11 Spring Lawn Care Tips for Atlanta

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Dandelion with seeds blowing in the wind. Weeding is a spring lawn care task for homeowners.

Atlanta, unlike many other southern cities, enjoys four distinct seasons. With each season comes different weather and different lawn care needs. Springtime, when your grass is still fragile from winter and just beginning to awaken, is when your lawn needs the most attention.

Our 11 spring lawn care tips for Atlanta will help you grow a strong and healthy lawn and keep it looking that way throughout the year. These are the maintenance tasks you can complete to make sure that happens:

  1. Treat any lingering lawn diseases
  2. Get rid of existing weeds to prevent future ones
  3. Overseed warm-season grasses now so they grow thicker over summer
  4. Test the soil for nutrient deficiencies
  5. Fertilize to support robust new growth
  6. Water the lawn, but not too much or too little
  7. Mow to the best height for your grass type
  8. Remove excess thatch
  9. Only aerate if absolutely necessary
  10. Kill lawn pests before they grow and reproduce
  11. Prep lawn care tools for the growing season

1. Treat any lingering lawn diseases

The new year doesn’t automatically mean a clean slate for your lawn. If you neglected your lawn in the past or if it’s a particularly hot and humid Atlanta spring, your lawn could suffer from one of several springtime lawn diseases caused by various fungi. 

Most lawn diseases are obvious. You’ll usually notice dead-looking or discolored spots in your lawn. Sound familiar? It’s important to treat these diseases ASAP to eliminate the fungi before the growing season starts and the infection spreads.

According to the University of Georgia, these are the turfgrass diseases you should be on the lookout for during spring in Atlanta. The resource from UGA includes pictures to help you identify the specific disease blighting your lawn. 

Lawn diseaseWhat to look for How to treat it
Dollar spotSunken, circular patches of either brown or straw-colored grass, only a few inches around; Yellowish-green, straw-colored, or reddish-brown spots on individual blades of grass Prevent dollar spot by adding plenty of nitrogen to your soil in spring; minimizing thatch in the lawn; irrigating deeply and infrequently as opposed to frequent shallow watering; and drying dew off the grass in the mornings. Treat existing infections with fungicides. 
Take-all root rotWilted patches of brown or bronze-colored grass up to several feet in diameter; dark brown rootsControl root rot with acid-rich fertilizers; soil nutrient amendments, such as phosphorus and potash; improved drainage in the soil; and dethatching. Treat severe infections with fungicides. 
Brown patch / Large patchRings or circular patches of discolored turf that range from 5 inches up to 25 feet in diameter; reddish-brown or black leaf spots; thin smoke-colored rings or orange grass around the edges of the infected areaUse as little nitrogen in fertilizing as possible to prevent brown patch, and don’t use nitrogen at all while the disease is active. Apply lime to the soil if it has a low pH. Minimize thatch buildup, increase the amount of sunlight to the infected area if possible, water the lawn early in the day as opposed to later, and dry dew from the grass every morning. Treat severe infections with fungicides. 
RustYellow flecks on individual blades of grass; orange-yellow or reddish-brown spores; thinning turfPrevent rust by watering as infrequently as possible and ensuring moisture doesn’t stay on the grass blades for long. Also minimize thatch, increase sunlight exposure if possible, and improve air circulation in the soil. Treat severe infections with fungicides.
Leaf spot / Melting outBruise-like spots on individual blades of grass; shriveled grass leaves; thinning turfTo minimize stress from leaf spot, keep heavy equipment off the lawn. Water as infrequently as possible, don’t use fertilizer with high nitrogen content, remove thatch, and increase sunlight exposure if possible. Use fungicides in severe cases, but avoid systemic fungicides, plant growth regulators, and herbicides. 
AnthracnoseIrregularly shaped patches of yellow or brown grass; yellow leaf spots with black centers on individual blades of grass; stem and leaf rot; grass pulled up easilyDecrease stress to the infected area by minimizing foot traffic and keeping heavy equipment away. Irrigate the minimum amount your grass needs to stay alive and no more. Don’t aerate while the disease is active. There are no fungicides that cure existing infections, but you can use preventive fungicides in areas where you have a recurring problem.
Slime moldPinhead-sized spores coating grass in irregular or circular areas ranging 1 to 30 inches in diameter; weakened grass from spores blocking photosynthesis Slime molds will disappear on their own in a few weeks and shouldn’t leave lasting damage. Remove the spores using a gardening tool or a high-pressure stream of water. 
Pythium root rotIrregular patches of yellow grass; thinning and slow-growing turfApply plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash to the soil. Don’t water or mow the lawn often while the disease is active. Improve drainage in the root zone and increase sunlight exposure if possible. Use fungicides for a severe infection. 

2. Prevent future weeds

There should be two kinds of herbicides on your spring lawn care shopping list. You’ll need post-emergent herbicides for the cool-season weeds sprouting in your lawn in early spring and pre-emergent herbicides to keep summer weeds from ever germinating in the first place. 

