Springtime in New Orleans is marked by azaleas and Louisiana irises in bloom, pink jasmine’s marvelous fragrance, and your lawn growing and greening again.
How can you get the grass growing season off to a great start and keep your Big Easy yard looking a healthy green through summer?
- 1. Treat lawn diseases before new growth starts
- 2. Weed control for now and later
- 3. Overseed to boost lawn thickness
- 4. Test your soil
- 5. Fertilize when your grass grows
- 6. Water wisely
- 7. Know when to mow (and how often to mow)
- 8. Dethatch as needed
- 9. Wait to aerate
- 10. Prevent lawn pest infestations
- 11. Get your lawn care equipment ready
- Spring lawn care pays off year-round
1. Treat lawn diseases before new growth starts
Several lawn diseases are common in spring in New Orleans. Why? Many of these diseases are the result of fungi that love our springtime heat and humidity. Look for symptoms like faded patches in your lawn so you can treat any diseases before the growing season kicks into high gear in late spring.
Six lawn diseases to be on guard against in New Orleans in springtime, according to Louisiana State University Ag Center’s Louisiana Lawns Best Management Practices (BMP):
What to look for:
- Circular or irregular patches of brown or gray grass that range in size from a few inches to several feet; Possibly a smoke-colored circle surrounding the diseased area
How to treat brown patch:
- If you notice the patches spreading, that means the fungus is still alive. Use a fungicide with triadimefon, thiophanate-methyl, propiconazole, PCNB, myclobutanil, or maneb as an active ingredient to kill the fungus before it spreads more.
What to look for:
- Small straw-colored spots in your lawn about the size and shape of a silver dollar; A layer of fluffy white growth on top of the grass in the mornings
How to treat dollar spot:
- There are several strains of this type of fungus, and different variations can be immune to different kinds of fungicide. You may need to alternate several different fungicides with different active ingredients to kill the infection.
What to look for:
- A ring or arc of dead grass with white fungal growth in the soil; A noticeably dark green ring or arc in the grass
How to treat fairy ring:
- Remove the soil in and around the infected area to a depth of 1 foot, then re-seed or re-sod to fill the hole in your lawn. Because the fungi that cause fairy rings have deep roots, fungicides often don’t work on them.
Leaf blot (aka melting out)
What to look for:
- Brown or purplish spots on individual blades of grass; Exceedingly thin grass
How to treat leaf blot:
- Let your grass grow a little longer than usual. Don’t stop mowing the lawn, but raise the cutting height on your lawn mower while your grass suffers from leaf blotch. After mowing, remove infected clippings from the lawn immediately. Apply fungicide with propiconazole, myclobutanil, PCNB, maneb, or thiophanate-methyl as an active ingredient to kill the source of the leaf blotch.
What to look for:
- Gray, black, or brownish-yellow residue coating the grass; Small round spores sprinkled over the residue
How to treat slime mold:
- Slime molds will eventually stop forming on their own when the weather gets dry. You can get rid of the residue and spores covering your grass with a broom or a high-pressure garden hose sprayer.
Take-all root rot
What to look for:
- Similar symptoms to brown patch; Grass stolons (horizontal stems) lifting easily out of the ground; Patches or entire lawn of extremely thin grass
How to treat root rot:
- Use a fungicide with myclobutanil or triadimefon as an active ingredient. If the infection is too deep, these treatments may not kill it. Applying manganese fertilizer may also help (according to Rutgers University).
2. Weed control for now and later
Spring is the growing season for weeds, too. Cool-season weeds will start to pop up in your yard in early spring while temperatures are still moderate. Warm-season weeds will make their appearance in the hotter months of May and June.
How can you remain vigilant in your fight against weeds in your New Orleans yard?
Apply a post-emergent herbicide in March or early April when you notice cool-season weeds in your lawn. Post-emergent herbicides only affect weeds that have already germinated, so don’t bother with this step if you don’t already have a weed problem.
Apply a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring to keep warm-season weeds from ever sprouting in late spring and summer.
Before you purchase post-emergent herbicides for cool-season weeds, it’s important to know the difference between annual and perennial weeds.
Annual cool-season weeds last only one season, then they die when the weather starts to warm up. If the only weeds in your lawn are annuals, the warmer temperatures will get rid of them for you in due time.
Perennial weeds come back year after year and won’t go away on their own.
We’ve compiled a short list of annual and perennial weeds to look out for during springtime in the New Orleans area. We based this list on information from the “Lawn Weeds” section of LSU’s Louisiana Lawns BMP guide and this article by Dan Gill, a horticulture professor at LSU.
Annual cool-season weeds common in New Orleans:
- Lawn burweed
- Wild geranium
- Annual bluegrass
Perennial cool-season weeds common in New Orleans:
- Virginia buttonweed
- Purple nutsedge
- Yellow nutsedge
- White clover
- Indian Strawberry
Don’t know the name of the weeds you see in your yard? That’s OK, most people don’t. LSU’s Ag Center has a handy Louisiana weed database (with pictures) to help you identify common weeds found in New Orleans yards.
