8 Spring Lawn Care Tips for Milwaukee

overhead look at a lawn mower on grass

With everything defrosting and starting to bloom here in Milwaukee, it’s time to clean and sharpen those lawn tools, dust off the garden gloves, and get ready to whip your lawn back into shape. 

Check out these eight spring lawn care tips to help you achieve a luscious lawn that will leave your neighbors green with envy.  

  1. Get rid of fall and winter yard debris
  2. Apply herbicide
  3. Test your soil
  4. Fertilize to promote growth
  5. Aerate to help the roots
  6. Overseed to give new growth
  7. Mow for the first time
  8. Keep your lawn equipment clean and sharp

1. Get rid of fall and winter yard debris

two green rakes with leaves and debris nearby
Hilary Halliwell | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Those frozen leaves and broken branches aren’t going to remove themselves. Before attempting to begin your new masterpiece, it’s crucial to start with a clean, blank canvas — just make sure the snow has melted and the ground is fully dry before raking. 

Not sure what to do with all those sticks and twigs you’ve collected? How about trying out one of these fun and creative DIY projects here

2. Apply herbicide

Beginning in March, apply pre-emergent herbicide before weeds have time to germinate. 

How pre-emergent herbicide works: Pre-emergent herbicide creates a chemical barrier on the soil’s surface that prevents weed seeds from growing. It’s different from post-emergent herbicide, which kills weeds only after they’ve been established, not before.

Starting in May, apply a post-emergent herbicide to established lawns and actively growing weeds. Do not use herbicides on newly seeded areas. 

How post-emergent herbicide works: Post-emergent herbicide combines a mixture of chemicals and works by traveling down the plant stalk and entering the root system of existing weeds. One thing you will want to be mindful of when selecting a post-emergent herbicide is whether it is selective or non-selective. Although non-selective herbicide is more powerful, it may kill grass and other blooms around it. A selective herbicide is targeted and will kill specific types of weeds. 

What are some common weeds found in Milwaukee lawns:

  • Dandelion
  • Crabgrass
  • Chickweed
  • Mayweed
  • Cheatgrass

Want to learn more about getting rid of stubborn weeds? Check out this detailed guide that covers everything you need to know about weed control and herbicides.

3. Test your soil

After winter has left your grass stressed, test the soil to see what the nutrient levels are. Just like a blood test can detect any issues in our bodies, a soil test can identify when something is off or missing in your soil. Common amendments your soil might need include lime, magnesium, and phosphorus. There’s no way to know exactly what your soil needs until you get it tested.  

You can buy a DIY kit to take your own sample to provide basic information. Or, you can get a more detailed soil analysis from the University of Wisconsin Soil and Forage Laboratory.

4. Fertilize to promote growth

After you get the soil test results, it’s time to apply the right fertilizer. Use a slow-release fertilizer to prevent unnecessary and excessive applications. Applying unnecessary nutrients to your lawn can cause disease issues and nutrient runoff, which is harmful to the environment and a waste of money. For grass growing in the sun, apply the label rate of fertilizer you have chosen. For grass growing in the shade, apply half the label rate. 

Curious about when to fertilize your lawn? Follow the recommended “holiday schedule.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends using a controlled-release or slow-release formula around three main holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. If you are the type to remove grass clippings from your lawn, apply a fourth application of controlled-release fertilizer in October. 

First application Late May (Memorial Day)
Second application Early July (Independence Day)
Third application Early September (Labor Day)
Fourth application (if needed)October

Looking for a more natural alternative to chemical fertilizers? Check out this list of alternatives that can be found at most garden centers and greenhouses. 

5. Aerate to help the roots

Since some of the most common soil types in Milwaukee County are poor at draining, aeration is a vital step to spring lawn care. Aeration is a process in which a machine punches holes in the soil to loosen it and create space for water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots.

Once your grass is actively growing, core aerate the lawn if the thatch layer is over an inch thick. This allows for better air and water flow to penetrate built-up grass or thatch. 

