Spring blossoms and fresh mountain air will have you flying high in the Land of the Sky, but before you make your ascent, it’s important to check off some lawn care to-do’s to prep your lawn for summer success.
Asheville’s mild winter and spring weather means you won’t have to do too much yard work, but as the summer heats up, it’s vital to give your lawn the TLC it needs to withstand muggy weather and stay healthy through fall. Follow these 10 lawn care tips to give Biltmore’s grounds some competition this season.
1. Prepare lawn tools
Start the season on the right foot by preparing your equipment before it’s time to mow. With your supplies ready and your lawn tools in working order, you won’t have to worry about running to the store or taking your mower into the shop when you need to spread seeds and attend to weeds.
You’re about to get a lot of use out of your yard equipment. Here’s a checklist to get your tools ready:
- Inspect tools for damage and rust.
- Sharpen lawn mower blades and cutting tools, such as shears.
- Refill the tank with fresh gas (if using gas-powered tools).
- Fill the engine oil and replace the spark plug and filter (for gas-powered mowers).
- Check the batteries on battery-powered tools and replace them if needed.
- Refill the supply of string in your weed eater.
- Tighten bolts and screws.
2. Treat grass diseases
If you have fuzzy red splotches or slimy yellow pustules popping up around your lawn, spring is the perfect time to get them gone. Before you start spreading seed, treat the trouble spots so grass can flourish where you plant it.
As summer approaches and the heat and humidity rise, untreated diseases will spread and become harder to eradicate, so it’s important to treat diseases as soon as you spot them — but don’t immediately rush for the fungicide. Many diseases will disappear with proper watering and fertilization, and the less we use harsh chemicals, the healthier we keep the Swannanoa River.
Not sure what to call that odd fungus in your front yard? Check out the North Carolina State University extension’s list of turfgrass diseases. It’s a treasure trove for information on how to identify and treat all the common Asheville lawn diseases.
3. Remove pests
As your grass greens up, you may notice it isn’t looking quite how it should. How to diagnose the issue? Get down and dirty. Examine your lawn for pests and then make the necessary adjustments to get rid of them for good.
Check out these common symptoms of a pest issue:
- Yellowing or brown grass that can be uprooted easily and soil that is spongy to the touch (Probable culprit: White grubs)
- Dead patches of grass grow larger and larger (Probable culprit: Chinch bugs)
- Irregular brown patches and weak, thinning grass (Probable culprit: Hunting billbugs)
- Uprooted grass and raised tunnels on the soil surface (Probable culprit: Mole crickets)
- Thinning, damaged turf and brown patches (Probable culprit: Crane-fly larvae)
- Large expanse of dead grass with a stark line between healthy and damaged turf (Probable culprit: Fall armyworm)
- Wilting grass and weed encroachment (Probable culprit: Plant-parasitic nematodes)
Sometimes, it’s tough to tell exactly what pest you have just by looking at your lawn. Here are some other ways to diagnose common pest problems.
Grab some of your grass and pull it up.
- If grass breaks at the soil line (before you can pull it out of the ground), check for powdery sawdust. That’s a telltale sign of billbugs.
- If grass doesn’t break, cut through the soil in a few places and check for grubs.
Take note of insect populations with a light trap or pheromone trap.
- Cutworms, sod webworms, and flying white grubs are attracted to light.
- Japanese beetles and armyworms can be observed and monitored using a pheromone trap.
Want to do more pest research? Check out these common turfgrass pests in North Carolina to learn how to identify and treat all of Asheville’s least favorite lawn critters.
Many pest problems can be fixed by amending your lawn practices. Pests love unhealthy lawns, so a well-watered, fertilized, frequently mowed lawn won’t appeal to them — which means you won’t have to spend time and money treating your lawn with pesticides.
4. Dethatch warm-season grass
Asheville’s rainy summers can lead to an unhealthy thatch buildup. After a year or two of weather, wear, and tear, you’ll need to dethatch your lawn to make sure nutrients and water have a path to your grass roots.
What’s thatch? Thatch is the layer of organic matter (like dead grass stems and leaves) that settles between grass blades and the soil surface. While a little bit of thatch is healthy for your lawn, a layer over half an inch deep inhibits the flow of water, nutrients, sunlight, and oxygen to your soil and grass roots.
When you dethatch your lawn, you give it a deep, powerful raking with a special tool that loosens and removes the thatch layer so your grass gets what it needs to thrive.
The best time to dethatch varies based on your grass type. Asheville is located in the transition zone for grasses, which means your lawn may be filled with cool-season grass or warm-season grass. Spring is the ideal time to dethatch warm-season grass, but it’s best to hold off until fall for cool-season grasses.
