Spring Lawn Care
25 February 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
As the weather warms up, many homeowners will be anxious to get out and start working on their lawns. The sight of new grass growing often inspires folks to run out and spread fertilizer to help the young blades along. This is actually the opposite of recommended practices for fescue and bluegrass lawns. The proper time to fertilize these grasses is in the fall, when the roots that will sustain the plants through the following summer are actively growing. Even if the fall feeding was missed, any spring feeding should be limited to a light feeding (1/2 pound of actual nitrogen, i.e., 5 pounds of 10-10-10, per 1000 sq. ft.) after the initial flush of growth has subsided, probably sometime in May or early June.
Lime, on the other hand, could be applied in early spring, if soil tests show that it is necessary. Most lawn grasses grow best at a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0, so have your soil pH analyzed every two to three years to be sure you are staying in that range. The soil test results will include recommendations on how much lime to apply.
The best time to establish a new lawn from seed is in the fall, but many homeowners will want to re-seed patches of lawn that have been damaged during the winter. Seed sown during March and early April will have a chance to grow successfully if it is well watered and cared for, from seeding on through the heat of summer. Ideally you would water approximately once a week throughout the summer to provide enough water for the root system. Care includes fertilizer on newly seeded grass using a high phosphorus fertilizer (e.g., 25 pounds of 5-10-5 per 1000 square feet when patch seeding) to foster root growth.
There are many varieties and types of grass seed from which to choose. Your local county Extension Agent can supply you with a publication that discusses the latest recommended varieties of turf grasses in Virginia.
When your lawn requires its first cutting, be sure not to cut too short. Mow to about two inches during the spring, and then raise the cutting height another half inch when summer arrives. Mow frequently so that no more than one third of the grass blade is removed at one time to keep the grass healthy.
Along with the grass, several undesirables are probably growing in your lawn. The best prevention for a weedy lawn is to provide such great growing conditions that the turf crowds out the weeds. If the weeds are sparse, use that early spring energy to hand pull some of those perennial weeds. There are chemicals that can be used if you have more weeds than energy. If you choose to use herbicides, be sure to apply them when they will have maximum impact on the weed population. Follow label directions closely for information on time of application and safety precautions.
Apply pre-emergent herbicides beginning in March to control crabgrass. Crabgrass generally emerges about the time of dogwood bloom, and the pre-emergent herbicides used to control it will not affect crabgrass if it is applied to crabgrass that is already up and growing.
Spraying for dandelions is most effective in fall, but spring spraying of a broadleaf weed killer will control many of them. Be sure to spray when the weeds are actively growing rather than during drought conditions. When spraying any herbicide, use a different sprayer from the one that you use to apply insecticides or fungicides. Mark it "HERBICIDE" so it will not inadvertently be used for other purposes, which may result in herbicide residues damaging valuable plants.
If you mow your own lawn you might want to tune up your mower before you need to use it. If you are planning to ask a local shop to do this for you now is the time to get on their schedule so you are not waiting in line while the grass is growing up to your knees.
March is still a little early for insect control, so after taking care of the few necessary lawn chores for early spring, you can relax and save your energy for summer mowing.
For more information about this and other landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.