Month-to-Month Illinois Lawn Care Schedule

lawn in front of a house in illinois

Maintaining a lush and healthy lawn in Illinois can be challenging due to the freezing winters and hot summers. This guide provides a simple, monthly Illinois lawn care schedule, from prepping your spring lawn to winterizing it, to help you achieve a thriving lawn throughout the year.

In Illinois, maintaining a lawn can be more challenging due to the state experiencing a wide range of weather conditions, from icy, cold winters to hot, humid summers. Whether you’re tending to cool-season grasses in northern and central Illinois or warm-season grasses in the southern region, a detailed monthly lawn care plan is essential.

Illinois lawn care schedule

Note that northern and central Illinois have cool-season grasses like tall fescue, fine fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass mixed with perennial ryegrass, while southern Illinois’s warmer climate allows warm-season grass, like Zoysia, to thrive. The timing of some tasks will vary based on where you’re located and the type of grass in your yard.

SeasonLawn Care Tasks
Early spring (March to April)• Check for winter damage
• Prep lawn care tools
Spring (April to June)• Begin spring cleanup
• Prep your irrigation system
• Apply pre-emergent herbicide
• Watch for lawn diseases
• First mow of spring
• Dethatch your lawn (southern Illinois only)
Summer (June to September)• Set up mowing schedule
• Water lawn correctly
• Monitor lawn for problems
• Summer fertilizer (southern Illinois only)
Early fall (September to October)• Rake the leaves
• Aerate (southern Illinois do in spring)
• Test soil (southern Illinois do in spring)
• Apply fall fertilizer (north and central Illinois)
• Overseed bare spots (southern Illinois do in spring)
Late fall (October to November)• Store lawn tools
• Winterize irrigation system
Winter (December to February)• Manage the snow
• Minimize foot traffic
• Be careful with holiday decorations

Early spring (March to April)

When the snow melts in early spring, revealing your yard, it’s an excellent time to evaluate any winter damage to your lawn and assess the health of your grass as it emerges from winter dormancy. Additionally, ensure your lawn care tools are prepared for the upcoming season.

Check for winter damage

Early in the spring, you should inspect your lawn for signs of damage, especially if you didn’t winterize your lawn. Look for areas of the lawn that may have been compacted by snow or ice and may show signs of distress, like snow mold, as the lawn wakes up from its winter nap.

You should also check for signs of common spring lawn pests, particularly from voles. These small mammals create runways beneath the snow, which can lead to visible damage on your lawn. However, damage from voles in your yard usually recovers during spring growth.

Prep lawn care tools

inspection of a weed eater
Casey Fleser | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

With spring approaching, it’s time to prepare your essential lawn care tools for the season. Proper maintenance can increase their lifespan and improve performance. Begin by inspecting your tools, charging batteries, replacing worn parts, and cleaning equipment like your mower and trimmer. Tools that are sharp and clean not only make your work easier but also contribute to the health of your lawn.

  • Inspect your trimmer: Check the physical condition of your trimmer for any noticeable wear and tear. Make sure the trimmer line is not frayed or broken, and if necessary, replace the weed eater string. Also, test the trimmer to ensure it’s working properly.
  • Charge the batteries: Ensure your lawn mower’s batteries are fully charged for the upcoming mowing season. Check the battery’s charge level frequently and replace it if it’s not holding a charge as it should.
  • Inspect the tires: Inspect your mower’s tires for any damage, such as punctures or worn treads. If the tires are deflated, inflate them to the correct pressure. Replace any overly worn or damaged tires.
  • Clean the mower: Remove any grass clippings, dirt, or debris from both the deck and underside of the mower. Make sure the air intake, exhaust areas, and oil and fuel caps are clean. Doing this not only maintains the mower but also helps prevent lawn damage.
  • Replace spark plugs: Start with removing, cleaning, and checking the spark plugs. Replace them if they’re worn or damaged. Use high-quality spark plugs for a reliable mower start and smooth operation.
  • Empty and refill fuel: Drain the old fuel from your mower and replace it with fresh fuel. Stale fuel can lead to starting issues and may block the carburetor. As a good practice, empty the fuel tank at the end of every mowing season and use fresh fuel when spring arrives.
  • Inspect the air filter: Check if the air filter is clean and unblocked. A dirty air filter can reduce the mower’s performance and cause it to consume more fuel. If the air filter is dirty or damaged, replace it with a new one.
  • Sharpen the blades: Sharp mower blades create clean cuts, while dull blades tear the grass, resulting in ragged edges that can make your lawn prone to pests and diseases. Regularly sharpen your mower blades to ensure they cut the grass cleanly and efficiently.