Dethatch warm-season grasses in late spring to early summer (May to June) at the beginning of their summer growing season.
- Common warm-season grasses for North Carolina’s Piedmont region include bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and zoysiagrass.
Dethatch cool-season grasses in early fall (September to October) at the start of their fall growing season. As a second-best option, you can dethatch in early spring (March to April) – just watch out for spring weeds.
- Common cool-season grasses for our area include fine fescue, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass.
Pro Tip: Not sure if your lawn needs to be dethatched? Use a measuring stick to measure the spongy brown layer of matter between your grass and the ground. If it’s over half an inch thick, it’s time to dethatch.
5. Aerate annually
Some lucky homeowners with sandy soil only need to aerate their lawn every few years, but with our North Carolina clay, it’s best to aerate annually for healthy, oxygen-rich soil and dense grass growth.
What’s aeration? Core aeration is the process of poking holes into compacted soil to loosen it and give grass roots space to breathe. Think of it as an exfoliating facial for your lawn. With more open spaces, grass roots have room to grow and your soil can absorb nutrients, sunlight, and water.
If your lawn requires both dethatching and aeration, dethatch before you aerate. It’s much easier to aerate your lawn once the thatch layer is out of the way.
The best time to aerate? As with dethatching, it depends on your grass type.
- Aerate warm-season grasses in late spring to early summer (May to June) when grass is actively growing and can quickly recover. Avoid aerating during the peak of summer, as the heat combined with the stress of aeration can harm your grass.
- Aerate cool-season grasses in fall, unless soil is severely compacted and cannot wait. If necessary, you can aerate your cool-season lawn in early spring, but watch out for spring weeds.
Once you’ve finished aerating, your soil will be open, oxygenated, and ready for healthy growth. So, now is the perfect time to overseed your lawn (if you’re not applying pesticide).
Pro Tip: Don’t throw away those soil cores! Leave soil cores on your lawn as natural compost. They’ll work their way back into the soil in two to four weeks.
6. Overseed patchy grass
If bare patches and thinning yellow grass are plaguing your lawn, it’s time to overseed. Spread a healthy layer of fresh seed to rejuvenate your lawn and get your grass growing densely and evenly again.
When to overseed? It depends on your grass type’s growing season.
- If you have a warm-season grass lawn, go ahead and overseed in spring (March 1 to June 1). That way, your warm-season seeds will be ready for vigorous summer growth.
- If you have cool-season grass, hold off until early fall (mid-August to October 1) to give grass time to germinate in cool fall temperatures. If you have large, unsightly bare patches that can’t wait, the next-best time to overseed cool-season grass is in early spring (mid-February to early March).
7. Prevent weeds with pre-emergent herbicides
Just like grass, weeds go wild for our warm spring showers. Keep your lawn from becoming a grass-versus-weed battleground by applying pre-emergent herbicide in early spring (early March to early April). Pre-emergent herbicides prevent weed seeds from germinating, so they never have a chance to invade your lawn.
Common summer annual weeds that can be prevented with pre-emergent herbicide:
- Common ragweed
- Annual sedge
- Prostrate knotweed
- Hairy bittercress
- Spotted spurge
- Spiny sowthistle
The North Carolina State University Extension recommends pre-emergent herbicides with either mesotrione (Tenacity or Callisto) or sulfentrazone and prodiamine (Echelon) as active ingredients. For an organic herbicide that’s gentler on the environment, spread corn gluten instead.
If pesky perennial weeds like dandelions, chickweed, red sorrel, or plantain refuse to surrender despite your best gardening practices, spray post-emergent herbicide in late spring to early summer as you notice weeds sprouting.
Not sure which weeds are poking out of the soil? Check out NC State’s list of common weeds to find out how to identify and treat Asheville’s green invaders.
Pro Tip: Herbicides can inhibit the growth of young grass. If you’re planning to overseed your lawn this spring, hold off on the pre-emergent herbicide until next spring.
8. Fertilize for fresh growth
Your grass is ready to grow, but it could use a little encouragement. Fertilizer gives your grass a nutrient boost for dense, green foliage, and spring is the perfect time to start your fertilization schedule. Typically, it’s best to give your Asheville lawn three applications of fertilizer per year.
We’ll give you fertilization guidelines, but it’s best to get your soil tested for individualized results. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers free soil testing for all residents. Just send in your soil samples between April 1 and the end of November and you’ll get your online results within a few weeks!
Your soil test will tell you how much fertilizer to apply and when to apply it based on your lawn’s unique profile.
When to fertilize depends on your grass type.
