As the world outside finally begins to turn green after a long winter, it’s time once again to pay attention to your lawn. Spring is a sensitive time for your yard – the soil is spongy, the plants are tender, and the weather is unpredictable.
Your lawn will thank you for being gentle this time of year, but it will also thank you for addressing a few important spring tasks. Here’s how to go about taking care of your lawn in the spring.
Types of Grass
Spring lawn care depends on the type of grass you are growing:
- Cool-season grasses include fescue, bluegrass, and rye. They have two growth spurts – a moderate one in the spring, and a big one in the fall. They go dormant and can struggle in hot summer months, so the focus of spring care is strengthening the plants for summer.
- Warm-season grasses—such as Zoysia, St. Augustine, centipede, and Bermuda—thrive in the heat and go dormant during winter. They begin growing after the last spring frost and really get going by midsummer.
Understanding the type of grass you have and its peak growing season will help you address lawn care tasks at the correct time.
Clean Up – Gently!
Avoid heavy yard work in the spring until the soil dries out – foot traffic and hard raking can compact or disturb soggy soil and damage tender, new grass shoots. Once the soil is good and dry, give your lawn a good spring cleaning to encourage grass growth and discourage pests and diseases. Remove leaves and fallen debris, and gently rake to fluff up and separate the grass shoots.
In areas with heavy snowfall, leftover snow piles can smother the grass underneath and foster mold growth. As the weather warms, spread snow piles out with a shovel to encourage melting.
Spring is the best time to prevent weeds by using pre-emergent weed control, which work by preventing weed seeds from germinating. Your first application of a pre-emergent herbicide should occur just as the forsythia bushes finish blooming in spring – that should stop crabgrass and other weeds before they have a chance to grow.
Both cool-season and warm-season lawns benefit from weed prevention in the spring. Pre-emergent herbicides work for about three months, so plan on a second application during the summer.
Seeding and Planting
In the spring, gardeners have to choose between weed control and lawn seeding. Pre-emergent herbicides prevent grass seed from sprouting too, so you can’t do both – the herbicide will be active for up to 12 weeks, which means you’ll miss the spring planting season.
If your focus this spring is on filling in bare spots or establishing a new lawn, time your activities according to the type of grass:
- Cool-season grasses can be planted as soon as the air temperatures get into the 60s and soil temperatures are in the 50s. Plant as soon as temperatures allow to give the seedlings a chance to get established before hot weather hits. Fall is a better time to plant cool-season grasses, so use spring planting for patching bare spots, and be prepared to keep your lawn well-watered during the summer.
- Warm-season grasses can be planted when air temperatures are in the 70s, soil temperatures are in the 60s, and all danger of frost has passed. Late spring is the best time to plant warm-season grasses.
Warm-season grasses, such as St. Augustine, can be fertilized in late spring.
The type of grass you have also influences when and how you should fertilize your lawn:
- Cool-season grasses: Resist the urge to heavily fertilize your lawn in the spring. Spring feeding encourages rapid tender growth that will struggle to survive the heat of summer, particularly in drought-prone areas. If your lawn is in bad shape, fertilize lightly in spring with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. Save the heavier feedings for fall, when cool-season grasses are at their peak growing season.
- Warm-season grasses: Fertilize in late spring as soon as the lawn “greens up” and begins actively growing. This is usually in April or May, after the last frost.
Spring is a great time to conduct a soil test to find out if your soil needs any amendments. You can apply lime to acidic soil (pH below 6) anytime during the growing season, as long as the grass isn’t wilted or covered with frost. Early spring can be a great time to apply lime if you’ll be planting new grass that year.
Don’t apply lime within 3 weeks of fertilizing, as the ingredients can react and become less effective. Follow the recommendations of your soil test kit and your purchased amendments for proper dosage.
Other Spring Lawn Tasks
- Aeration: is best done during your lawn’s peak growing season. For warm-season grasses, this means early to mid-summer. For cool-season grasses, aeration is best saved for fall but can be repeated in spring if the soil is extremely compacted. Wait until your lawn has been mowed 2-3 times in the season, so you’ll be sure it is growing fast enough to recover from the aeration.
- Dethatching: also best done during peak growing season, right before aerating.
- Mowing: Begin mowing as soon as your lawn needs it – grass blades do best when you cut no more than a third of the blade’s length at a time.
- Watering: Once your grass starts growing, you’ll need to make sure your lawn gets at least 1” of water per week. Until then, you can water less frequently but remember that cold air is very drying to plants and lawns.
- Insect control: Spring is a good time to address problems with fire ants. Many other insects, such as grubs and mole crickets, may also cause damage to your lawn in spring but are more effectively controlled later in the summer.
- Lawn Equipment: Sharpen the blade and tune up your lawn mower, as well as other lawn equipment, to make summer mowing a breeze!
