As we get to the middle of May, the time for your spring lawn care activities is quickly coming to a close, although the unusually cold weather has put most people behind schedule on their lawn work.
I will confess that my lawn suffers because of my vegetable gardening. It seems both activities need the most attention at the same time. Our cold spring has slowed the gardening down and given us a little leeway on the lawn, but on a normal year, the lawn work should ideally be done in April.
Aeration is a good place to start. Aeration allows more water to pass into the soil, reduces soil compaction and increases air exchange. It also allows any fertilizer you add to more readily reach the root system where it is needed most. Improving air, water and nutrient movement through the soil during this time will increase root mass and greatly improve the chances for cool-season grasses to survive the heat and drought of summer.
Local rental stores or garden centers will usually have aeration equipment. Machines that force hollow tines into the soil are better than pull-type drums with spoon tines. Not all machines will meet these specifications; however any amount of aeration is better than no aeration.
De-thatching is another step to consider. Thatch, or the matted accumulation of organic debris between grass blades and roots, can cause dead patches in turf and open spaces for weeds to grow. Inspect the lawn for a 1-inch layer of thatch. Use a thatching rake or power de-thatcher to remove thatch. Afterward, the lawn will look terrible for a time, but it'll recover better than ever.
Fertilizing is another step in spring lawn care. As rapid spring growth begins to slow, fertilizing can begin. There are several types of fertilizer available. Most fertilizers available to homeowners are the quick release types. This means the nutrients are readily available to the grass when applied. Fertilizers come with recommended rates of application. Knowing the square footage of your lawn will be helpful in buying the right amount and making sure you are applying the proper amount. Fertilizing is the part that needs to be done early, so if you can't get at it right away, maybe put the following suggestions on next year's list.
Of course, weeds are going to be a big part of any lawn care project. When caring for your lawn and trying to keep it weed-free, the saying that "the best defense is a good offense" holds true. Weeds are opportunistic and invade weakened lawns, thus the best weapon to fight weeds is a dense, healthy stand of grass. There are several good management practices that give lawns a fighting chance against weeds, such as planting the appropriate grass for a particular location, re-seeding bare areas in the fall, proper fertilizing, proper mowing (3-4 inches tall) and proper watering. The height of mowing influences competition against weeds such as crabgrass; the higher the cut, the lower the crabgrass infestation.
Spring watering should not be a frequent practice if we have normal spring rains. Frequent light sprinkling encourages shallow-rooted weed seed germination.
Crabgrass can be a major concern in our area. Crabgrass is a summer annual grassy weed. It is a course, textured grass that germinates in the spring and grows well throughout the heat of the summer. Its wide leaf blades, heat tolerance and prostrate growth habit make it an eyesore in the lawn and allow it to smother desirable turf grasses.
Now that we have a plan, I better get busy on the lawn — right after I do some gardening.
By the way, mid-May is the time to plant summer squash, if the garden is dry enough.
Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]