Spring (April to June)

Spring has officially sprung, native Illinois wildflowers are blooming and it’s time to shift focus to the specific lawn care tasks that will ensure your grass is in the best shape possible. Lawn disease monitoring, spring cleanup, irrigation system inspection, pre-emergent herbicide application, and the season’s first mow are all vital for a healthy, vibrant lawn.

Do your spring cleaning

Close up of a green rake with leaves trapped in the rake

Start your spring cleanup by removing any leaves, sticks, and other debris that have accumulated over the winter. This will allow sunlight to reach the grass and promote new growth. 

You have the option to hire a professional for the job. Yard cleanup usually costs between $174 and $436, with an average cost of $318. The price varies depending on the size of the property and the work needed. Many seasonal lawn care packages often include a spring cleanup.

Watch for lawn diseases

large circular brown spots on grass
Kris Lord | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Now is an excellent time to monitor your lawn for signs of common lawn diseases after the flurry of an Illinois winter. Keep an eye out for changes such as discoloration or unusual patterns, which could indicate disease. Early detection and treatment of these issues can help maintain your lawn’s health and appearance.

Pro tip: If you’re uncertain about what’s infecting your lawn, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office. An expert can help identify the issue.

  • Brown patch: A lawn disease caused by the Rhizoctonia solani fungus, brown patch usually manifests in hot, humid weather as irregular patches of damaged grass. Brown patch is often characterized by a distinctive large brown circle.
  • Dollar spot: This common lawn disease creates small round spots of tan or straw-colored grass that can merge into larger damaged areas. Dollar spot thrives in warm, moist conditions.
  • Fairy ring: A result of soil fungi, fairy rings are circles that appear in the grass, sometimes composed of mushrooms. Alternatively, the rings may be dark green or may be composed of dead or brown grass.
  • Gray snow mold: Also known as Typhula blight, gray snow mold develops underneath snow cover, showing as gray circles of a few inches to feet in diameter once the snow melts. The grass looks matted, and a cottony web of mycelium may be seen under wet conditions.
  • Leaf spot and melting out: In cool, wet weather, leaf spot and melting out, caused by various fungi, can cause patches of dead grass. Leaf spot can cause small brown spots on grass blades, potentially leading to larger patches of dead grass. This gives the lawn a “melting away” appearance, often referred to as melting out.
  • Pink snow mold: Fusarium patch, or pink snow mold, doesn’t require snow to develop. It appears as small light brown grass circles that can expand to a foot in diameter. As it advances, a pink ring may form around the patch, hence its name.
  • Powdery mildew: Grass blades are covered with white or gray spots when infected by powdery mildew, which thrives in warm, humid conditions.
  • Red thread: Most active in damp, cool weather, red thread appears as small, pink patches on the grass.

Prep your irrigation system

Before the growing season starts, it’s crucial to inspect and prepare your irrigation system. Your sprinkler system maintenance checklist should include checking the sprinkler heads for damage and appropriate alignment. Verify that the timer is set correctly and that the system operates as expected. Proper cleaning and maintenance of your sprinkler system can save you both time and money while helping to keep your lawn green and lush.

On average, sprinkler system repair costs are around $250. The majority of homeowners spend between $130 and $360. This cost is influenced by the type of system and the specific repair needs. Minor repairs could cost as little as $70, while more significant repairs can reach up to $850.

Apply pre-emergent herbicide

close-up of dandelions being sprayed with a weed killer herbicide

Applying pre-emergent herbicides in the spring can prevent common Illinois weeds, like crabgrass. The timing for applying herbicides varies between northern and southern Illinois due to differences in climate. 

  • In northern Illinois, apply pre-emergents in late spring, around April or early May. 
  • In southern Illinois, apply pre-emergents slightly earlier, in late March or early April.

Pro tip: For warm-season grass, spring is the best time to apply weed and feed in Illinois. Do this once the weeds have started to appear for effective weed control and fertilization.

Do your first mow

illustration explaining the one-third rule for mowing grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Mowing isn’t just about keeping your lawn looking neat and tidy; it can also impact the health of your grass. In Illinois, grass will start growing in April and May depending on the local temperatures. You can begin mowing when temperatures are steadily between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure you mow your lawn the right way, adhering to the 1/3 rule to avoid scalping. 

