When you hear that early morning chatter outside your bedroom window, you know spring has arrived. The squirrels squabbling and the birds chirping signal it’s time for you to get your New Haven lawn in shape for the season.
Cool season grasses can withstand New Haven’s snow and freezing temperatures. However, follow these 13 lawn care steps to revitalize your lawn back to its glorious green:
1. Equipment maintenance
Similar to a good stretch followed by a hot cup of coffee to get your morning going, your equipment also yearns for some TLC after a long winter storage. Here are some general guidelines to make sure your mower, weed eater, leaf blower, and chainsaw are all in good working condition:
- Dust or scrub off left-over grass clippings or other debris
- Check and change oil
- Gas up
- Change spark plug (plug needs changing after about every 100 hours of usage)
- Clean or replace the air filter
- Check tire pressure
- Sharpen or replace blade
Pro Tip: Sharp blades are imperative. Dull blades can damage the grass and result in bruising and discoloration.
Electric push mowers:
- Remove any debris
- Inspect all screws, nuts, and bolts
- Check for frayed wires
- Lubricate the wheels
- Replace or sharpen blades
- Fully charge the battery
- Brush off any dirt, grass or debris
- Wash off and dry the handle and deck
- Wash or replace the filter
- Clean spark arrestor
- Clean or replace spark plug
- Make sure the string head has the correct amount of string
- Dust off any debris
- Wash or replace air filter
- Inspect hose for any cracks
- Clean or replace spark plug
- Tighten bolts, screws, and fasteners
- Change oil for gas blowers; make sure battery is fully charged for electric blowers
- Remove excess gas and replace with stabilized gas
- Replace spark plug
- Replace air filter
- Sharpen blade if necessary (might want to consider taking it to a professional)
- Oil the chain
- Check to make sure chain is securely on
Clean and disinfect gardening tools and containers to prevent any transference of disease. Technically, you should have given them a good scrub before storage. However, it’s still good practice to clean them as you move from plant to plant, bush to bush. Scrub with a stiff brush followed by washing with a dish detergent and water. Also, wash your pots and other garden containers.
As with your mower blades, your cutting tools should be razor sharp. This simple sharpening task provides a smooth, precise cut when trimming. A shovel or garden spade also glides more easily through soil and roots.
2. Yard cleanup
A New Haven winter of snow and ice causes havoc on the lawn. Broken branches, heavy leaf piles, and other debris just might be scattered about. Not only is debris messy and unattractive, but left to rot and fester, pests and diseases might result.
Also, certain cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass, might have experienced salt damage over the winter. Those patchy brown areas need to be flushed out with about 6 inches of water.
3. Eliminate dreaded diseases
Once the heavy winter white blanket melts and green starts to show, it’s time to deal with disease. Snow mold is most common with cool-season grasses, such as those in New Haven. Don’t be surprised if your Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue or tall fescue are throwing off some funky, colored patches.
Here are common lawn diseases you might encounter:
- Pink snow mold grows on the outer edges of patches and casts a reddish/orange hue. This mold might just completely kill off your grass. To remove, rake the affected area to increase air circulation.
- Gray snow mold manifests itself in a location where the last of the snow has melted. Lucky you if this is the mold on your lawn as it will not kill the grass. Rake and overseed as soon as possible.
- Brown patch disease produces ugly spots of brown or brownish/gray, usually in late spring. A fungicide of triadimefon, myclobutanil, PCNB, maneb, thiophanate-methyl, or propiconazole should take care of this issue.
- Dollar spot generates yellowish-colored areas in the lawn. This disease is stubborn and can be resistant to pesticides. The three-fold solution is to apply nitrogen fertilizer, remove thatch, and apply compost.
- Powdery mildew causes a film of white powder-like substance on leaves. Difficult to control, so a preventative herbicide is recommended.
- Fairy ring is a harmful ring of mushrooms which can range from a couple of inches to several feet. Rake away the mushrooms and follow up with aeration. Next, water and fertilize with nitrogen. If you have a serious fairy ring issue, you’ll need to completely remove the infected area and overseed.
- Red thread shows up as circular, pinkish-red patches that infect the grass. This disease is mostly cosmetic, but an application of nitrogen fertilizer would assist with recovery.
- Leaf spots and melting out show symptoms of small red and purple spots on leaf blades. Also, patches of weakened or dead turf could result. Although not considered a deadly threat, apply a compounded fungicide spray of azoxystrobin, iprodione, mancozeb, propiconazole, and thiophanate methyl, registered specifically for Connecticut
4. Get rid of pesky pests
The delightful warmth of the spring air awakens nature. Flowers bloom, trees grow leaves, and baby animals are born. However, that previously snow-covered landscape can now house unwanted guests.
Here are some invaders you might encounter:
- White grubs emerge in the spring to feed on grass roots. These unsightly creatures are also attractive to raccoons, birds, and moles. Consequently, all this activity stunts grass growth. Products containing chlorantraniliprole can be effective for controlling grubs if applied from April to September.
- In the spring, leaf-footed bugs feed on flowers and seeds. While not terribly pleasant, the most effective method of control is physical removal.