3. Overseed to boost lawn thickness
Overseeding in spring can keep your yard a thick green carpet through fall, avoiding those thin patches later in the year.
What is overseeding? You spread grass seeds over your existing lawn so more grass will grow in the future. The best time to overseed is at the beginning of your grass’s growing season. For the warm-season grasses in New Orleans, that means late spring.
Remember, plants don’t follow dates the way we do. Their timetables are based on temperature. For the best results, you should overseed a New Orleans lawn when daily temperatures are in the 70s consistently. The soil should be at least 60 degrees when planting warm-season grasses.
Different grass types grow best in various ideal weather conditions. This table shows the recommended time to overseed some of the most popular grass types in New Orleans.
|Typical time frame |
in New Orleans
| *St. |
|Late April – |
|Bermuda||Late May – |
|April – |
|Centipede||May – |
|June – |
|Zoysia||June – |
* St. Augustinegrass spreads through above-ground stolons, so it’s usually planted as sod or plugs instead of seeds.
** Carpetgrass, aka Louisiana grass or petit gazon in Creole
Newly seeded grass has care requirements different from those of established grass, even if it’s the same species. After you overseed, make sure your new grass gets the right amount of water and fertilizer so it grows thick and healthy.
Note: You have to choose between weed control and overseeding in spring. If you apply herbicides to prevent weeds from germinating, they’ll prevent your new grass from germinating, too. Decide whether getting rid of weeds or filling in sparse growth is more important for your lawn.
4. Test your soil
New Orleans generally has fantastic soil, but that doesn’t mean the soil on your property is ideal. Your soil may be too acidic, too alkaline, or lacking in crucial nutrients. Early in spring, before you fertilize, conduct a soil test to find out what nutrients your soil needs.
Depending on the results of the test, you may need to add soil amendments like lime, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, or magnesium.
Apply these amendments to your soil at least four weeks before fertilizing for the first time so the amendments and the fertilizer won’t counteract or interfere with each other.
5. Fertilize when your grass grows
In New Orleans, the peak time for spring fertilization usually hits in April. But follow your grass’s lead. Fertilize your lawn once the grass begins growing. Why wait? Your grass’s roots have enough nutrients stored up to sustain life until then.
Once your lawn has started growing again and is ready for feeding, opt for slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. Here’s why: Fast-release fertilizer might seem tempting because it sparks a rush of growth all at once, but that growth is often unhealthy. Fast-release fertilizers can even “burn” your grass.
How to fertilize your lawn? Instead of scattering fertilizer by hand, use a spreader to apply an even layer throughout your yard. Using a spreader reduces the possibility of missing a spot or leaving unattractive streaks in the lawn.
Be careful not to use too much fertilizer. More product does not mean more growth. Most of the time, overfertilization damages the grass and leaves it weak.
Note: Don’t think applying fertilizer early will make your grass start growing sooner. Grass only grows when it’s ready, and you can’t rush the process. Fertilizing too early wastes your time and money.
6. Water wisely
Don’t start watering your lawn until the grass starts growing. Why? In early spring, the soil is still moist from winter.
Once you start watering your yard, you should water no more than 1 inch per week for the remainder of spring.
Too much water is a bad thing. Too little water also will starve your grass.
Overwatering causes shallow root growth and leaves your lawn susceptible to pests, fungi, and excessive thatch. Too much water runoff can also lead to fertilizers, pesticides, and other harmful substances finding their way into groundwater, storm drains, and natural bodies of water.
How much and how often you should water your lawn depends on your soil. Most soils in the New Orleans area are on the sandy side, so they absorb water quickly and drain just as fast. That means your grass likely will do better with smaller, more frequent waterings than you would give soils that are denser.
Underwatering your lawn will dry out your grass. That carpet of green will start to lose its color.
Signs that your lawn isn’t getting enough water include:
- Wilting grass
- Footprints remaining in the grass when you walk through it
- Grass turning tan or gray
Here’s how to check your soil’s moisture level: Grab a screwdriver. Try to dig the business end of the tool into the dirt. If it goes in easily, your soil is moist. If it’s difficult to break through the dirt, there’s a good chance your soil is too dry and you need to water your lawn more often.
Note: NO heavy yard work in early spring, as you can easily damage the wet soil.
7. Know when to mow (and how often to mow)
When should you start to mow your lawn? When your grass reaches 2 inches tall, you’re clear to cut it. You can even wait a little while longer if you want, but definitely don’t start your mowing season before your grass hits 2 inches.
Once you start cutting the grass, follow these few rules for a healthy lawn:
- Never cut more than one-third of the grass’s height at one time.
- Don’t mow when the grass is wet, including in the morning before the dew evaporates.
- Don’t let the clippings build up too much, creating a too-thick layer of thatch.
