By Jeff Hansen, President of Hansen’s Tree Service
If you’re like many homeowners, you’re probably getting ready to tune up your lawnmowers. But don’t mow your lawn just yet: there are many tasks that need to be performed before the first mowing! Even if you neglected some important fall lawn care tasks, April isn’t too late to work toward a lush, emerald-green lawn.
Prepare Your Lawn with Deep Raking
Before starting more ambitious tasks, deeply rake your lawn. This not only removes dead leaves and sticks that lay on your lawn, but also eliminates thatch- a dead layer comprised of stems, leaves and roots between grass and soil. It also removes dead grass blades that will become thatch. Your grass will breathe better, and you’ll have a clean slate to work with.
Aeration Nourishes Your Lawn
To keep your lawn healthy throughout the summer, aeration is important for your spring lawn care plan. Aeration is important because it allows air, nutrients and water to circulate within the soil to feed grass roots, and it also helps beat our hard clay soil. Although aeration is performed by many St. Louisans during the fall, the task isn’t too late for spring. Make sure that you aerate before you apply preemergent or postemergent herbicides so that your lawn can better compete with weeds.
The day before aerating your lawn, water your grass for 30 to 45 minutes per area. The next day, walk back and forth across your lawn using a manual or mechanical aerator. You can also hire a professional lawn care company to aerate your lawn. Cover each area once, and leave the soil cores where they fall. Later, crush up the cores with your hands or a small garden tool and mix the soil with compost or peat moss, if needed, to fill in all of the holes. You can use your hands to fill the holes and make them level with your lawn. Continue your regular watering schedule, but avoid mowing your lawn for a minimum of three weeks.
Check Your Soil’s pH
This third step is indispensable to any spring lawn care plan. Since grass grows best in a neutral soil pH, perform a soil test to determine the level of acidity in your lawn. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, send a soil sample to your local county extension. You can also ask a lawn care professional to perform the test.
Overseed Bare Spots
Does your lawn have lots of bare spots, and you can’t wait to fix them until fall arrives? If so, overseeding- or reseeding over an already established lawn- might be beneficial for your lawn. However, before you overseed, you must examine why your grass isn’t growing well. Many factors- such as diseases, insects, excessive shade, drought and soil compaction- can lead to unhealthy lawns, and overseeding may not help. Overseeding is often incompatible with using herbicides, which will be explained later.
If you’ve determined that overseeding will solve your bare spots, begin by aerating your lawn, mowing it to 1 ‘ to 2 inches in height (if necessary) and bagging grass clippings. Overseed by moving a verticutter or an over-seeder, a tool that cuts vertical grooves into soil, a few times over your lawn. Then apply seed with a rotary or drop-seeder, and water in a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer over your lawn. Continue to lightly water the lawn three or four times daily. Five weeks after germination, apply 1 lb/1000 square feet of quick release nitrogen fertilizer. Apply this fertilizer again in another six weeks.
Many St. Louisans who need to overseed use fescue blends, some of which are disease- and drought-resistant. Fine-bladed fescues are very attractive, but don’t have resilience against humidity, foot traffic or disease. Since St. Louis is a transition climate zone, neither cool nor warm season grasses grow particularly well here. You might want to ask your county extension, nursery or lawn care provider for other seed suggestions.
Organic Fertilizer Feeds Your Grass
Fertilize your lawn the natural way by using a mulching mower. A mulching mower leaves grass clippings on your lawn, which increases grass root mass, assists with nutrient absorption and promotes water retention. You can also use organic compost to fertilize your lawn. Using a shovel, distribute the compost on top of your lawn. Spread it out with the back side of a rake until it measures about one half-inch tall.
Preemergent and Postemergent Herbicides Eliminate Unwanted Pests
Ever wonder if your lawn care problems can be prevented? If so, preemergent herbicides can save you lots of time and energy. Crabgrass- the bane of many gardeners’ existence- can be avoided if you apply preemergent herbicides by the middle of April. Since herbicides used to kill crabgrass can interfere with overseeding, it is best to overseed in the fall. If you must overseed this spring, use the preemergent herbicide Tupersan, which won’t damage growing grass seeds.
Postemergent herbicides kill weeds and diseases after they have developed. For lawn diseases such as brown patch, apply a lawn fungicide, and if necessary, reapply one or two more times. To kill dandelions, snap off the dandelions’ flower stems to prevent them from producing seeds, or dig them out by the roots. You can also spray the dandelions with a broadleaf weed killer, but this is more effective in the fall.
Rules to Remember When Mowing Your Lawn
After you complete all of the above steps that are applicable to your lawn, you can begin mowing. Well, almost: first decide if your mower needs a tune-up, and make sure that its blade is sharp. A sharp blade effortlessly slices grass, whereas a dull blade harmfully tears grass.
The following general guidelines will aid your lawn’s development of healthy root systems and avoid weeds, disease, insects and thatch. As you mow your lawn, never remove more than 1/3 of grass’ standing growth since this inhibits photosynthesis. To prevent cutting your grass too short, keep your mower’s blades at three and a half inches, like most professional landscaping companies do.
April is the time for spring lawn care tasks, even if you forgot to aerate or overseed during the fall. If you perform these steps before mowing your lawn, I guarantee that by summertime, your neighbors will marvel at your lawn’s beauty and health.
Jeff Hansen is president of Hansen’s Tree Service, a full-service tree and lawn care company that performs diagnosis, treatment, pruning, tree removal, stump removal and lawn care. Hansen’s is fully accredited by TCIA and ISA, and serves residences and companies throughout the entire St. Louis metro area. With nine fully certified arborists on staff, Hansen’s educates the public on the values of proper tree and lawn care, its maintenance and the importance of environmental responsibility.