- Ant mounds and tunneling can result in dead patches of grass. Apply an ant chemical control product only on ant hills.
- Chinch bugs reside in the grass just above the soil. These greedy gluttons feed almost immediately after they hatch. Their voracious appetite can devastate a lawn. To determine if you have chinch bugs, push an open-ended empty can into a yellowed patch of grass. Fill the can with soapy water. If they are living in hot grass, they will float to the surface. Use a commercial chemical solution to control infestation.
- Cutworms enjoy munching on young plants. They designate weedy areas or vegetable plants as their local hangouts. To control them, practice diligent weed and debris control. Repeated applications of bacillus thuringiensis spp. Kurstaki (BTK) effectively eliminates the young ones that are actively feeding.
- If flocks of birds come pecking at your lawn, you just might have a sod webworm infestation. You also might notice patches of uneven grass heights. Apply BTK as mentioned above to control young larvae.
For further information regarding the existence of lawn pests and the usage of chemical control, you can contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271. Alternatively, reach out to a local professional lawn service company.
5. Weed away
Weeds plague lawns and cozily settle in like unwanted house guests who stay too long. That suffocation you’re feeling from that house guest is what your lawn is suffering. However, it’s probably a lot easier to ‘kick out’ those weeds than your guest.
Weeds common to Connecticut are:
- Ground ivy
- Annual bluegrass
- Prickly lettuce
- Broadleaf plantain
Weeds need to be controlled for the following reasons:
- Take up garden space
- Deprive “good” plants from thriving
- Deplete the soil from water and other nutrients
- Can house unwanted insects
Proper way to apply herbicides to your lawn:
- Carefully read label instructions
- Do not apply on a windy day
- Do not mow two to three days before application
- Allow three to four days after treatment before mowing
- Do not irrigate within 24 hours of application
6. Aerate, if necessary
Typically cool-season grasses should be aerated in the fall. However, aeration in the spring might be required if the following conditions exist:
- Clay-heavy soil
- Dense, compacted soil
- Thatch buildup
- Heavy foot and equipment traffic
- Spongy feeling lawn
What exactly is aeration? A method of poking small holes in the lawn and removing small plugs of soil.
Benefits of aeration:
- Results in deeper and stronger root system
- Allows soil to more easily absorb nutrients and water
- Alleviates soil compaction
- Prevents water runoff
- Assists with healthy lawn growth
- Flattens out bumps in the lawn
- Plug or core aeration removes plugs from the soil
- Spike aerator pokes holes in the lawn
3 types of core aerators:
Manual core aerators are ideal for small lawns with mild to moderate soil compaction or just a small spot in need of aeration. They are moderately priced from about $30 to $125 and not available for rental.
Gas-powered core aerators are well suited for medium to large lawns with moderate to high soil compaction. Considered the “big boy” of aerators, they are priced from $2,000 to over $5,000. However, they are available for rental.
Tow-behind core aerators are best for larger lawns with moderate to severe compaction. These models range from $100 to $300 and are available to rent.
4 types of spike aerators:
- Spike aeration shoes
- Rolling push aerators
- Tow-behind spike aerators
Pitchforks work well for very small lawns with mild soil compaction. You might even have one in your garage or tool shed. Otherwise, they are quite reasonably priced from $35 to $60.
Basically spiked aeration shoes live up to the adage “You get what you pay for.” They are inexpensive ($10 to $20), but time-consuming, and not very effective.
Rolling push aerators work well for small lawns with slightly compacted lawns. They are available to rent or purchase from $40 to $65.
Tow-behind spike aerators work well on larger lawns and even fields with mild to moderate compaction. You’ll have to purchase one though ($100-$175) as they aren’t available to rent.
If aeration seems too expensive, time-consuming, or you just plain don’t want to deal with it, you can easily recruit a professional landscaping contractor to take this job off your hands.
7. Overseed, if needed
Cool-season grasses benefit from autumn overseeding as the temperatures are ideal for germination. Spring is also a good time to overseed. If your lawn shows signs of “balding” or patches of brown, then go for it! But, get it done by the end of March or early April, before the summer heat bakes your lawn.
- Mow to a height of 1.5 to 2 inches
- Aerate to ensure seed germination
- Apply compost
- Fertilize (only if your soil test reveals that is necessary)
- Spread the seed
- Water once or twice a day to maintain moisture
Need to know more about overseeding? Get answers easily by contacting your local extension office.
8. Fertilize, but test soil first
If you already fertilized around Labor Day, there’s a good chance you’ll not need to do so again in the spring. However, your lawn just might require a touch up after being bombarded with snow and ice during a New Haven winter.
Pro Tip: If you do apply fertilizer in spring, slow-release fertilizers minimize excess growth.
One vitally important step before fertilizer application is a soil test which will determine the proper ratio of essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This is referred to as the N-P-K ratio. Every fertilizer bag features this ratio. For example, 10-5-10 means the bag contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 10% potassium.
Consult with your local extension office for explicit instructions on how to obtain and conduct the test. Soil test kits also might be available at your local garden center.
