Your lawn care needs this spring are influenced by how well the lawn was cared for last fall, explained David Chalmers, Professor and SDSU Extension Turfgrass Associate.
So where to start? Chalmers said lawnmower maintenance is a good place to start.
"Get that mower working before the grass begins to grow," he said. "Lawn mower blades need to be sharpened at least once a season to ensure a good quality of cut which minimizes leaf shredding from mowing with dull blades. That promotes better lawn health and helps reduce fungal disease. Get that blade sharpened and the mower tuned up now so it's ready to go."
To beat the rush on lawn mower service providers he recommends homeowners take their mowers in for maintenance sooner than later. "The folks that service power equipment get real busy when the grass starts to grow."
A well maintained riding lawn mower will not only perform better with regular maintenance, but it will cut easier and last longer.
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How often do I need to mow?
Some call it a rule and some call it a guide, but the consensus to maintain good turf health, Chalmers said, is to at least mow often enough to remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf height in any one mowing. "If your mower is set to cut at 3 inches then mowing prior to reaching 4 1/2 inches is the goal."
The less clippings removed at each mowing:
- The more leaf area left on the plant to maintain healthy top growth;
- The better able the turf is to sustain good root growth;
- The easier it is to have the clippings filter into the existing turf whether clippings are returned to the lawn using a mulching mower or a side discharge mower; and
- The less likely for clippings to clump together.
Helpful Mowing Tips
- Keep the mower blades sharp to get a clean cut and to more effectively mulch if you have a mulching mower. Dull lawn mower blades can tear at the blades of grass and leave shredded ends which can discolor the overall appearance of the lawn and provide greater entry points for disease pathogens.
- Mow when the grass is dry. Wet grass clings to the mower housing and clumps on the turf. Wet clippings also do not filter through the turf canopy as easily as dry clippings.
- Grass clippings are about 80 percent water by weight and dried clippings contain 2 to 5 percent nitrogen by weight and include other nutrients. When clippings are continually removed from a lawn, the benefits associated with on-site nutrient and organic matter cycling from grass clippings are missing.
- Mow at a reasonable ground speed to get a good clean cut on the lawn.
- Regularly clean out the mower housing of grass buildup. It is more of a problem from mowing the grass when wet.
Lawn care products
The garden centers are now stocked up with fertilizers and weed control products for spring. But how do you know which product to choose? First, Chalmers said, make certain to measure the lawn. "Lawn care products are recommended by the manufacturers in amounts to apply per 1,000-square-feet of lawn area."
Spring fertilizer application
Granular fertilizer products may state how much of the product to apply on the label. This helps the novice quite a bit in knowing how much fertilizer to buy. Often it will state "this bag will cover 5,000 square feet of lawn area." Using that recommendation will apply a good rate of spring fertilizer," Chalmers said.
He suggested homeowners apply between 3/4 and 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000-square-foot. For those who did not apply fertilizer in the fall Chalmers said this spring application is certainly needed for moderate to high maintenance lawns.
"So, go ahead and buy your fertilizer at any time but wait until you have mowed the lawn a few times before making the application. The only way to know if your lawn needs phosphorus or potassium is to get your soil tested," he said.
Careful fertilizer application is important, because Chalmers reminds homeowners that careless fertilizer application to paved or hard surfaces can result in nitrogen and phosphorus off-site movement toward surface and ground waters.
Crabgrass – One common weed and feed is used on established lawns to control crabgrass as it germinates. If crabgrass was a problem last year, Chalmers said the best way to control it this year is with a spring applied crabgrass-type herbicides. These pre-emergence products need to be applied before crabgrass spouts so that is usually before lilac blooms in South Dakota, which is typically the last week of April to May 1.
"Remember these types of crabgrass & fertilizer products will also kill any new lawn seeding made this spring as well. If you need to plant grass this spring avoid the crabgrass weed & feed products, or crabgrass controls alone that are not labeled for new seeding," Chalmers said.
Broadleaf weeds – Garden center broad leaf weed control products for home consumers typically contain mixtures of 2 to 3 herbicides to provide more control across a diverse amount of weed types than products formulated with only one herbicide.
When applying granular products for broadleaf weed control, like dandelion, on established lawns, it needs to be applied to moist weed leaf blades from dew or watering so the herbicide can stick to the weed leaves and be taken up for good control.
Foliar spray applied products often provide more consistent control than granular products for this reason, Chalmers explained. "Just be certain to apply spray applications when the wind is down to avoid spray drift to sensitive plants. Always read the product labels for weeds controlled, rates to apply and safety precautions. Follow all label directions when making any pesticide application," he said.
Spring Planted Grass Seed
Get ready now to establish a new lawn or to overseed to renovate your existing lawn or patches in mid to late April. The earlier you can get this done, Chalmers said, the better the grass will grow-in before summer stress.
The choice will be to do it yourself or have a landscaper do the work. If you plan to use a landscape contractor contact them as soon as possible to get on their schedule, as it is their busy time of year. The cooler spring weather often makes controlling weeds prior to planting a slow process. Also, he said, spring rains keep the soil wet and can delay any tillage that might be needed.
"Some of the summer annual weeds like crabgrass are likely to invade spring plantings and controlling crabgrass in a seedling turf takes more specialized products designed for that purpose. One such product is the crabgrass herbicide that carries the trade name Tupersan (the active ingredient is called siduron), Chalmers said.
Many broadleaf weed control products are labeled for application to a new seeding after the turf has matured to be mowed a few times. Yet, he said there are some specialty products that are exceptions and provide more flexibility for weed control in newly seeded lawns.
To learn more about lawncare, visit iGrow.org.