9 Spring Lawn Care Tips for Detroit

Man smiling while watering his lawn with a hose

After a long winter, your Detroit lawn needs some TLC. Read our nine spring lawn care tips to put a spring back in your haggard-looking lawn.

Here is our list of 9 spring lawn care tips for your Detroit lawn:

  1. Perform a soil test
  2. Prep before you mow
  3. First mow of the season
  4. Overseed
  5. Defeat the weeds
  6. Wait to fertilize
  7. Watering wisdom
  8. Plan to aerate
  9. Mulch

1. Perform a soil test

Does soil testing seem like something that costs unnecessary time and money? 

Think about it this way: Soil testing is the one thing that will save you time, money, and frustration. If you don’t do a soil test, you could be giving your lawn nutrients it doesn’t need, which costs you time and money and can work against all of your spring lawn care efforts.

Test your soil every three to five years or after you add lime or sulfur to adjust the pH. You can purchase a test kit from Michigan State, an online retailer, or a home improvement store.

Collecting a soil sample is easy. Here’s how:

  1. Determine how many samples you need.

Consider two things: soil texture and fertilizer treatments. Soils that have a similar texture and fertilizer history can be tested in the same sample. Soils with different textures or that have been fertilized differently should be tested separately. 

For example, if your front and back lawns are fertilized the same and the soil texture is the same, you can do one sample. If you only fertilize your front lawn but want a reading on your backyard as well, take a separate sample from the front and the back lawns. 

  1. Take 10-15 different samples for each area.

If you’re testing your lawn, sample at a 3- to 4-inch depth in a zig-zag pattern. Sample garden beds at 7 or 8 inches. Discard roots, thatch, or any green material. 

  1. Dry the soil overnight if it is wet. Spread the soil on a brown paper bag to help it dry.
  2. Mix the soils together.
  3. Place one cup of the mixed soil in the container or bag.
  4. Fill out the form.
  5. Mail in the sample.
  6. Wait a week or two for the results to come to your email.

2. Prep before you mow

  1. Rake the grass.

If you notice thin areas in the lawn, use a leaf rake to help the grass stand straight and increase air circulation. Mowing will remove some or most of the dead tips on the grass. 

  1. Remove debris.

After a long winter, you’ll probably have leftover leaves or debris to clean up before you mow.

  1. Sharpen your mower blade.

A dull mower blade tears the grass. That is an invitation to disease and water loss. A sharp blade is a small thing that prevents unnecessary problems in your lawn.

You can take your mower blade to a local repair shop or sharpen it yourself. If you want to DIY, here’s how:

  • Disconnect the spark plug.
  • Remove the mower blade with a wrench. 
  • Take off built-up debris with a paint scraper. 
  • Sharpen the blade edge with a file.
  • To ensure you sharpened the blade evenly, hang the blade on a nail to check that it’s level. If it’s not yet level, file off a little more until it hangs (relatively) straight.
  • Remove built-up debris from the underside of the deck. You can use a paint scraper or air compressor.
  • Re-attach the blade.
  • Reconnect the spark plug.

3. First mow of the season

Michigan State grass experts recommend a tall mowing height, around 3.5-4 inches, for most home lawns. This helps shade out weeds and keeps the grass greener longer in the summer months. Even for the first mow of the season, keep the mowing height as tall as possible. A tall, thick lawn helps prevent crabgrass seeds from germinating as well.

Type of GrassRecommended Mowing Height
Kentucky bluegrass2-3 inches
Perennial ryegrass2-3 inches
Tall fescue2-3.5 inches
Fine-leaf fescue2-3 inches

As you mow, return the grass clippings to the soil. A year’s worth of grass clippings is equal to a single synthetic fertilizer treatment.

Finally, don’t forget the ⅓ rule: Only mow ⅓ of the grass blade at a time. Cutting too much off at once creates too much stress for the grass. If your lawn is too tall, cut off short amounts over time until it reaches the height you want.

4. Overseed

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

If you see thin patches in your spring lawn that you don’t think will recover, consider overseeding. Late summer and early fall is the best time to overseed your lawn, but spring is the second-best time. 

You’ll need to wait until the soil is 50 to 60 degrees before you put down seed. Grab a soil thermometer or look on Syngenta’s soil temperature website to track your spring soil temps. 

Here’s how to overseed a small, thinning area of turf:

  1. Pull the weeds by hand.
  2. Use a heavy rake to rough up the soil.
  3. Add compost and a starter fertilizer on top of the area you’re going to seed.
  4. Cast the seed (or use a hand spreader). Be sure to use new seed for the best germination rate.
  5. Use the back of the rake to press the seed lightly into the soil.
  6. Water twice a day or so, or often enough to keep the seed consistently moist but not soggy.
  7. Stay off the new area for a few months as the new grass establishes.

Remember, if you plan to overseed, hold off on the pre-emergent herbicides. These chemicals will prevent your new grass seed from germinating.

5. Defeat the weeds

As long as you’re not planning to overseed with new grass, early spring is the time to put down pre-emergents to prevent crabgrass and other weeds.