Check out our helpful guide to learn in further detail how to aerate a lawn by hand. Are you more of a visual learner? Watch this helpful video tutorial on how to aerate your lawn

6. Overseed to give new growth

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

Following a harsh Milwaukee winter, your spring lawn may have visible bare spots, vole trails, thin grass strands, and moss. In this case, you will want to reinvigorate your lawn by overseeding.   

Overseeding is an effective, fast, and inexpensive way to restore your lawn’s lush appearance by applying grass seed to your existing lawn. This practice prevents you from having to tear everything out and start over. Before you spread the seed, be sure you know your specific grass type

Want to learn more about overseeding your Milwaukee lawn? Check out our guide to overseeding a spring lawn

7. Mow for the first time

By April, or when your grass is about 3 inches high, you can begin mowing. Depending on your grass type, recommended grass heights will vary. 

Grass TypeRecommended Mowing Height
Kentucky bluegrass2.5 – 3 inches
Perennial ryegrass1.5 – 2.5 inches
Fine fescue1.5 – 3 inches
Turf-type tall fescue2 – 4 inches

Once you start cutting the grass, follow these few rules for a healthy lawn:

  • Never cut more than one-third the length of the grass blade in a single mow.
  • Don’t mow wet, dewy grass; it’s too brittle.
  • You can let some of the clippings stick around to act as thatch, but too many clippings will deprive your yard of sunlight and host a variety of fungal threats.

Starting in May, you can leave light grass clippings on the lawn, as they can act as a natural fertilizer for the turf and soil. 

8. Keep your lawn equipment clean and sharp

Beautiful yards require properly maintained tools. Plus, they make your life and job much easier! How about protecting your investment in your lawn care equipment? March is a great time to schedule an annual tune-up with a factory-certified repair technician. 

But if you are a D-I-Y’er, check out this guide on how to sharpen your lawn mower blade.

In addition to the mower blade, be sure to:

  • Check the spark plug. Spring is a good time to replace the spark plug; just be careful not to tighten it too much or it can cause the mower not to start. 
  • Change the air filters. A dirty air filter will put added stress on your mower and waste gas.
  • Change the oil. At least once a year, or once every other mowing season, you should change your oil.

For battery-powered lawn mowers:

  • Charge the battery. If the battery doesn’t come to a full charge, it’s time to replace it.
  • Sharpen the blade and adjust cutting height. 

For leaf-blowers:

  • Check the air filter. If you didn’t replace it last fall, start the spring season with a new one.
  • Inspect air intakes and remove any built-up debris. You’ll also want to check the outside of the carburetor and clean it, if needed.
  • Inspect bolts and the zipper. Check and tighten bolts, screws and nuts, and make sure the collection bag zipper is in working condition. Add a coat of wax if it’s sticking.
  • Change the spark plug. Do this once a year, if needed. Check your owner’s manual for more specifics.
  • For gas-powered blowers, add fresh fuel to kick off the season.

For gas weed eaters:

  • Remove all debris from the exterior of the weedeater.
  • Clean the cooling fins of the engine using a toothbrush. Citrus-based cleaners or detergent mixed with hot water are good at removing stubborn grease and stains. 
  • Dispose of old gasoline responsibly and add fresh fuel. 
  • Check and replace (if needed) air filters and spark plugs.
  • Clean the fuel tank cap, exhaust, and muffler.
  • Check for any cracks in the fuel lines.
  • Clean the string head and install the proper size and amount of weed eater string. Check the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Tighten all the screws on the handle, string head, shaft, and the motor attachment point.

For instructions on how to clean and tune-up other lawn care equipment such as pruners, chainsaws, and hoses, check out this handy DIY guide. 

Maintain your beautiful lawn

Once your new grass is thriving, you want to keep it that way. Be sure to research your specific grass type because each turf type has its own maintenance requirements. 

Then, as you cross off these spring lawn care tasks, maybe celebrate with the beer that made Milwaukee famous — or some other favorite brew. 

Why not use your free time this spring to fly kites with the family at Veterans Park or plan a trip to Boerner Botanical Gardens? Instead of doing yard work, let the landscaping professionals at Lawn Love tend to your lawn maintenance needs so you can spend more time enjoying spring in Milwaukee. 

Main Photo Credit: Daniel Watson | Unsplash

Hilary Walker