Extension Educator, Horticulture
Besides providing a wonderful place to watch the clouds, lawn areas add beauty to our landscapes; can accent our flowerbeds; control erosion, dust and mud; and moderate soil temperatures. A quality lawn adds to the value of our homes and provides us with a safe place to play sports. Croquet is really tough to play on asphalt.
As most lawn grass starts to green this spring, some areas may continue to look like straw. Rather than just loading up on green spray paint, Spring is a good time to evaluate your lawn conditions and start corrective procedures.
Many lawns can be greatly enhanced just by changing the management practices. Improper management includes mowing turf too short, improper fertilizing and watering. Pesticides are often used as band aids to turf problems rather than evaluating and correcting management practices. Lawns that will respond the best to management improvements should already have a few basics such as acceptable grass species for the area and use, adequate density of grass plants, acceptable soil conditions, adequate light and small quantities of perennial grassy weeds.
If improving management practices aren't enough, then consider replanting the lawn. Select the proper grass species for your conditions of use, environment and management level. All grass seed is not the sam,e and it is not just a matter of sun or shade mixes.
Lawns can be seeded from late March through April. However, the prime time for seeding a new lawn is from August 15 to September 15. There is generally less competition from weed seeds in late summer seedings. Also spring-seeded lawns my not have an extensive root system before summer heat becomes a problem. Spring seeded lawns may require regular irrigation during hot dry periods.
According to Tom Voigt, Extension turfgrass specialist with the University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, two factors are critical for successful grass seedings. First be sure the seed is in good contact with the soil. Lightly raking and rolling bare soil after seeding is recommended. If you are just trying to thicken an existing lawn, use a slit seeder or another type of machine such as a vertical mower to get the seed down in the soil. Seed scattered over existing turf is just expensive bird seed. Voigt provides tips on other spring lawn activities:
Mow lawn frequently so as not to remove more than one third of the grass blade at any one mowing. Most lawn grasses should be mowed to between two to three inches tall.
Clippings do not have to be removed from the lawn unless they remain visible for 24 hours after mowing.
The first full fertilizer application of the season should be applied the first two weeks in May. Use a fertilizer with an analysis ratio of 3-1-2, 4-1-2, or 5-1-2.
Dethatching, power raking, and core cultivation should be done when the lawn grass is actively growing usually during late April or May. What you don't need to do in the spring is apply grub control products. In the spring the annual and true white grubs are relatively large and difficult to control. Soon the grubs will be pupating to eventually become June bugs. Also in the spring, the turf is usually growing rapidly and would normally outgrow most of the damage from grubs. Sometimes on golf courses, populations of the black turgfgrass ataenius grubs may be high enough to warrant control.
When grub control is considered necessary, insecticides should be applied during the mid summer through early autumn period following egg hatch.
For more information on lawns contact the Champaign Extension Unit for Horticulture Fact Sheets TG-1 Selecting a Turf; TG-8 Turfgrass Improvement; TG-12 Turfgrass Cultivar Recommendations, and TG-13 Turfgrass Maintenance Calendar.