Wait until the soil is 55 degrees for a few consecutive days. When that happens, put down pre-emergents on the lawn. Again, use a soil probe thermometer or the Syngenta website to track your soil temps to determine the perfect window to apply. If you need a little reassurance, contact your Wayne County Extension office to speak with a staff member. Remember, with pre-emergents, timing is everything, so don’t be afraid to reach out to an expert so you get the product down at just the right time.

Some people have had success with corn gluten meal as a chemical-free pre-emergent while others are not convinced that it is effective. Other chemical-free options include smothering the weeds (light/air deprivation), horticultural vinegar, hand-pulling, and steam. 

Safety tip: Even though these methods are “natural,” they still may be hazardous if used incorrectly. For example, horticultural vinegar can burn your skin or cause permanent eye damage or blindness. Always follow the directions on the label for your safety and maximum effectiveness.

6. Wait to fertilize

Fertilize the lawn no earlier than May for the best results. This gives you plenty of time to get the results of your soil test and apply only what the lawn needs. 

For cool-season lawns, fall is an even better time to fertilize, so be sure to mark that down on your calendar and fertilize this fall for even healthier grass going into the spring. And remember that leaving the grass clippings on the lawn over a year is as much as a single fertilizer treatment.

Finally, sweep your driveway or sidewalks after you fertilize your lawn to be sure all of your fertilizer is on the grass where it belongs. Fertilizer left on your concrete surfaces can cause stains or work its way into waterways. 

7. Watering wisdom

Michigan State University (MSU) recommends a holistic approach to watering your Detroit lawn. 

  • First, consider your soil. Do you have primarily sandy or clay soil? Sandy soil needs more frequent, shallow watering. Clay soil holds water better and needs watering less often.
  • Second, does your lawn get full sun, or are there pockets of shade? Lawns that are in full sun will need watering more often than lawns in dappled shade. 
  • Third, what kind of grass do you have? Kentucky bluegrass will require more water than tall fescue, especially during the warmer months.
  • Finally, do you have watering restrictions on how often and at what time of day you can water the lawn?

Most of the research tells us to water deeply but infrequently. However, if you want your cool-season lawn to stay green throughout the summer, you’ll need to water the lawn daily or every few days. If you’re able to water every few days, continue watering in the early morning. If you’re able to water every day during the summer, MSU research has shown that watering around 1 p.m. with 0.10 inches of water helps reduce certain insects and disease, such as necrotic ring spot and chafer bugs.

One final tip: Don’t water your lawn in the evening. Lawns that are too wet for too long are more susceptible to disease. Water in the early morning for most of the year. 

If you prefer not to irrigate your lawn, give it at least ½ inch of water per month during a drought to keep it from dying.

8. Plan to aerate

vintage aerating tool for soil
allispossible.org.uk | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Aeration and dethatching are wonderful and routine ways to give your lawn the best chance of success. Aeration is the best cure for soil compaction, and dethatching removes excessive dead material at the top of the soil. 

Aeration is like giving your lawn a steam facial: It opens up the pores of the soil. If the soil’s pores are clogged, air and water don’t circulate well and the all-important root systems are stunted and not able to develop as deeply as they should. Less-than-perfect pore space also prevents microorganisms and earthworms from converting “plant residue into organic matter.” Aeration is particularly helpful for heavy clay soils.

Thatch is almost like excessive dandruff. Up to about ½” of thatch is beneficial. Any more than that, and this can be a major contributor to insect and disease pressure and can inhibit rooting.  

If you need to aerate or dethatch the lawn, experts recommend waiting until late summer or early fall. This gives cool-season grasses time to recover during their fall growth period. If you have a serious thatch or compaction problem, you can consider dethatching or aerating in spring. Ask an expert for advice on what is best in your situation.

9. Mulch

Adding mulch to your lawn provides a host of benefits:

  • Improves soil health as it breaks down
  • Controls weeds
  • Regulates temperature
  • Slows water loss
  • Helps prevent damage to tree roots when placed around a tree
  • Reduces disease by preventing water from splashing on lower leaves

Mulch comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types:

Organic mulches:

  • Newspaper
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Pine straw
  • Wood
  • Compost

Inorganic mulches:

  • Rocks 
  • Plastic 
  • Rubber

Mulch provides many benefits for your lawn, but it can attract insects if you’re not careful. Remember, 2 to 3 inches of mulch is plenty. If you’re concerned about pests, keep the mulch at least 6 inches from the foundation and choose mulches that are naturally insect repellents, such as cedar or cypress.

Mulching around trees deserves its own discussion. If you remember nothing else, remember that mulch “volcanoes” around trees can be harmful. Just like with your foundation, leave 6 inches around the base of the tree as a mulch-free zone. Then apply a light layer to prevent lawn mower damage and provide visual appeal.

If your spring to-do list is already too long, contact one of our Detroit lawn care pros today. They’ll have your Detroit lawn spruced up and ready for spring.

Main Photo Credit: Gustavo Fring | Pexels

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.