First, apply a post-emergent herbicide to kill off the cool-season weeds that germinate during fall and winter and grow through early spring. You can apply these herbicides as soon as you see weeds in your lawn. When applying these herbicides, you only need a light layer. Using extra herbicide won’t make the treatment more effective, and any excess goes to waste. 

Annual cool-season weeds will die off on their own in late spring when the weather gets hotter, so it’s up to you whether you want to kill them with post-emergent herbicides or wait for them to go away on their own. 

Some of Atlanta’s annual cool-season weeds include:

  • Annual bluegrass
  • Common chickweed
  • Henbit
  • Swinecress

Perennial cool-season weeds are not so forgiving. They’ll re-seed and grow back year after year if you let them. When you see perennial weeds in your lawn, you’ll definitely want to reach for the post-emergent herbicide. 

Some of Atlanta’s perennial cool-season weeds include:

  • Dandelion
  • Clover
  • Tall fescue
  • Wild garlic 

Once you’ve handled your current weed problems, look to the future with pre-emergent herbicides. Apply pre-emergent herbicides in early or mid-March to prevent warm-season weeds that typically sprout in the hotter months of May and June. Warm-season weeds will plague you all summer unless you stop them early while they’re germinating. 

3. Overseed warm-season grasses

Overseeding is the practice of adding new seed to an existing lawn to fill in any thinning spots. Think of overseeding kind of like hair plugs for your lawn. The beginning of a lawn’s active growing season is the best time to overseed. 

Atlanta sits in the middle of a transition zone, which means both warm-season and cool-season grasses can grow here. Warm-season grasses are perking up in spring and getting ready for their growing season, which makes it the perfect time to overseed them if you want a thicker lawn. 

On the other hand, if you have cool-season grass like tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass, don’t overseed until fall. 

This table shows the best time of year to plant new seed for Atlanta’s most common warm-season grasses, based on average daily temperatures and weather conditions. 

Grass-typeBest time to overseed for Atlanta 
BermudagrassMay – June
CarpetgrassMay – June
CentipedegrassMay – June
ZoysiagrassLate May – July
St. AugustinegrassMay – June

4. Test the soil for nutrient deficiencies

Soil is the lifeblood of your lawn. Just like people need certain nutrients in their diet, grass needs nutrients in its soil. If your soil lacks any of those essential nutrients, your lawn won’t be able to grow its best, even if you fertilize it. 

How can you tell if your soil is healthy and fertile? Collect a sample and have it professionally tested. Fulton County Cooperative Extension Service offers affordable soil tests for less than $20.

Once you know what your soil is missing, you can add amendments (the soil’s version of a vitamin supplement). The results of your soil test will tell you what to add. Common needs include lime (which adjusts soil pH), phosphorus, potassium, potash, and nitrogen. 

5. Fertilize your lawn

Even after you amend your soil with all the necessary nutrients, your lawn could still use an extra boost to grow as quickly and thickly as possible. Applying the right fertilizer at the right time will give it that boost. 

The best time to fertilize warm-season grasses in Atlanta is late spring after the grass has turned green and begun active growth for the year. You’ll usually give your lawn its first “feeding” of the year in May, but the timing really depends on your grass. Never fertilize in spring until you’re positive your grass has started growing. Fertilizers can’t do their job before then. 

Now you know when to fertilize, but what kind of fertilizer should you use? We recommend a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to help your grass grow steadily and consistently through the rest of spring. 

Fast-release fertilizer might make your grass grow faster, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Too much nitrogen too fast can burn your grass or cause unsustainable growth. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race when you’re fertilizing the lawn, too. 

Wondering how to fertilize the lawn? Always use a spreader, if possible. Spreaders ensure an even coating of fertilizer so you don’t end up with streaks or patchy growth. Using a spreader also reduces the odds of applying too much fertilizer in one spot, which can damage the grass. 

6. Water the grass, but not too much

Your lawn won’t need watering in early spring, since the soil is moist then all on its own. Avoid heavy lawn equipment and reduce foot traffic during this time, if possible. Otherwise, you might damage the wet soil. 

About the same time you apply your first feeding of fertilizer after the grass has started actively growing, you’re clear to start watering, too. 

Through the rest of spring, water no more than 1 inch per week. Any more than that, and you’ll invite problems such as:

  • Shallow root growth
  • Disease-causing fungi
  • Pests
  • Thatch that’s too thick and smothers the grass
  • Harmful chemicals from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides infiltrating groundwater

According to a soil survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Atlanta area has a lot of sandy loam soils. That means your soil probably won’t retain water for very long. Light, frequent watering is best for these soils (opposed to the deep, infrequent watering you would give dense clay). Pay attention to your grass after you water it, as watering too frequently can result in certain lawn diseases. 

Overwatering creates problems, but underwatering is just as bad. Underwatered grass will dry out, fade to brown, and become brittle. Neglect watering enough, and your grass could die. 

Here’s a simple way to test if your soil is getting enough water

  • Step 1: Dig a screwdriver into the ground. 
  • Step 2: If the screwdriver goes in easily, the soil is fine, and you can continue watering at the current rate.
  • Step 3: If the screwdriver does not go in easily, your soil is too dry. Water the lawn more often, but still no more than an inch per week. 