Grass typeRecommended mowing height
Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass blend2.5 to 3.5 inches
Fine fescue2.5 to 4 inches
Tall fescue2 inches
Zoysiagrass (southern Illinois)1 to 2 inches

Pro tip: While leaving grass clippings on the lawn, called grasscycling, is a great way to mulch, you should bag them the first time you mow to discourage lawn diseases.

Regular lawn mowing not only prevents weed growth but also promotes new grass growth. The average cost for professional lawn mowing services is approximately $75, with prices ranging from $35 to $100. This depends on factors such as yard size and terrain. Many local lawn care providers in Illinois offer packages that include additional services and special deals for returning customers.

Dethatch your lawn (southern Illinois)

illustration explaining thatch on grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Once the threat of frost has passed, spring is the best time to dethatch a warm-season lawn in Illinois. Dethatching is the process of removing the layer of dead grass and organic matter that builds up between the soil surface and the green grass blades. It allows water, nutrients, and air to reach the soil more easily, which promotes healthier grass.

  • In northern Illinois, for cool-season lawns, dethatching should be done in late August.
  • In southern Illinois, the final frost typically happens around late March. Dethatch after the lawn starts to green-up but not before.

Pro Tip: Kentucky bluegrass (KBG) and fine fescues are the only cool-season grasses that produce significant thatch. If you have a KBG or fine fescue lawn, dethatch in early fall if the thatch level reaches 1/2 inch or more.

Summer (June to August)

Summer lawn care in Illinois varies based on your location and grass type. All Illinois lawns need regular mowing, watering, weed control, and pest monitoring. However, warm-season lawns in southern Illinois will benefit from summer fertilization, while cool-season grasses in north and central Illinois should be fertilized in the fall. Regardless of location, taking into account local weather, grass type, and soil health is key to a lush lawn

Setup mowing schedule

During the summer, regular mowing is essential for maintaining a healthy lawn. Follow the recommended mowing height for your type of grass to avoid scalping. Raising your mowing height by ½ to 1 inch can help keep the soil cooler and prevent it from drying out. Knowing when not to mow your lawn is also important. Try to avoid mowing on extremely hot days or when the lawn is wet.

Water lawn correctly

lawn sprinkler

Proper watering is crucial during the summer months. When and how you water your lawn can make a difference. Illinois lawns typically need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, either from rainfall or watering. Water deeply and infrequently early in the morning to encourage deep root growth and prevent water loss due to evaporation. Remember, overwatering can lead to diseases and weaken your lawn’s root system.

Monitor the lawn for problems

Stay alert for signs of pests, diseases, or weeds in your lawn. Indications such as brown patches, bare spots, or unusual colors could signal underlying issues. Early detection can make treatment more effective and prevent common lawn problems from escalating into major damage to your yard.

  • Regular inspection: Take a walk around your lawn regularly to search for brown spots or bare patches that may indicate stress.
  • Pest and disease check: Stay vigilant for common summer pests such as chinch bugs and grubs. Additionally, look for indications of diseases, such as grass discoloration, withering, and the presence of mushrooms.
  • Soil moisture: Ensure your grass gets enough water by routinely checking the soil’s moisture level. You can use a screwdriver for this task. If it inserts easily, it indicates that your soil is not compacted, a sign of a well-watered lawn. Aerating your yard can also cure compacted soil.
  • Weed control: If Illinois weeds like spurge or dandelions appear in your lawn despite applying pre-emergent herbicides in the spring, you may need to take additional measures. In such cases, consider using post-emergent herbicides.

Fertilize your lawn (southern Illinois only)

Fertilizer for grass

In southern Illinois, applying fertilizer in summer can help maintain a lush lawn. Fertilizer provides essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The soil test results will guide you on the best type of fertilizer for your grass

Use caution, as excessively hot or dry conditions can lead to fertilizer burn, particularly with quick-release fertilizers. Therefore, slow-release fertilizer is recommended.

Pro Tip: Check your local fertilizer ordinances. Illinois has restrictions on the use of phosphorus fertilizers to prevent harmful runoff and the growth of algae.

Plant grass seed

Seeding your lawn at the right time is crucial to its success. The best time to plant grass seed in Illinois depends on location and type of grass chosen. For cool-season grasses, the ideal time is late summer to early fall. However, for warm-season grasses, the best time is late spring to early summer.

  • Northern Illinois: Early August to early September for cool-season grasses
  • Central Illinois: Mid-August to Mid-September for cool-season grasses
  • Southern Illinois: September for cool-season grasses, mid to late June for warm-season grasses.