Here are some guidelines on how to obtain a sample:
- Dig approximately 6 inches into the soil with a small garden shovel
- Collect 10-20 samples
- Use dry samples only
- Collect about 2 cups
- Place in a waterproof bag or container
- Send or take samples to your local soil testing office
Why fertilizer is important:
- Nurtures growth
- Sustains density
- Enhances color
- Assists in storage of essential nutrients
- Wards off turf stress from heat, drought, and cold
- Reduces water runoff
- Aids in management of weeds, diseases, and insects
Proper fertilizer tools:
- Lawn spreader
- Lawn sprayer
A lawn spreader works best for granular slow-release lawn fertilizers while sprayers mist liquid fertilizers.
- Irrigate with 1 inch of water three days before application
- Apply fertilizer starting at the perimeter
- Proceed up and down, then left to right
- Be sure to cover the entire area
- Water to about ¼ inch of water
- Maintain a regular watering schedule
- Grass should be dry before rewatering
9. Dethatch, if needed
Thatch is a tightly woven layer of both dead and living grass shoots, stems, and roots which accumulates above the soil at the base of the grass blades. If the layer piles up to more than ½ inch thick, your lawn will smother. A thinner layer actually protects against temperature fluctuations.
Cool-season grasses might require dethatching in early spring or early fall, prior to peak growth. Generally, fall is the prime season to dethatch.
To determine if you have thatch, insert a measuring stick or screwdriver into your grass. If the spongy brown layer of matter between your grass and ground is over ½ thick, you need to dethatch.
Benefits of dethatching:
- Aids in absorption of fertilizer, nutrients, water, and air
- Increases soil health
- Increases root strength and density
- Reduces possibility of disease, fungus, and pests
- Reduces puddling, standing water and runoff
- Controls weeds
Methods to dethatch:
- Manual dethatcher
- Electric dethatcher
- Power Rake
10. Start up sprinkler system
Along with your lawn, your sprinklers were tucked in for the winter and are ready to start spraying. However, the ground temperature needs to be consistently above freezing, probably between mid-April and mid-May.
How to open your sprinklers:
- Turn on the manual settings located in the main panel
- Backflow preventer should be shut
- Close the sprinkler valve
- Check for damaged heads and ruptured water lines
- Slowly fill pipes with water
- Check each line to make sure water is flowing correctly
- Set your timers
These are general guidelines for sprinkler systems. It’s recommended that you check your user manual for directions specific to your system. If you are unable to locate it, check the company website.
11. Clean the gutters
Fallen limbs, broken branches, and dead leaves could be clogging up your gutters. Before the arrival of April showers, it’s important to give them a thorough inspection and cleaning. If not cleaned and flushed out, the collected rainwater could flood the gutters and downspouts, possibly resulting in water damage to your home.
How to clean gutters:
- Wear waterproof gloves, safety glasses, long pants and long sleeves
- Place a tarp under the ladder
- Ladder should be sturdy
- Attach a small bucket to the ladder
- Use a small shovel or scoop to collect the debris
- After debris is removed, flush out with a garden hose
You might want to consider recruiting a family member or neighbor to help steady the ladder. However, balancing on a ladder with a gushing hose could present a dangerous situation. Consider calling in a professional gutter cleaning service.
12. Mow properly
Follow this general guide to mow your cool-season grass:
- Mowing blade should be newly sharpened
- Air temperatures must be consistently 40 degrees and above before mowing
- Mow a minimum of once a week
- Mow to approximately 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches above soil line
Kentucky bluegrass: 3-3.5 inches
Perennial ryegrass: 2-3 inches
Fine fescue: 2-3 inches
Tall fescue: 2.5-3.5 inches
Pro Tip: Do not cut off more than one-third of the grass height. Follow this practice to reduce stress on the grass and promote a healthy lawn.
13. Water wisely
Water sprays open the door to your lawn’s health and happiness. The optimum time to water is in the morning, before 10 a.m. It’s cooler, reducing evaporation and water loss.
Watering later in the day when the hot sun blazes, sprinkling water evaporates which defeats the entire purpose of irrigation. Check the top 2 inches of your soil. If it’s dry, water!
To determine if you need to water, perform the screwdriver test. Push a screwdriver into the soil about 2 inches deep. If it comes out dry, you need to water the lawn. Also, if your lawn looks a bit peevish, yellowish, and droopy, turn on the sprinklers.
Cool-season grasses require about 1 ½ inches of water weekly. To determine if your lawn is getting enough water, place empty low cans throughout the yard. Place one close to a sprinkler, one about midway; and another close to the farthest sprinkler. Then place others around your lawn. After a 15-minute sprinkler run, measure the depth in each can, take the average and you’ll be able to determine how long you need to consistently run your sprinklers.
Put a spring in your step
Although your lawn requires spring cleanup, weeding, fertilizing, mowing, and watering, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Your lawn tasks can be solved by contacting one of Lawn Love’s New Haven landscaping companies. They’ll weed away all your problems leaving you with a spring in your step and a lawn that is lush and happy.
Main photo credit: Pixabay | Pexels