sunlight. This is a situation for honesty. There is a reason that sod farmers grow turf in big, open fields. Grass is a sun-loving crop! Bluegrass mixes require 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Shade mixes, usually made with tall fescues, will thrive with less, but still, require partial sun or 4-6 hours of direct light. If you have a very shady area, don’t try to grow grass as it rarely thrives. Instead, try a shade-loving ground cover like Pachysandra, Vinca or Hosta. You also have the option of simply spreading bark mulch.
Once your lawn is greened up and growing, it’s time to start mowing. Try to maintain a height of 2 ½ to 3 inches through most of the season. Be sure that your mower blades are sharp. Dull blades don’t cut the grass plants, they tear at them, causing those unsightly brown edges. And remember that as the temperatures rise through the summer, grass growth tends to slow down. Adjust your mowing schedule accordingly. Mow often enough that you don’t remove more than a third of the grass length at each cutting.
A healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds and pests. So think about applying a fertilizer that is combined with a pre-emergent herbicide. This will give your lawn protection from any infiltrating weed seeds and is especially useful in preventing crabgrass.