Early fall (September to October)

As summer ends in Illinois, the transition to early fall indicates a crucial time for lawn care. This period is vital for preparing your lawn for the upcoming cold months. Activities such as aeration, overseeding, and fertilization aim to strengthen the grass roots and supply the required nutrients for the lawn to withstand winter.

Note: If you have warm-season grass in your lawn, like in southern Illinois, you should do your soil testing, aeration, and overseeding in the spring.

Rake the leaves

Fall leaf cleanup is essential for maintaining a healthy lawn in Illinois. Accumulated leaves can damage the grass, block sunlight, and create damp conditions conducive to lawn diseases. They can also provide a habitat for pests. Regular leaf cleanup ensures your lawn stays healthy and tidy. The best way to remove leaves is with a rake, a leaf blower, or a mulching lawn mower.

You can use fallen leaves as compost to enrich your lawn’s soil or use them as mulch in flower beds and vegetable gardens. Alternatively, various cities in Illinois, such as Naperville, Chicago, and Elgin, offer leaf collection programs. Residents can call 311 to schedule yard waste collection.

Test your soil

illustration showing the pH levels of soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Ideally, soil testing should be performed every two to three years. This practice is essential for maintaining optimal lawn growth by assessing soil health and nutrient levels. To soil test your lawn, kits are available online or at garden stores. 

For the most detailed results, local Cooperative Extension services provide in-depth soil tests with recommendations for how much fertilizer to apply.

  • In northern and central Illinois, where cool-season grasses are prevalent, soil testing should be done in early fall.
  • In southern Illinois, where warm-season grasses like Zoysia may be grown, soil testing should be done in spring.
Grass typeRecommended soil pH
Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass blend6 to 7.5
Fine fescue6 to 6.5
Tall fescue5.5 to 6.5
Zoysiagrass (southern Illinois)6 to 6.5

Apply fall fertilizer

Fertilizing your lawn should be part of your fall checklist in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Fall fertilization is crucial in Illinois, particularly for cool-season grasses, as it readies the lawn for winter. The nutrients from the best lawn fertilizers will bolster grass roots and provide necessary nourishment during the cold months.

  • In north and central Illinois, it’s recommended to fertilize cool-season grasses in early fall.
  • In southern Illinois, fertilize warm-season grasses in late spring or early summer.

Aerate your yard

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Aeration, which involves making holes in the soil, allows air, water, and nutrients to reach grass roots. This crucial step fosters a healthy lawn by loosening the soil, encouraging strong root growth and preparing your lawn for the harsh Illinois winters. This is why you should aerate your lawn, and the best time to aerate your lawn in Illinois depends on your grass type.

  • In north and central Illinois, early fall is the ideal time for cool-season lawn aeration.
  • In southern Illinois, you should aerate in late spring or early summer for warm-season grasses.

Overseed bare spots

Overseeding is the process of sowing new seeds into an existing lawn. It aims to fill bare spots, increase grass density, introduce new grass varieties (optional), and enhance lawn color. By planting more grass seeds to germinate and grow, overseeding can restore life, health, and beauty to a lawn. So, the best time to overseed your lawn in Illinois is early fall for cool-season grass and late spring or early summer for warm-season lawns.

Fall weed control

Woman hand clearing, pulling out some weed form her garden
Adobe Stock

As the seasons change and the weather cools, it’s crucial to address weed control in Illinois to ensure a healthy landscape by spring. This involves post-emergent treatments for existing weeds and pre-emergent treatments for prevention. By proactively managing these in the fall, homeowners and landscapers can achieve effective winter annual and perennial weed control.

Pro Tip: Apply pre-emergent weed control in fall when soil temps are 70 degrees and dropping.

Late fall (October to November)

As the colorful fall fades into gray skies and cooler weather, now is the time to prepare your lawn for winter, regardless of whether you’re in the cooler north and central regions or warmer southern areas. Essential tasks include storing lawn tools, winterizing irrigation systems, and preventing winter damage.

Pro tip: This is also a good time to plant bulbs or seeds for native Illinois plants in your garden beds to bloom in the spring.

Store lawn tools

In Illinois, grass typically stops growing around November. This happens when the daytime air temperature consistently falls below 50°F for cool-season grasses and below 60°F for warm-season grasses. So after your last mow of the season, it’s time to prep your tools for winter storage.

Keeping your lawn mower and lawn tools in good condition requires preparation for winter storage. This process involves removing grass and dirt to prevent rusting. It also includes draining the fuel, disconnecting spark plugs, and removing batteries. Ensure they are properly stored to extend their lifespan and prepare them for use in the spring.