- How To Control Weeds In Your Lawn
- Top-Dressing to Improve the Soil in Your Lawn
- Calculating Lawn Irrigation Costs
- Lawn Mower Maintenance
- Spring Lawn Care: 10 Things to Consider Before the Mowing Season
- Spring Lawn Care (Virginia Cooperative Extension)
- Spring Lawn Care Musts (All About Lawns)
I’m pretty sure you mean to apply the pre-emergent herbicide BEFORE the forsythia bloom, not after. It is also worth mentioning that “natural” pre-emergent herbicides containing corn gluten do an excellent job without making the yard dangerous to children and pets.
Forsythia, thanks for mentioning the corn gluten! It’s an all-natural weed-preventer and a great step toward an organic lawn.
Regarding the timing, pre-emergent herbicides are often used to target crabgrass, which germinates when soil temperatures are between 55 and 60 degrees F. That usually occurs soon after the forsythia blooms, often coinciding with the blooming of lilac. However, in my garden things don’t always bloom on schedule, so it’s more of a reminder than a rule.
The most important thing is that the pre-emergent herbicide is applied before the seeds have a change to germinate. If you apply pre-emergent herbicide (or corn gluten) and still have a problem with annual weeds, apply it earlier next year to beat the weeds to the punch.
Thank you, Julie! I’m a newbie when it comes to lawn care so all the help I can get is appreciated. I just had my lawn installed last spring by Evergreen Turf. They have a FAQ section of their website which talks about common lawn care issues. I’ll include the URL since it may help some people reading this article as well.
I have a question i was told to put a fertilzer of 19-19-19
on my lawn for a quick green up. Could you maybe tell me
what would be equal to that in regular fertilzer. Also could
you explane what all the numbers mean on a bag of fertilzer
Don, the numbers on the fertilizer bag refer to the amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the fertilizer. As a substitute for 19-19-19, you can use any fertilizer where the numbers are the same (10-10-10, 5-5-5, etc.). The package will tell you how much to apply.
Also, your local garden center most likely has stocked up on the right kind of fertilizer for the season, so you should be able to buy a general-purpose seasonal fertilizer that should work just fine, even if the numbers are slightly different.
You can get more information in the article Fertilizer 101 or our video on Fertilizer Selection.
David, many warm-season grasses turn yellow or brown after a frost – that’s usually nothing to worry about. You won’t be able to tell if there’s permanent damage until it “greens up” again in spring. Don’t put anything on it now – do all feeding in late spring, once the lawn is green and growing. If you do have any frost-damaged spots, you can correct it then.
As for the weed & feed, that can be a problem for St. Augustine – check out our article on Applying Weed and Feed Products to St. Augustine Grass.
Its January 19, 2010
What should be done now for the St Augustine Grass that has turned yellow from the last FROST? When and what kind of fertilizer should be put down? What about weed and feed…when? Will the grass begin to green again and when?
Zone 6A – I have a backyard that was nothing but tall, thick-stem weeds. We burned everything last fall but a lot of the seeds remained. (Seeds are pinhead size with “legs” that grasp our dogs coat as they walk in the back yard.) What can I do this spring to ensure the weeds don’t come back and also plant sod this spring???? Thanks for your help.
I live in leamington ontario. Our summers get hot and we experience little rain so there are drought periods. I am looking to buy a hearty grass that can take the heat and drought. Roots are strong. Do i buy one grass or a blend. I am tired of my burnt yard that can get bare and patchy.
Hi, my lawn company put down the Spring fertilizer on my lawn. I live in NY and the next day it snowed about 5 inches. Will this fertilizer even be effective anymore? Thank you
Should u water as soon as your done fertilizing or wait..
Some of my grass have turned brown. One day I cut my grass, and afterwards I put down some scottsturf builder and lime, and a couple of days later some of my grass turned brown. What should I do?
This was a great article. I really do appreciate this information. I have a lawn care service in New Orleans and this is very helpful for me. I am trying to build the best possible lawn care service.
This is great information. I’m ready for my backyard to look great again!
With these methods you will mow less, water less, never buy pesticides and have the best looking lawn on your block.
What do you recommend for spring, when parts of a lawn need mowing, and other are not grown enough? What should the owner to?
Would you advise that he/she trims the overgrown parts with a trimmer instead of using a mower or is that wrong?
I live in a really underdeveloped area, but really don’t want to sacrifice the luxury of a yard (my kids really need it). I am thankful for the suggestion you made on putting down a pre-emergent weed control in the spring. A few of my neighbors have had such big weed problems with their seed and we hope to avoid this. Now on to finding a real solution to the maintenance after the grass has grown… Thanks for the helpful tips.
Can i get premium mulches at a price lower than $45 per bag?
Thanks for the information.
How often and long should I water my lawn to get an inch of water a week? I want to make sure I don’t over-water it. But, I also want to make sure that I don’t under-water it as well. That would just cause problems.
Those information are all correct. A healthy lawn is necessary to the greater environment. It can also keep your yard cool during hot summer.
Any way to kill Bermuda grass without killing everything?