9 Spring Lawn Care Tips for Cleveland

Young girl sitting in tall grass and blowing on a dandelion that she has in her hand

We want to keep your lawn as green as the Forest City itself. Whether you’re a beginner who doesn’t know where to start or a seasoned landscaper looking for a refresher, our guide will help you put some life back in your lawn as the weather warms.

Here are our top 9 spring lawn care tips to get your Cleveland yard back in shape:

  1. Shake off the snow
  2. Treat disease
  3. Kick weeds to the curb
  4. Prep for mowing
  5. Test your soil
  6. Fertilize
  7. Mow
  8. Overseed
  9. Water

1. Shake off the snow

pitchfork leaning against a tree with leaves on the ground
Annette Meyer | Pixabay

When the weather starts warming up, you may be eager to jump right into mowing, fertilizing, and seeding. The last frost may have passed, but that doesn’t mean the effects of winter are over for your lawn. It’s important to evaluate the condition of your lawn and address the impact the cold had on your landscape. This includes clearing debris like dead leaves and fallen branches as well as addressing two common conditions: snow mold and salt. 

What is snow mold?

If you’ve ever watched white or tan patches appear on your lawn after the snow has melted, you may have seen snow mold. It’s a fungal disease that has two varieties, pink snow mold, and gray snow mold. Pink snow mold shows a grayish to pink substance whereas gray is whitish to gray in color. 

  • How to get rid of it: First, you need to use a rake to break up the mat of leaves and get rid of dead grass. An application of nitrogen fertilizer should clear up your problem.
  • How to prevent it: Avoid piling snow banks onto your turf where they’ll sit for a long time. In the fall, use moderate amounts of fertilizer and mow well after summer ends.

What to do about salt:

During the winter in Cleveland, salt is used on roadways and driveways to melt snow and ice and keep it from refreezing. This can mean salty runoff on your lawn, especially if your property slopes down or has poor drainage. Some weeds love a salty environment, but most turfgrass does not. If you think salt has caused a problem in your lawn, get a salinity test, or go ahead and apply a soil conditioner to help leach the salt from your ground. To make it most effective, apply it when you know it’s going to rain. 

2. Treat disease

yellow diseased area of a patch of grass
Scot Nelson | Flickr | CC0 1.0

If you’re struggling with diseased turfgrass, you’re not alone: Cleveland ranked No. 3 in the worst U.S. cities for weeds and lawn disease. Hot and rainy days are a recipe for fungal growth. Once you’ve identified your troublesome disease, though, there are ways to treat it. Here’s our list of the most common problems for Ohio lawns and what you can do about them.

Remember, the best defense is a good offense. Proper irrigation, drainage, and annual dethatching in the fall will stop fungus at the source.

Dollar spot:

What to look for:

  • Check in the morning when there’s still some dew on your lawn. Dollar spot will look like a layer of cottony spider web in contained areas. In some instances, it looks like tan spots. Dollar spot is caused by wet grass growing in dry soil. How does that happen? A thick layer of thatch will stop moisture from reaching the ground. Perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass can both experience dollar spot.

How to treat dollar spot:

  • In the future, remember to dethatch and aerate your lawn in the fall. Additionally, proper nitrogen in your soil helps in preventing dollar spot. You can treat it with a uniform application of several different fungicides.

Red thread:

What to look for:

  • Rust-colored patches between an inch to 2 feet wide are a sign of red thread. It won’t kill your turf, but it can increase your lawn’s susceptibility to other diseases. Proper fertilization helps prevent it; low phosphorus levels can make it more severe. Cool-season grasses are all at risk for red thread.

How to treat red thread:

  • Apply a nitrogen fertilizer to help your grass grow out of the disease, and mow your lawn regularly. Fungicide usually isn’t necessary, although it may take two or more years of good practice to prevent red thread from reappearing. 

Brown patch:

What to look for:

  • Brown patch usually forms irregular brown patches between a few inches to several feet wide. Sometimes, you’ll see a gray and white band around the perimeter, referred to as a “smoke ring.” Tall fescue varieties are especially susceptible to brown patch.

