Recent warm temperatures have left many lawns bare or nearly so. Whenever the lawn is uncovered and the temperatures are in the 50s, the temptation is to grab the rake and start spring cleanup.
Likewise, the garden centers and discount stores are starting to feature fertilizers in their advertisements and homeowners get the urge to apply their spring fertilizer.
It is important to withstand that temptation and leave those tools in the garage because it is much too early to start spring yard work.
No matter how beautiful the weather, keep off the grass until the soil feels fairly firm underfoot and you no longer leave footprints when you walk across the lawn. If it's still soggy wet, you will compress the soil wherever you step, which will add to compaction and promotes poor root growth and poor water drainage.
This is especially important if you are going to use your lawn tractor or other heavy equipment to clean your yard. In addition, it is easy to pull the grass out by the roots when the grass is wet. Because of the dry conditions, the lawn probably will be ready to rake earlier than normal this year, but don't rush it.
When the lawn is ready to rake, use a lightweight lawn rake, not a heavy garden rake. The lighter rake removes dead grass and weeds, as well as allows air to reach the crowns of the grass plants without harming the roots. Raking also removes rocks and other debris that could pose a problem when you mow later this spring.
Despite what you read in fertilizer advertisements, it is much too early to make your spring fertilizer application. If fertilizer is applied before the grass plants are growing rapidly enough to use the nutrients, particularly nitrogen, the nutrients will leach below the roots of the grass plants and become unavailable to the plants.
If you fertilized last fall, there really is no need to fertilize in early spring. If you missed the fall application or have determined your lawn needs spring fertilization, wait until the lawn is ready for its first mowing before applying the fertilizer.
At that time put down only a light application of fertilizer as heavy spring feeding encourages fast green-up and a flush of succulent growth that is more vulnerable to fungus diseases. The heavier applications of fertilizer should be made in September and October, at which time it promotes good root development, which will, in turn, produce lush green grass in the spring. To remove the guesswork as to the amount of nutrients to apply, consider having the soil tested. Call or stop at the Extension Office to get an information sheet and a soil sample bag.
Finally, don't be too anxious to apply a pre-emergent chemical to kill crabgrass and other annual weeds. Wait to apply the pre-emergent chemical until about two weeks before the crabgrass normally germinates. Crabgrass begins to germinate when the soil temperature is about 55 degrees, which is usually around Memorial Day.
Warm spots, like those along driveways or sidewalks and on the south sides of buildings, may encourage germination a little earlier.
Unless your entire lawn has been infested with crabgrass, consider applying the chemical only in those areas where you have had a crabgrass problem. There is no need to use excess chemical by treating the entire yard.
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