Easter weekend and who can resist hiding Easter eggs on a wide sweep of lush, green lawn? Or laying back on a cushion of green to look up at a spring sky? A rousing game of croquet aside, we all love a smooth lawn that screams summertime, bare feet and picnics, and we all wonder how that one neighbor manages that perfect green. Read on for tips on lawn care.
Seeding the Lawn
March is the beginning of lawn care in Western North Carolina, but if you haven't started yet, no worries. You still have time to get after those weeds and do some fertilizing before mowing season kicks into full swing. But before you jump in, ask yourself, do I weed and feed, or do I seed?
Will those thin spots fill in naturally as soon as the grass starts growing again, or are those areas too large and too bare? If they aren't overly conspicuous, concentrate on weed control and fertilizing, remembering that you can reseed in September if necessary. And, don't worry, our monthly to-do blog will remind you come September.
If the bare spots are going to end up as mud puddles all season, then you should reseed, and forget the pre-emergent for the rest of the lawn. The cool season grasses that are used in Western North Carolina (fescue mixes) do best if seeded when temperatures are between 60-80°. The cooler nights, Spring rains and shorter days are good for germination. Rake up the bare area, add a layer of compost (1/4" deep) and scatter seed, taping down with the back of the rack. Add another thin layer of compost to keep seed in place. Keep moist until germination, which translates to watering twice a day (top 1" of soil should stay moist). Germination takes 5-21 days. Don't use herbicides until the new grass has been mowed at least four times. Do use a starter fertilizer to give young grass blades an extra boost for roots.
Weeding and Feeding the Lawn
First step to dealing with early spring weeds is to use a pre-emergent, attacking them before they get the chance to invade the lawn. Crabgrass is the first weed to show itself, and most spring preemergents target it. Preemergents prevent the germination of weed seeds, and have a slow release fertilizer and non-staining iron for a quick greening up of the lawn. Depending on your lawn, and your elevation, you may or may not be too late for this step. This warm month of March sprouted weeds before we gardeners had a chance to notice. Talk with Ian Farthing, our lawn care specialist, to determine timing.
Spring is not the only time of the year to focus on weeding or fertilizing. As the season progresses, you'll continue the fight against weeds in the lawn using herbicides that are specifically for broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, and fertilizing to give the lawn the chance to grow in and naturally keep weeds out. Minimizing the work and enjoying the soft grass is the goal.
Mowing The Lawn
If weeds are already growing but the grass hasn't started, use a weed eater to knock the tops off the weeds. It will stress the weeds without stressing the grass. Keeping the grass mowed consistently to the same height (3 1/2") helps shade weed seeds, and retain moisture. Mulch your clippings back into the soil after mowing (mow back over clippings) to give your soil an extra organic boost. When mowing new grass, wait until grass is 3 1/2" tall and sharpen the mower blade so you'll cut clean and not damage new grass blades. The rule of thumb for new and existing grass is to cut 1/3 of height and not more. Shorter is not better for your lawn. Instead, mow once a week, and keep it longer.
Keeping the Lawn Healthy and Green
As the season continues, so does the lawn care. A simple approach is the Bonide Four-Phase product for use from Spring to Fall that will fertilize and combat certain weeds and insects during crucial times of the growing season. It makes lawn care easy by combining the herbicide and fertilizer in one. Four applications a year beginning in Spring, and ending in Fall is all that is needed for a healthy lawn.
Getting your lawn on a schedule of weed and feed, while staying consistent with mowing and mulching will make lawn care easier in the end, and produce the lawn your feet will love. A little hard work in the beginning produces less effort in the end. Now, go hide some Easter eggs!
Written by Cinthia Milner, OSA, Garden Coach, and blog writer.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.