- If you have cool-season grass like fescues, perennial ryegrass, or Kentucky bluegrass, fertilize in early spring, skip the summer, and then fertilize once in early fall and once in late fall.
- If you have warm-season grass, fertilize in mid- to late spring (two weeks after green-up), summer, and early fall.
Cool-season (Fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass):
- First fertilization – Late February to March
- Second fertilization – September
- Third fertilization – November
Warm-season (Bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, Zoysiagrass):
- First fertilization – Early April to May
- Second fertilization – June to July
- Third fertilization – August to September
Most grasses require 0.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. So, how do you calculate how much fertilizer mix to spread?
- Look at the N-P-K ratio on your bag of fertilizer (the three numbers on the front, like 12-4-8).
- Divide 50 by the first number of the N-P-K ratio (the first number represents the percentage of nitrogen in the mix).
- The result tells you how many pounds of fertilizer you’ll need per 1,000 square feet.
- So, for example, 50 / 12 = 4.2, so you’ll need to apply 4.2 pounds of 12-4-8 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Remember, these are only guidelines for the average Asheville lawn: Your soil test may tell you that your lawn only needs two applications of fertilizer per year or that you should fertilize with 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Always defer to your soil test for your lawn’s specific needs.
A note about fertilizer: During rainstorms, high-nitrogen fertilizer can flow off your lawn and into local aquatic ecosystems like the Swannanoa River and Burnett Reservoir, causing harmful algal blooms and low-oxygen dead zones. To keep our water supply and wildlife safe, consider using an eco-friendly organic fertilizer or planting a protective rain garden.
9. Wait to water
Step away from the hose! As your grass wakes up, it’s tempting to give it a cold shower, but watering too early in spring will only encourage shallow root growth and lead to pests and disease. Wait until your grass shows signs of stress before you give it a good soaking.
Here’s how to tell that your grass is ready for water:
- Leaves are wilting and folding
- Bluish-grey turf color
- You can leave footprints in your lawn (grass doesn’t rebound when you walk on it)
To make sure your lawn needs water, use the screwdriver test to check your soil moisture level. Try to push a screwdriver into the ground. If it goes in easily, your soil is moist and doesn’t need water. If it’s difficult to push the screwdriver into the ground, it’s time to give your lawn a drink.
Once you’ve begun your watering schedule, follow these tips to keep your grass green and healthy through the summer.
- Asheville lawns typically require 1 inch of water per week. Water once a week or split your waterings into two sessions per week.
- Don’t water more than three times a week: Shallow, frequent waterings decrease grass’s drought tolerance, which makes it difficult for grass to survive hot summer months and dry spells.
- Water your lawn in the morning before 10 a.m. to prevent evaporation. Avoid watering at night, as it invites diseases.
10. Make time to mow
Once your grass has grown about 3 inches tall, it’s time to put those freshly sharpened mower blades to use. Mowing your grass to the right height on a regular schedule promotes sustained growth and minimizes thatch buildup.
After you’ve finished with your first mowing, mow your grass about once a week, depending on your grass type.
The best grass height for your lawn depends on the type of grass you have. Follow these guidelines to mow your lawn to its ideal height.
|Common Asheville grass type||Recommended mowing height|
|Bermudagrass||1 – 2 inches|
|Carpetgrass||1.5 – 2 inches|
|Centipedegrass||1 – 2 inches|
|Fine fescue||2.5 – 3.5 inches|
|Kentucky bluegrass||2.5 – 3.5 inches|
|Perennial ryegrass||1.5 – 2.5 inches|
|St. Augustinegrass||2.5 – 4 inches|
|Tall fescue||2.5 – 3.5 inches|
|Zoysiagrass||1.5 – 2 inches|
Always follow the one-third rule: Don’t cut more than one-third of your grass’s total height in any one mowing session. For example, if your grass is 4.5 inches tall, cut it to a height of 3 inches or taller. Cutting shorter can damage your lawn and leave it vulnerable to weeds like crabgrass and foxtail.
Spring into lawn action
Ready to give your Asheville lawn the full Biltmore treatment? With our relatively temperate climate, spring lawn care in Asheville isn’t as strenuous as it is in cities with more extreme weather fluctuations. If you’re going the DIY route, start planning your lawn care to-do’s in late February so you can spring into action when your lawn springs to life.
If you’d rather bike the Blue Ridge Parkway or cheer on the Asheville Tourists as the weather warms, we get it: Lawn care can be the last thing you want to do when you have spring fever. Call Lawn Love’s Asheville lawn care pros to prepare your lawn for a healthy, lush summer while you enjoy the Land of the Sky.
Main Photo Credit: Bru-nO | Pixabay