Let's Talk Lawns in April

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Lawns are really greening up nicely over the last couple of weeks courtesy of Mother Nature. Lawns will naturally green up in the spring anyway, yet the rains and warmer temperatures really help too. Questions to the Extension offices and the Master Gardener Help Desks have been all about lawns and the occasional outdoor insect finding its way inside our homes.

This time of year you can do several lawn projects. Lawn cleanup is the one of the very first. Overwintering leaf litter, twigs, stems and dead branches from the trees is a good place to start. Using just a spring rake to collect the debris is good enough to quickly move across the lawn. This will also bring up bits of dead grass too and that is also to be expected.

While you are raking, be on the lookout for lawn weeds as your second project. Perennial weeds like Dandelion, Creeping Charlie and the Plantains will be the usual culprits that will need to be dealt with. Sometimes Chickweed being a winter annual will show up in the lawn next to our perennial beds where you can find it right now blooming and hugging the ground. Dandelions in bloom are actually providing a lot of pollen for our bees, so waiting till after the major bloom is over is a good thing. Broadleaved weeds not controlled in the spring can be managed again in the late summer and early fall.

Gardeners wanting to improve the overall quality of the lawn will want to over-seed or reseed thin spots or fix the damage from the snow plow or salt in the parkway areas may be that third project. The key to successful seed germination is timing. Sowing grass seed too early while the soils are still too cold will cause the seeds to lay there and die. Soil temperature has to remain about 55 degrees consistently to allow the seed to successful germination and grow vigorously. The seed benefits from good soil to seed contact as well. Use the spring rake to lightly rake the seed into the soil or lightly cover the seed with soil. One caution with germinating grass seed – crabgrass preventer will also prevent the lawn seed from germination too. If crabgrass preventer is applied, avoid using it in the areas you are going to work on.

If your lawn has thinned due to a lack of sun, changing to a more shade tolerant grass is the next step. Fine fescues are a good choice. Sun/shade mixes are often a combination of Kentucky blue grasses and fine fescues. The full sun areas will be dominated by the Bluegrasses, the transition area will be a mixture and the more shady areas will end up being the fine fescues.

While waiting on the weather to do some of our lawn projects, a 5th one would be to get out the lawnmower, sharpen the blade, clean the air filter, exchange the old gas for new, replace the spark plug and start and run the mower until the engine is completely warmed.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.