How tall should you let your grass grow between mows? That depends on the type of grass. This table shows the recommended cutting heights for the most common New Orleans grasses.
|Grass type||Recommended height|
|St. Augustinegrass||2 -3 inches|
|Bermudagrass||1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches|
|Carpetgrass||1 ½ – 2 inches|
|Centipedegrass||1 – 2 inches|
|Seashore paspalum||1 ½ – 2 inches|
|Zoysiagrass||1 – 2 inches|
Note: You’ll often see advice telling you to mow your lawn in spring after the last frost, but that isn’t exactly relevant to New Orleans, where the coldest winter night is usually well above freezing temperatures. Instead, start regularly mowing based on the height of your grass. When your grass is 2 inches high, you’re good to mow.
8. Dethatch as needed
What is dethatching? Removing the thatch in your lawn gives you better access to the soil, which is why you should dethatch your lawn before aeration.
What is thatch? Thatch is a layer of plant matter (think grass clippings, leaves, etc.) that builds up in your lawn above the surface of the soil. It provides nutrients for healthy grass growth, cushions the grass to protect it from damage, and helps the soil retain water and fertilizer.
But too much thatch can suffocate your lawn and invite pests.
That’s where dethatching helps. If the layer of thatch in your lawn reaches an inch or more, it’s time to remove the plant matter using a rake or dethatcher (aka vertical mower or verticutter).
Even if you don’t need to aerate your lawn, you might consider dethatching annually. Annual dethatching helps prevent certain lawn diseases and pest infestations since many insects and fungi thrive in excessive thatch.
The best time to dethatch a lawn is after it has started growing post-dormancy and you have mowed your grass a few times. For the warm-season grasses of New Orleans, that usually means late spring.
9. Wait to aerate
Avoid aerating in spring. Here’s why: Aeration involves poking holes in compacted soil to give roots easier access to water and nutrients, but in spring — the season of growth — those holes become the perfect nesting ground for weed seeds looking for a place to germinate.
Note: Aerating when it’s hot out, like it usually is during springtime in New Orleans, also can dry out the soil.
One exception to avoiding aerating in spring: If you notice your lawn isn’t growing and you deduce the problem is soil compaction, you may have to aerate in springtime if you want a lush lawn for summer. Wait until May or June, when most weeds have already germinated, if possible.
The good news is that New Orleans has a lot of sandy soils, which by their nature don’t usually get too compacted. Odds are you won’t have to worry about aerating at any time of year.
10. Prevent lawn pest infestations
Many common Louisiana lawn pests reproduce in spring, so now is a good time to take action. If you kill adult pests before they have time to lay and fertilize their eggs, or get rid of larvae while they’re still growing, you can avoid a lawn infestation later in the year.
Some pests you might find reproducing or feeding on your lawn in spring include:
- Chinch bugs
- Sod webworms
- Mole crickets
- Fire ants
These pests can damage your grass in spring, but the real trouble usually starts later in summer when the population has had a chance to mature. Nipping pests in the bud now is important for your lawn’s health through the rest of the growing season.
In many cases, pest prevention coincides with proper lawn care. A healthy lawn is unattractive and uninviting to most pests. Keeping your grass watered (but not overwatered) and fertilized (but not over-fertilized) are effective means of pest prevention.
Regular dethatching is another way to keep pests out of your yard.
Note: Whenever possible, don’t use catch-all pesticides that harm beneficial insects such as ladybugs. Since these insects often prey on pests and control their population, killing them now could give you even bigger pest problems in the future.
Instead, seek selective pesticides that kill only a targeted pest, such as fire ant poisons and products that work only on leaf-eating caterpillars and worms.
11. Get your lawn care equipment ready
Spring is a good time to make sure all your essential lawn care tools — such as lawn mowers, weed eaters, and hedge trimmers — are in working condition and prepped for heavy use over the next few months.
Here’s a short checklist of steps you can take now to make summer lawn care easier:
- If you use gas-powered tools, stock up on gas.
- If you use battery-powered tools, check the batteries that have been sitting in the garage. Make sure the tools still work properly.
- Sharpen your lawn mower’s blades.
- For gas-powered lawn mowers, replace the spark plug and filter and change the engine oil.
- Make sure your weed eater has plenty of line.
Why ticking the boxes of a spring lawn tools checklist is smart: During summer, you’ll have your hands full with weekly lawn mowing, watering, and other yard work that’s going to take up a good chunk of your time. You don’t want to add unexpected problems with your equipment to that list of worries.
Spring lawn care pays off year-round
New Orleans lawns have all the ingredients — terrific soil and a great climate — to be some of the most beautiful in the world, but you have to put in the time and effort in springtime to make it actually happen.
If you don’t have the time, energy or will to do some basic spring yard work, find a lawn care pro near you to check the boxes of the spring lawn care checklist for you. In New Orleans, there are always loads of cool things to do instead.
Main Photo Credit: Couleur | Pixabay