Lily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag
ECO-FRIENDLY TIPS FOR EARLY SPRING LAWN CARE
Spring is finally here and you are excited to get outside to enjoy the warmer weather. You see that the snow has melted and uncovered a sad-looking lawn crying for a clean-up. Your excitement wanes as you realize yard work season has begun. As most of us dread yard work, starting early in the spring can actually make your lawn easier to maintain throughout the summer. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Rake Leaves and Debris
First things first, raking up dead leaves and debris is a must. It can be tempting to want to skip this step and hope the leaves would somehow decompose, but they can actually smother the grass and inhibit growth. Even if there are no leaves, raking removes the layer of dead grass that has accumulated over the winter.
Another unpleasant task in yard work is cleaning up feces from neighborhood dogs. While it is tempting to just leave it there, when left to decay, it can be toxic as bacteria and viruses can seep into the soil and water table. It's best to remove dog feces as soon as you spot it.
While raking, it's also a good idea to remove any pinecones because they do not break down easily. Better yet, you can save a few for winter decorations next year. It's an eco-friendly way to decorate and something we hope to continue every Christmas.
Aerate Soil if Necessary
Aerating the lawn is simply a fancy name for poking holes in the grass to allow water and air to penetrate the soil and reach the roots. You can rent a lawn aerator at most hardware stores or you can make your own lawn aerator shoes using scrap wood and nails. Simply strap the shoes on and walk over your lawn. If you have a small lawn, then poking holes using a garden fork by hand might be a good option without getting too exhausted.
Typically, spring is not the ideal time for aeration but under certain circumstances, it may be necessary. For example, if you see bald spots or spots where the soil is quite hard, these are areas that would benefit from aeration. When left as is, the existing grass may not be able to grow.
Otherwise, aeration is often discouraged during this time because the holes provide a perfect spot for weeds to germinate. Weeds, especially crabgrass, are the first seeds to germinate, and aerating the lawn stirs them up and gives them an ideal home. Some tips to prevent crabgrass growth are discussed next.
Prevent Crabgrass Growth
If your lawn had a crabgrass problem previously, it's likely to reoccur again this year. Here's why. The actual crabgrass plant dies on its own each year in the fall. However, the seeds it produces remain on the lawn, ready to germinate the following spring. As a result, the cycle starts all over again, year after year. The best time to tackle crabgrass is early spring before the seeds germinate.
An eco-friendly solution is to apply corn gluten meal on the lawn, which acts as a natural pre-emergent to prevent the seeds from germinating. However, timing is everything when applying a pre-emergent. It must be done when crabgrass has not yet emerged. If applied too late, the pre-emergent actually helps the crabgrass grow by acting as a fertilizer. Once crabgrass appears, it propagates very quickly and before you know it, your entire lawn can look as if it was completely taken over by crabgrass. Hand pulling is best to get rid of crabgrass once it has emerged, but when there are hundreds of them, it can be unmanageable.
If you plan on growing new grass anytime soon by over-seeding, then the timing of the pre-emergent application is especially important. Not only will the pre-emergent inhibit crabgrass seeds, but it will also inhibit new grass seeds from germinating as well. It is best to wait at least 6 weeks after the pre-emergent application before over-seeding.
When you have bald spots on your lawn, overseeding with new grass seeds is an effective way to repair your lawn. Late spring is an ideal time to overseed as it gives your lawn a chance to break down any pre-emergent that may have been applied previously.
Once you have over-seeded the problem areas, it's a good idea to rake in a thin layer of enriched soil over the seeds to help them settle. Until the seeds germinate, you may want to put reflective pinwheels to deter birds from eating the grass seeds.
Keeping the soil consistently moist and watering once or twice a day until the seedlings have reached the height of the rest of the lawn is equally important.
When it's time to cut the grass, leaving the clippings on the lawn can be beneficial. This is known as grasscycling, where the grass clippings decompose back into the soil. Not only is it eco-friendly as you are not putting clippings into landfills, grasscycling releases water and nutrients back into the lawn, helping it grow greener and healthier.
If you have a small lawn, try opting for a manual push mower rather than a gas or electric one. It is much more environmentally friendly and quieter too. A push mower essentially cuts your grass like a pair of scissors. So if you don't mind the extra workout, give it a try. It's relatively inexpensive and does not take too much space in your shed. We have one and as long as you sharpen the blades once in a while, it's quite easy to use.
There you have it...
The key to a healthier lawn is starting early. Raking leaves and debris might not sound fun, but giving your lawn some tender, loving care can create a more enjoyable outdoor space to relax. To get more helping hands, or feet, in this case of lawn aerator shoes, try getting your kids involved. Kids will not only find it fun poking holes in the ground with shoes, it's a great way for them to burn off energy. Of course, they would have to be careful not to hurt themselves.
If you have a crabgrass problem (or dandelion), a natural pre-emergent like corn gluten meal is a good way to go. But remember, timing is important if you want to also plan to grow new grass. When it comes time to mow, save yourself time and just leave the grass clippings on the lawn. Hope you enjoyed these helpful tips!
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