University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article
line
SPRING LAWN CARE

 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Your lawn has just survived another long winter.  In order to restore it to its former green glory, it will need to be raked, renovated, repaired, fertilized, and then mowed properly.
          
First, if starting a new lawn, make sure there is good drainage.  You cannot grow grass in standing water.  Drainage may consist of ditches or, if underground, drainage pipe or tiles.  Then rough grade the area.
           
Add six inches of topsoil, if needed, for new lawns and depressions in established ones.  A normal, well-drained soil may be adequate if fertilized appropriately.   If not a fertile or well-drained soil, add organic matter.  Figure on three bales of peat moss per 1,000 square feet, or the equivalent of other product such as compost.  Then mix it thoroughly into the top six inches of soil. If poorly drained, you may need to add sand or even bury perforated plastic drain pipes.
           
You may need to add limestone if the soil acidity or pH is below 6.0.  To find out, you can do a soil test either with inexpensive kits from garden stores, or a more in-depth test from your state university.  Kits for the latter are available at many garden outlets, and Extension offices.  These university results are much more accurate than the home kits, and give you results on various fertility needs as well as recommendations.  Soil testing can save you money by not applying fertilizer that’s not needed, which in turn can help prevent any runoff pollution.
           
Prepare a smooth seedbed free of stones, hollows, and ridges for new lawns.  Raking off the old leaves, sticks, and other winter debris gives your existing lawn a chance to breathe, as well as makes it easier to repair and reseed worn or dead spots (or those areas scraped by winter snow plowing).
           
Broadcast a complete fertilizer, or one of the commercially mixed fertilizers specific to lawns.  Use enough to supply two pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  This translates, for example, to 10 pounds of 20-0-12 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) or 20 pounds of 10-0-10.  Or use 15 to 20 pounds of the organic 6-0-6.  Since phosphorus (the middle number) is often present in sufficient amounts, and restricted for lawn application in some areas due to water pollution concerns, many lawn fertilizers no longer contain it. 
           
Uniform fertilizer application at the proper rate is essential for good end results.  If you are using a spreader, follow the setting on the fertilizer bag or ask your lawn and garden dealer for the proper setting.
           
If you are reseeding or sodding the lawn, the earlier you do it in the spring the better.  Remember to prepare the seedbed well, and water the lawn thoroughly.  A less frequent, heavy soaking of the lawn is better than frequent, light watering, but don't let the germinating seeds dry out initially.
           
When reseeding, choose the right mix for your growing conditions.  Zoysia, for example, is not a good choice for northern New England as it will turn brown in cool weather.  A common good mix may have Kentucky bluegrass, a fine fescue such as red fescue, and a perennial ryegrass.  The latter grows quickly, so is good to overseed worn areas or to use in areas with lots of wear, as are the newer tall fescues.  Kentucky bluegrass prefers sunny lawns in good soil, while fine fescues tolerate some shade. 
           
Broadcast seeds with a mechanical spreader using three or four pounds per 1,000 square feet.  Any more than that is wasteful.  Rake the seedbed lightly, using just the tips of the rake teeth.  Go over the area with a lawn roller if convenient.  Sprinkle the soil gently, and keep it moist until the seeds germinate.
                 
Mow once the grass starts to grow.  Grass kept at a height of two to three inches can withstand heat stress better than closely cropped grass.  This mowing height encourages deep rooting, so you don't have to water or fertilize as often.
           
Be aware that if you are using a combination fertilizer and herbicide, this may be taken up by any tree and shrub roots under the lawn, and injure them, too.  If you use residual weed killers that linger in the soil to prevent future weed growth, these may kill many soil microorganisms.  This sometimes results in poorer soil, and thus, poorer lawn growth and vigor.
           
If applying weed killers, be sure to properly identify your weed problem before you select an herbicide.  Then select the least toxic product for the job, looking at application rates and potential toxicity to plants, animals, and humans.  Read and follow all label directions carefully.  Always use these products judiciously to avoid contamination of water supplies and lakes, streams, and other surface waters.
           
Lawn pests, such as chinch bugs and Japanese beetle grubs, can be a problem in northern New England.  The often advertised milky spore product is not very effective on soil grubs in cool climates.  Instead, you should check into beneficial nematode products for these pests, or seeds enhanced with “endophytes” – beneficial fungi that help provide some pest resistance.
           
A healthy lawn is the best cure for weeds and pests.  If problems occur, such as insects and diseases, check with your local garden center for answers.  Also check with your local Extension Master Gardeners, as some states have hotlines for questions (1-800-639-2230 in Vermont, or master.gardener@uvm.edu).  For special lawn treatments such as vertical cutting, dethatching, or coring to reduce soil compaction, you might consult a lawn care professional.
 

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