It's that time of the year when we suddenly start thinking about lawn care again.
The grass is beginning to grow again, and so are the weeds. And the brown patches are even more noticeable against the new, fresh green growth.
There are some fairly simple ways to encourage grass to grow lush and green, and to discourage the weeds from doing the same thing.
You might think that the spring is a good time to spread fertilizer on your lawn. However, according to an online fact sheet issued by the extension service of Virginia Tech, this is actually the opposite of recommended practices for existing fescue and bluegrass lawns. The proper time to feed grass is in the fall, when the roots that will sustain the plants through the following summer are actively growing.
Even if the fall feeding was missed, any spring feeding should be limited to a light feeding (1/2 pound of actual nitrogen, i.e., 5 pounds of 10-10-10, per 1000 sq. ft.) after the initial flush of growth has subsided, probably sometime in May or early June. You can read the entire helpful text here: http://www.ext.vt.edu/ Click on "Educational Programs & Resources" and then on "Home Gardening". You can find a direct link from my web site when you find this column under "The Plant Man" at www.landsteward.org
However, you can apply lime in the spring, if you have had a soil test and the result shows that it is necessary. Most lawn grasses grow best at soil pH's of 6.0 to 7.0. The test results would also indicate how much or how little lime to apply.
If you spread grass seed in the fall (the recommended season), you will probably find that you still need to fill in a few sparse patches at this time of year. Seed sown at this time of year should have a good chance of growing successfully if it is watered and cared for from now on through the heat of summer.
When it comes to watering, there is a lot of misunderstanding as well as disagreement about when and how much to water a lawn.
Organic lawn care guru Paul Wheaton says, "Water infrequently. This will force your grass roots to go deep into the soil. Deeper than most weed roots. As the top few inches of soil becomes bone dry, the weeds and weed seedlings up there die while the grass still enjoys water from a little deeper." You can find the complete article here https://richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp and again there's a direct link you can click on at my web site.
Wheaton also states that shallow, frequent watering encourages "thatch", that weedy tangle of stuff around the base of your blades of grass. "Weeds and weed seedlings looooove a daily watering," says Wheaton. "It's just what they need for a good start."
How can you tell when your lawn needs watering?
Get on your knees, if necessary, and take a close look at the blades of grass. Don't worry about what the neighbors think. You can always say – truthfully – you're communing with nature. Is your grass getting a curly look? The grass will start to curl before it turns brown. When it starts to curl, that is the best time to water.
A sprinkler is still the best way to water a lawn, in my opinion. However, I recommend using a soaker hose to water shrubs, so as to avoid disturbing the soil that surrounds them.
There are a couple of ways to tell when it's time to turn off the water. If the water is falling onto soil, pick up a handful of soil from about three inches below the surface. If you can squeeze it into a tight ball and it stays "ball-shaped," then you've provided enough water. Wheaton suggests a less messy method: Place a cup in your sprinkler zone and make sure it gets at least an inch of water.
Another handy watering tip: Turn off the water at a point that you estimate is about half way through the required process. Wait about an hour or an hour and a half, and turn the water on again. The water is more likely to soak into the pre-moistened soil rather than run off the hard surface.
Mowing is another controversial subject! However, for healthy grass and fewer weeds, I agree with the experts who recommend setting your mower blades on "high"... no lower that three inches (or even four inches). Grass that is cut low and frequently has to force itself to grow faster to push up green blades, using photosynthesis to convert sunlight to sugar. Additionally, short grass is more susceptible to pests and disease.
Consider adding interest to your lawn by planting beds of unusual, attractive shrubs, such as Brilliantissima (Aronia arbutifolia) or Aaronsbeard St. Johnswort (Hypericum calycinum). If you're having trouble locating them at your garden center, drop me an e-mail and I'll try to help.