- With warm weather finally starting to become the norm, people are inching to clean up their lawns.
"In particular, at this time of year, people are really eager to get going with lawn care, but timing is important," says St. Clair College Horticulture Faculty Sandy MacDonald.
He suggests a few timely pointers to get started:
- While many people are eager to feed their lawns at the first sign of green grass blades, MacDonald says right now it is a bit early to fertilize (feed) lawns. "Especially if you fed the turf in the fall, it should be able to perform really well until into later May," says MacDonald. "I actually prefer to wait until June, provided the turf is still a healthy green and growing actively." If you did not feed in the fall, he says you could apply fertilizer in a couple of weeks' time. Slow Release - or now more preferably named - Controlled Release, is the best choice. "This type can save you time, provides extended nutrition and is kinder to the environment," says MacDonald. He reminds to always follow the package details for application amounts over specific areas.
- For lawns showing some flattened turf areas and damage from various snow moulds, MacDonald says moderately vigorous raking will be beneficial. "If there is over a few centimeters of thatch present – that compacted mat of dead grass blades between the green shoots and the soil – you may want to rake more vigorously," suggests MacDonald. This can be fine for a small lawn area, but larger areas may need the attention of a mechanical de-thatcher, which he says you may rent or hire a firm to take on this task for you. "The best time for de-thatching and seeding is actually September or October – once we get fall rains and the turf becomes vigorous again – but for many, it is hard to resist doing lawn maintenance after enduring a long cold winter," says MacDonald.
- It is a good time to aerate if you have a compacted lawn, says MacDonald. "Many Windsor area soils are quite heavy and compaction can reduce the health and vigour of your lawn," he explains. "The core aerators will extract plugs from the lawn and these can be left on the turf. I like to rake over them a bit when they dry, to allow some soil to spread over the turf." MacDonald says topdressing with a light layer of sandy loam topsoil or compost can be done now, too.
- Rolling lawns is almost always a bad practice, says MacDonald. "It is popularly done, but leads to compaction, particularly on clay soils," he explains. "It really does not even out the lawn surface that much and it is much better to aerate and topdress and then rake the lawn to even out surface imperfections. It may take a few seasons to even out the very lumpy lawn."
- Many people are also really eager to sow grass seed right away, but MacDonald says it is a bit early for this practice, too. "Once we have consistent night temperatures above 10 C, we can have speedy seed germination," he says. "It may be a couple of weeks from now for the optimal seeding time." MacDonald says you can sow earlier, but the seed will not germinate until the time is right. "If planted too early, it becomes more susceptible to being washed away by heavy rains or eaten by some friendly birds," he says. Topdressing and seeding are great partners. While many people just throw seed on the top of the existing lawn and expect a lush carpet, he says roughing up the soil a bit by raking, or combining the seeding with the aeration, dethatching or topdressing is much better. "Grass seed should never dry out once sown," he says.
- Finally, MacDonald says there are really no chemical preventatives for crabgrass available to the homeowner, but this is the time of year you could apply corn gluten as a semi-preventative. "It is not inexpensive, but it will suppress some of the crabgrass germination and you do get the benefit of it providing some nutrition for your lawn," he explains. "On smaller lawns and with regular applications, it may be practical, but remember, it will suppress your desirable grass seed germination too. Be sure not to apply it if you are sowing seed this spring."
Moderately vigorous raking will be beneficial.