University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Plan Ahead for Spring Lawn Care

February 17, 2000

Over the next several weeks, snows will gradually melt away and attention returns to home lawn care. It's still very early for actual activities, but plans for spring lawn care can be made now. Spring lawn care is important, as early season care has a big impact on lawns.

One of the first things that should be done to the lawn in early spring is removal of debris that has accumulated over the winter. Wait until the soil has dried out somewhat, however, as working on a soggy turf can be detrimental. Raking the turf will remove matted accumulations of dead grass, but will do little for thatch problems. True thatch cannot be readily raked out by hand, but requires power equipment. Aerifying is the best way to deal with thatch.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not helpful to apply large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer first thing in the spring. While fertilizing turfgrasses in spring is beneficial, it needs to be done in moderation. Heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer in the spring can cause serious lawn problems. March is not the time for fertilizing, wait until the lawn has been mowed a few times before fertilizing, typically very late April or early May.

Choose a quality lawn fertilizer that contains controlled release, slow-release, or water insoluble nitrogen. All of these terms refer to nitrogen sources that will release small amounts of nitrogen to the turf over an extended period of time, which leads to more uniform and healthy lawn growth. These materials are especially important to use in spring.

Another common question in spring is when to apply crabgrass herbicides to the lawn. Crabgrass generally begins germinating around the middle of May, so a target date of about May 1 is usually accurate. If early April is warmer than normal, move this target date up into late April. Preemergence crabgrass herbicides need to be put down prior to crabgrass germination to work, so it's better to apply slightly early rather than too late, but don't put them on in March. Many preemergence crabgrass herbicides come mixed with fertilizer.

Spring also is a popular time for seeding new lawns, although it is not the most favorable time. If it can be delayed, early fall is actually the optimum time because the upcoming weather conditions are more favorable for the new turf and weed pressure is much less. Spring seeding can certainly work out very well, but oftentimes hot weather sets in before the new lawn is well established. If starting a new lawn in spring, try to seed it by mid-April.


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