The snow is long gone, but it has left us with lawns that, to date, may look pretty sad. Prepare for the spring green up ahead with these tasks.
Pick up debris
Most lawns have manmade and natural debris scattered about. Clean up can begin with a game we called “pick up sticks.” Twigs, sticks, and bigger branches should be gathered, and if small enough, added to the composting effort or bagged for landscape waste pick up. Next up will be the plastic bags stuck in branches or tangled in the perennials. You always can find plenty of Styrofoam bits to pick up as well. The lawn will look a lot better just being tidied up.
Perk up grass
The winter snow left behind other unsightly stuff too. While having the snow cover all winter was a good thing, as the temperatures warmed, the snow got more dense and heavier and matted down the leaf litter and the grass itself. Now is the time to pull out the leaf rake and gently loosen and remove the matted leaves and pull up grass to a more normal looking position. This will not be a perfect job, nor should it be, you do not want to damage the grass. Lawns are going to look less than ideal for most homeowners until the natural spring flush of growth begins. The new growth will start to hide the browned grass blades that were desiccated over the winter, especially those spots that were not covered in snow.
Prep your mower
Beyond the lawn itself, we can start caring for the lawn mower. Change the oil if appropriate (raise your hand if you did not change the oil last fall), clean the inside of the mower deck, replace or clean the air filter, and replace the spark plug if it has been awhile (the mower will start much easier). More important than you can imagine is sharpening the mower blade. A sharp blade will leave the lawn looking better, create less entry wounds for disease, mulch up the cut grass better so it filters back into the lawn, and put less strain on the engine while reducing carbon emissions. Who would have thought that one action had so many benefits?
Plan ahead for control
Back to the lawn. There can be many fungal diseases happening in the lawn over the season. With the exception of “snow mold,” environmental conditions are not right for most yet. If there has been a history of lawn disease, prepare to apply an appropriate fungicide starting about 10 to 14 days ahead of when you have observed the disease in the lawn previously.
As for weeds, the early ones of potential concern are the spring annuals. If you had lots of crabgrass last year, there will be plenty of seed to germinate again this spring, so perhaps a preventative crabgrass treatment is appropriate in those areas of your lawn. Watch the weather and apply when soil temperatures remain steady at 55 degrees or higher. As with any product, always read and follow label instructions.
If fertilizer is on your to-do list, hold that thought. It is too early to do a spring fertilizer application. Let the natural flush happen first. Plan to mow 3 to 4 times or wait 3 to 4 weeks before applying fertilizer.
Last but not least, when the growing season hits, remember the mantra, “Mow high, mow often, and mow with a sharp blade.”
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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.