7. Mow to the best height for your lawn

Did you know how much you cut your grass affects its health? “As short as possible” isn’t always right for every grass type. 

Cut the grass too short, and you run the risk of weakening it or creating optimum conditions for lawn diseases. Let it grow too long, and you’ll soon have a pest infestation on your hands (not to mention glares from your neighbors). 

So, what is the best height to cut your grass? That depends on the species. Here are the recommended cutting heights for Atlanta’s most common warm-season grasses.

Grass-typeRecommended cutting height
Bermudagrass1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches
Carpetgrass1 ½ – 2 inches
Centipedegrass1 – 2 inches
Zoysiagrass1 – 2 inches
St. Augustinegrass2 – 3 inches

Wait to mow your lawn in spring until it reaches at least 2 inches in height. That gives the roots enough time to dig deep and establish a strong foundation for the grass. You should also wait until daily low temperatures are well above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually happens in March or April in Atlanta according to climate data.

Follow these lawn mowing tips for the best results:

  • Never let grass clippings build up more than an inch thick.
  • Never mow when the grass is wet.
  • Never cut off more than ⅓ the grass’s height at once (i.e. If the grass is 3 inches tall, don’t cut off more than 1 inch). 

Note: Cool-season grasses like ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and tall fescue go dormant as the weather warms up, so they likely won’t need mowing through spring and summer.

8. Remove excess thatch

Thatch is a layer of grass clippings, leaves, and other plant matter that gradually builds up between the grass and the soil. Some amount of thatch in the lawn is unavoidable, and it even has benefits. The plant matter guards grass against damage, helps soil retain water for longer, and eventually breaks down into nutrient-rich compost. 

But when you let thatch get thicker than 1 inch, it can cause problems. Too much thatch can block water from reaching your lawn’s roots. All that moist, decomposing plant matter also creates a perfect environment for pests and fungi. 

That’s why, at least once a year, you should dethatch your lawn. Dethatching (also known as verticutting) simply means removing the thatch. You can use a hand rake or a specialized tool called a dethatcher, vertical mower, or verticutter.

When is the best time to dethatch? After the grass has started growing for the year and you’ve mowed it two or more times, the lawn is ready for dethatching. Ideally, you should remove thatch annually in late spring in Atlanta. 

You should also dethatch any time before aeration to make the soil more accessible.

9. Only aerate if absolutely necessary 

When should you aerate your lawn? Preferably not in spring. Aeration, the practice of poking holes in compacted soil to give the grass roots better access to water and nutrients, is great for reviving a suffocated lawn most of the time. But it’s a bad idea to aerate in spring for a couple of reasons:

  • The holes in your soil give warm-season weed seeds a place to germinate.
  • Aerating while it’s hot can dry out the soil.

You won’t always get to decide when you aerate. If your soil becomes so compacted that your grass can’t grow at all come spring, you’ll have no choice but to aerate or have a dead lawn in the summer. In that case, at least try to wait until May or June, when many warm-season weeds are done seeding for the year. 

Remember earlier when we said Atlanta has a lot of sandy loam soils? One benefit of this type of soil is that it’s loose and doesn’t become compacted often. No soil compaction means no aeration necessary, which makes lawn care that much easier for you. 

10. Kill lawn pests before they grow and reproduce

Many Atlanta lawn pests lay their eggs in early spring, then the larvae grow into adults by summer. To avoid an all-out infestation later, you have to act before the pests reproduce and mature. 

Common lawn pests reproducing and growing in Atlanta during spring include:

  • Fire ants
  • Billbugs
  • Chinch bugs
  • Ground pearls
  • Mites
  • Mole crickets
  • Slugs/snails
  • Spittlebugs
  • Turf caterpillars 
  • White grubs

Before you resort to pesticides, try to prevent pests in the first place. The best way to prevent pests is through proper lawn care practices. A green, healthy lawn without excess thatch or moisture won’t give pests a place to thrive. 

If for any reason you get pests anyway, you may need pesticides to get rid of them. Choose a selective pesticide that won’t harm beneficial insects whenever you can. 

11. Prep lawn care tools for the growing season

As your lawn wakes up from its winter nap, your lawn care tools are waking up, too. Your lawn mower, weed eater, hedge trimmer, and other power tools have been sitting in the garage for months, and there are some things you need to do before you pull them out to use every week. 

Here’s a basic tool maintenance checklist to follow before you start using these tools mid-spring.

  • Sharpen lawn mower blades
  • Make sure your weed eater has plenty of line
  • For gas-powered lawn mowers: Replace the mower’s spark plug and filter, and change the oil
  • For battery-powered lawn mowers and other power tools: Check on the batteries. Make sure they still hold a charge

Spring lawn care pays off year-round

Seasons are a circle. If you take care of your lawn in spring, it will have a better summer, fall, and winter, too.

But we understand taking care of your lawn is easier said than done. If spring lawn care is more involved than you thought, you can always hire a local Atlanta lawn care professional to help you keep your lawn looking great. 

Main Photo Credit: Comfreak | Pixabay

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