Spring Lawn Care
Spring, the time when a homeowner’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…lawn care. How much work spring lawn care will entail depends on the severity of the winter in your area, and the condition your lawn was in when winter began. This guide will take you through the basics of care for your lawn’s most rapid growing season, with an emphasis on non-toxic, and organic methods.
First Steps to Spring Lawn Care Maintenance
- Rake with a spring tine rake. This process is referred to as light scarifying, and will remove any debris or thatch that may have accumulated over the winter months, enabling the grass to stand up straight for more efficient cutting. If you have a large lawn you may want to rent a lawn scarifier. Note: If you scarified deeply in the fall, you might not need to scarify in the spring at all.
- Re-sow any bare spots. Break up the soil with a garden fork, firm and level it, then apply whatever seed you have chosen. Put something light and water permeable, like garden fleece, on the patch to keep birds from eating your seed, and water on a regular basis.
- Mow the lawn once it has reached about ½” (1cm) higher than you wish, but do not cut away any more than one third of each blade of grass at any one time. The reason for this is that when you lop off too much grass, you’re not only depriving these little plants of the photosynthesized food they have already stored, you’re also lessening their ability to make more food for themselves. Note: There are many differing opinions regarding how high grass should be allowed to grow. Part of this is because there are many kinds of lawn grass available, and each has its preferences. The consensus seems to be that, for a basic family lawn that sees a lot of use, 1-2” (3-5cm) is a reasonable spring height to aim for, eventually. For a purely ornamental lawn that consists of superfine grass, the eventual goal is 3/8″-3/4″ (1-2 cm).
- Remove the grass clippings early in the season, when the weather isn’t conducive to quick decomposition, but thereafter leave the clippings on until the end of the growing season. Grass clippings release up to 30% of the required nutrients for a lawn as they decompose, so it makes no sense to chuck what amounts to free fertiliser.
- If you feel it is needed at this point, fertilise your lawn with a slow-release organic fertiliser. Such fertilisers are available in granular form at garden centres, or you can opt for municipal compost. Fish emulsion is also an option, if you want to go the foliar feeding route.
Heavy, clay soil/Drainage problems during spring lawn care
If you have heavy, clay soil, or you’ve noticed you have drainage issues, aerate the lawn with either a garden fork, spiking sandals, or a soil aerator. Then top-dress the soil with heavy organic material. This will gradually improve the soil structure. A top-dressing mixture for heavy soil, suggested by the BBC, consists of one part leaf-mould or coir, two parts loam, and four parts sand. For medium soil, the ratio of these ingredients is 1:4:2; for sandy soil, the ratio is 2:4:1. Spread the mixture evenly at approximately 1.6kg per square metre. A broom or a rake will help you work it thoroughly into the soil. This entire process is best done in the fall, but it can also be done in spring.
If the above top-dressing doesn’t appeal to you, another approach is to spread a thin layer autumn leaves over your lawn and use a mulching mower to mow them thoroughly. You might need to do this a couple of times.
Lawn looking thin or worn out
If your lawn really needs a makeover, try overseeding, which is simply spreading new grass seed over the entire lawn. A good rule of thumb is to spread the seed at approximately 25g per square metre. This will fill in the gaps, and make the lawn thicker, which will also discourage moss and weeds.
Moss and Weeds
The best way to kill moss and deal with weeds is to create the conditions that make it difficult for them to gain a foothold in the first place. When a lawn is healthy and lush, there is very little room for moss and weeds. The way to create such conditions are as follows:
Mow high. Grass needs to be tall enough to properly photosynthesize. The mistake a lot of people make is to cut grass so low that the plants are forced to speed up their growth so that they can make more blades. This seriously depletes their nutrient stores, thereby weakening the plants. Grass that is cut high doesn’t have this problem. Instead, these plants can use their nutrient stores to make rhizomes, which become new grass plants. Grass plants that are allowed to grow taller keep sunlight from reaching most weeds, causing them to wither and die.
However, some weeds are just tenacious. The best, least toxic way to deal with them is to pull them up by hand. A flame weeding tool is also effective, as well as therapeutic, provided you don’t burn the grass plants you do want. If there are just too many weeds, or your lawn is enormous, your best bet is to use a selective weed control product. These products kill all common broad leaved lawn weeds, and are designed to be used once per year. Be warned that these selective weed killers are still toxic, and neither children nor pets should be allowed on the grass until it is completely dry. There are child and pet friendly products for removing weeds but caution still needs to be taken.
Moss can also be tenacious. It thrives in acidic soil, shade, and heavy, compacted soil. If your soil is below a ph of 5, add some lime. If your problem is too much shade, try mowing even higher to give the grass a greater shot at getting enough sunlight to thicken up and crowd the moss out. If your soil is heavy, clay, wet, and compacted try aerating and top-dressing it, as outlined above. You might need to switch your grass to something like ryegrass or tall fescue. There are moss killing products on the market, but most of them are toxic (iron sulphate is the active ingredient), and children and pets must be kept away from the grass until it has completely dried.