Follow these steps to winterize your lawn care tools:

  • Clean your tools: Before storing your tools, clean them thoroughly to eliminate dirt, grass clippings, and other debris that might lead to rust. Ensure all crevices are cleared with a brush to remove any trapped debris; then wipe them down with a damp cloth.
  • Store any batteries: During winter, remove the lawn mower battery and store it in a dry, cool location. To ensure its longevity, keep the battery charge a little less than half and store it indoors where the temperature ranges between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Empty the fuel: Fuel can degrade over time, potentially damaging the engine. It is advisable either to run the engine until the fuel tank is empty, drain the gas, or use a fuel stabilizer.
  • Store correctly: To protect your tools from the weather, store them in a dry, covered area. Avoid humid areas to prevent rust. Ideally, keep mowers and trimmers off the ground to avoid moisture damage.

Pro tip: Your lawnmower can be completely destroyed by mice chewing on wiring and fuel hoses. Set up bait stations or traps nearby to deter rodents from nesting in your mower during winter and eliminate conditions that attract rodents.

Winterize irrigation system

Sprinkler head in grass

Preparing your sprinkler system for winter is crucial to prevent damage during freezing weather. Failing to drain the water properly could cause the system to freeze and break, leading to expensive repairs. The method of winterizing your sprinkler depends on the type of system you have. Some systems have automatic drains, while others require manual draining.

The cost to winterize an irrigation system typically ranges from $60 to $120, with an average of $90. However, homeowners with simpler systems may only need to pay $45. Conversely, those with large yards and multiple irrigation zones could face costs of up to $275.

Winter (December to February)

While your lawn is dormant during the winter months, there are steps you can take to protect your turfgrass in Illinois. Actions such as preventing snow mold, minimizing activity, and being cautious when setting up holiday decorations can reduce stress for both you and your lawn.

Manage the snow

snow on grass in a lawn
Adobe Stock

Managing snow is a crucial aspect of winter lawn care in all regions of Illinois. While it might seem beneficial to shovel snow off the grass, it can actually harm the grass blades. Therefore, it’s best to let the snow melt naturally. 

If snow removal is necessary, do it gently. Moreover, refrain from piling snow onto the same lawn area throughout winter, as it can lead to grass compaction and snow mold underneath.

In Illinois, where substantial snowfall is typical, snow removal costs for homeowners range from $50 to $140, with the average cost being around $100. For a small entryway, the cost can be as low as $25. However, for broader areas with deep snow, the cost can escalate to as much as $1,010.

Minimize foot traffic

In every corner of Illinois, it’s important to keep off the grass in winter. Walking on frosty or frozen grass can cause the blades to snap and the soil to become compacted. This makes it difficult for your lawn to recover when spring arrives. Stick to sidewalks and paver walkways in your yard to save on having to repair a damaged lawn in spring.

Setup holiday decorations with care

In Illinois, it’s important to place holiday decorations carefully to maintain the health of your lawn and trees. Avoid leaving heavy decorations in the same spot for more than two weeks to prevent unsightly patches. Also, when stringing lights, take care not to damage tree branches as this could impact their health and longevity.

FAQ: Illinois lawn care

When is the best time to mow my lawn?

The ideal time to mow grass is usually between 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning, but mowing in the evening is fine. Avoid mowing at midday as the heat could shock the plants. Always ensure the grass is dry before mowing to protect your lawn mower and avoid possibly spreading disease to healthy grass.

 Which type of fertilizer works best in the fall? 

The best type of fertilizer for your lawn depends on the results of a soil test. This test shows what nutrients are in your soil and what are missing, essentially telling you what type of lawn fertilizer you need. Otherwise, you might add unnecessary nutrients to your lawn or miss important ones.

How long until I can mow after I’ve overseeded?

You should wait two to four weeks before mowing your lawn after overseeding. This allows the new grass to establish roots and have time to grow. Go by the recommended mowing height of the new grass to decide when it’s time to mow.

When to call a professional

Feeling overwhelmed by lawn maintenance? No need to worry. At Lawn Love, we specialize in Illinois lawn care throughout the year. We handle everything from mowing and sprinkler systems to aeration and fertilization. Let us take the stress out of lawn care so you can enjoy a lush, beautiful outdoor space year-round. 

Main Image Credit: Potter House / Smallbones / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

Raven Wisdom

Raven Wisdom is a screenwriter from West Texas and a proud mom of two in an autism family. Self-described as "half-feral but mostly harmless," Raven loves houseplants, a good laugh, and furry friends.