How to treat brown patch:

  • Another culprit of the northeast Ohio humidity, brown patch thrives in wet environments. You can wait for the rain to stop, or treat with a fungicide that has propiconazole, triadimefon, myclobutanil, PCNB, or thiophanate-methyl as one of its active ingredients.

Pythium blight:

What to look for:

  • You’ll see brown, greasy circles that grow from 1-2 inches to a few feet in diameter. The first signs will be a wet, oily feel to your turf. You also might notice a cottony material, similar to dollar spot. Pythium blight is most damaging to perennial ryegrass.

How to treat pythium blight:

  • Start by dethatching your lawn with a thatching rake or regular rake (you also can rent a power dethatcher from most garden centers) to remove sources of the fungus. Don’t forget to clean your equipment and shoes to avoid spreading it! Then use a fungicide with mefenoxam or propamocarb. You may have to reapply if wet conditions continue.

3. Kick weeds to the curb

Remember spending afternoons as a kid pulling out weeds for your parents? You can skip that chore by applying a pre-emergent herbicide – an easier and more effective solution that kills weeds as they sprout.

Don’t start thinking about weed control when you see them start to sprout in your lawn. Plan ahead. To determine the perfect time for pre-emergent herbicide application, take note of when weeds appear this year, then plan to apply it 2-3 weeks prior to that date next year.

In some cases, it’s too late for pre-emergent treatment. If you already notice weeds like crabgrass, apply post-emergent herbicide. Look for a selective herbicide designed for cool-season grasses. For the tough perennial weeds, go for one labeled systemic (not topical).

If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly solution, you can use horticultural vinegar. This isn’t your average vinegar, so always be sure to read the directions and wear protective gear when you’re handling it.

4. Prep for mowing

Neglecting your lawn equipment can not only be dangerous, but it can also wreak havoc on your grass and raise its risk of disease. You should sharpen your lawn mower blade at least a few times a year, and always before the first mow of the season. 

How to remove and clean your lawn mower blade:

  • Disconnect the spark plug.
  • Empty the gas tank.
  • Turn it on its side so the carburetor’s facing up, then mark the bottom of the blade with a marker so it’s easy to install it right-side up after you are done.
  • Use a wrench or ratchet to loosen and remove the nut that holds the mower blade in place.
  • Clean it with a dry rag. If you need extra grit removal power, spray it with penetrating oil, let it sit, and scrub it with a brush.

How to sharpen your mower blade by hand:

  • Make sure to wear protective gloves and eyewear.
  • Place the blade in a vise.
  • Use a file or grindstone to sharpen the blade from the top side of the cutting edge. Push in one direction, following the blade’s angle.
  • When it’s as sharp as a butter knife, release it from the vise, turn it over, and repeat on the other edge. You should be able to sharpen it with fewer than 50 strokes.

You can use a drill-powered blade sharpener or an angle grinder if you have the equipment. After you’ve finished sharpening, get out all the mud and grass from the bottom of the mower. Attach the blade back to the bolt, tighten it well, reconnect the spark plug, and refill the gas. You’re ready to go.

5. Test your soil

Soil is where it all starts. Just like our own diets, it’s important to make sure your grass is getting all the nutrients it needs. But how do you know it is getting everything it needs from your soil? Perform a soil test. 

You can get a simple, inexpensive soil test for pH, nutrients, and lead from a number of universities and private companies in Ohio. You can find a list here.

How to collect a soil sample:

  • Collect a sample from areas with the same fertilizer treatment and soil texture. For example, if your backyard is sandier than your front yard, collect two different samples.
  • Take a 3-4 inch deep sample in 10-15 different spots in the area. Get rid of anything that’s not soil.
  • Leave it to dry overnight on parchment paper. It should be dry enough that the lumps can be crushed to the size of wheat grains.
  • Mix your collections into one cup, then place about a pint into the provided container or bag. 
  • Mail in your sample.

Testing your soil every 2-3 years is good practice or after you add sulfur or lime. The soil around Cleveland tends to be in the alkaline range, but getting your exact pH is always helpful.

6. Fertilize

illustration depicting organic fertilizer and synthetic fertilizer

Your lawn is ready to enter its growing season, but it may need a helping hand. Depending on the results of your soil test and your last application of fertilizer, it might be time to apply some nitrogen to your lawn. 

Plan your fertilization carefully, though. There’s a goldilocks range where your lawn will thrive – too much or little can result in bugs, weeds, and disease. The traditional recommendation is to fertilize four times a year with 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet

Here’s how to calculate this:

  • Divide 100 by the percent nitrogen in a pound of your fertilizer to find how many pounds of fertilizer you need per 1,000 square feet. For example, fertilizer with 20% nitrogen would require 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. 
  • Divide your lawn’s square footage by 1,000.
  • Multiply by the pounds of fertilizer needed.

If you’re concerned about adding more chemicals to your lawn, organic fertilizer works just as well as synthetic. Organic material has a lower percentage of nitrogen so you’ll need more, but your grass won’t know the difference. Whichever you choose, slow or controlled-release nitrogen is preferred.

As for when exactly to apply fertilizer, let your grass tell you. It should be green and just starting to grow. 

7. Mow

Ready, set, mow! Get that lawn mower engine racing and get ready to embrace the inevitable farmer’s tan. Every grass type has a recommended mowing height. Mowing at the proper height helps it produce enough food and encourages deep root growth. Take a look at our list of common cool-season grasses for Cleveland to find yours.

Grass TypesRecommended Mowing Height 
Tall fescue2.5-3.5 inches
Fine fescue2.5-3.5 inches
Perennial ryegrass1.5-2.5 inches
Kentucky bluegrass2.5-3 inches

Remember not to “scalp the lawn,” which means removing more than ⅓ of the grass’s blade at once. If your lawn is overgrown when spring arrives, take your turfgrass down to the recommended height over several successive mowings so you don’t harm it. 

Pro Tip: Mulch before you mow to protect your trees. Mulching helps prevent mower damage to your trees’ roots (not to mention it keeps weeds down and moisture in). Your layer of mulch should start 3-6 inches away from the trunk and extend outward 3 feet. Less is more here: You only need 2-4 inches of mulch.

8. Overseed

infographic showing the best time for overseeding on the US map,

So you’ve taken care of debris and treated lawn diseases, but your yard’s still looking a little lackluster? You might want to consider overseeding. It’s simply spreading more grass seed on top of your existing lawn to thicken thin areas. 

The first step is cutting your grass a little shorter than usual (see our information above on “mowing”). Then you’ll want to make sure the grass seed can make direct contact with the ground in order to root. You can do this by loosening the top layer of soil and getting rid of any lingering dead grass with a rake. 

Make sure you apply compost and fertilizer to the areas you want to thicken, and spread seeds by hand or with a spreader. Skip the pre-emergent herbicides if you overseed because they can stop the new grass seed from successfully germinating.

9. Water is key

The difference between a good lawn and a great lawn can be as simple as an effective watering routine. Generally, lawns need 1-2 inches of water a week and thrive with less frequent but deep watering. 

Watering once or twice a week is recommended for Ohio landscapers, but your grass should be your ultimate guide, not the calendar. Monitor the rain for that week and keep an eye on the color and wilt of your turf. Grass can stand a bit of drought and will go back to normal after watering.

An automated irrigation system is an easy way to make sure your lawn is getting the proper amount of water at the right time. It’s best to water around dawn to minimize both evaporation and disease. Let the automated system water the grass at 5 a.m. so you can sleep. 

There are even irrigation systems these days that have weather and soil moisture-based control systems. It’s always a good idea to inspect your irrigation system regularly, especially if you notice wet spots on pavement, pooling water, or unhappy turf. 

Spring lawn care in Cleveland pays off year-round 

With almost 20 percent of the city covered by tree canopy, Cleveland in spring is bursting with green, and your lawn can be, too. Early spring is a great time to get your yard ready for a fresh start so you can have friends and family over to enjoy activities at your home on warm days.

There’s no shame in asking for help. Lawn care professionals in the Cleveland area have the tools and knowledge to properly assess your lawn so you can spend more time enjoying the beautiful weather.

Main Photo Credit: Bessi | Pixabay

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.