15 Spring Lawn Care Tips for the Northeast

spring in New England

Spring is a welcome reprieve from the harsh winter months of the Northeast for both homeowners and their lawns. This season is the time for your grass to spring back to life, but it can only do so if you help it recover. Are you unsure of how to start your lawn care routine this spring? Here are some spring lawn care tips for the Northeast U.S.

15 spring lawn care tips for the Northeast

1. Spread the snow around evenly on your grass

snow on grass
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In the spring, you may notice that some spots on your lawn have more snow than others. Perhaps some areas have no more snow. If that’s the case, it’s time to grab a rake and spread the snow evenly across your lawn.

It may sound counterproductive to add snow to areas that don’t have snow anymore, but it’s actually more helpful for your lawn overall. Uneven snow distribution will cause some spots to green up faster while the rest of your lawn is trapped under the snow. If worse comes to worst, the excess moisture from the snow may cause lawn diseases.

Spreading snow across your lawn helps it melt faster and evenly, minimizing the risk of fungal diseases.

2. Keep off the (wet) grass

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Keep foot traffic to a minimum if your lawn is still soggy and wet from melting snow and rain. Wet soil is more likely to become compacted, which is bad for your lawn’s health. Wet grass is also less resilient and might get damaged when walked on.

3. Clean up your yard

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When the snow has started to melt and the temperatures start to warm up a little, you may be tempted to jump into your lawn care routine. But before anything else, your lawn needs to be cleaned up. Twigs, branches, and dead leaves may have accumulated on your lawn over the winter. A dirty lawn is more susceptible to diseases, pests, and thatch.

While you can use a leaf blower to get rid of debris, we still recommend giving your lawn a pass with a rake because it helps remove thatch. It also can break up matted grass caused by snow molds, compacted soil, and overwatering. Matted grass can block new grass from growing.

Don’t rake your lawn if the soil is still soggy and muddy. You might pull up healthy grass.

4. Dethatch

illustration explaining thatch on grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

One of the major enemies of lawns is excess thatch. Thatch is the spongy layer of dead and living organic matter. It can house pests and invite disease if it’s too thick. Dethatching removes excess thatch from your lawn, but it’s an invasive lawn procedure that should be done only when needed.

The best way to check if your lawn needs to be dethatched this spring is by digging out 3-inch-deep soil samples. The thatch layer can be found between your turf and the soil itself. Measure how thick it is with a ruler; if it’s more than ½-inch thick, it’s time to dethatch.

If you need to dethatch your lawn, you’ll need a dethatching rake, dethatcher, or verticutter. Here is a quick guide to dethatching your lawn:

  1. Mow your lawn to almost half of its recommended height. (See recommended mowing heights below.)
  2. Dethatch:
    1. If you’re using a dethatching rake, dig into the thatch with the rake tines and pull upward.
    2. If you’re using a dethatcher or verticutter, read the instruction manual carefully. Regardless of how yours works, you don’t want the blades to cut deeper than ½-inch into your soil.
  3. Rake the loosened thatch and remove it from your lawn.

It’s best to dethatch during your lawn’s growing season so it can recover more easily from the damage:

  • Cool-season grasses: If your Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or fescue lawn is in dire need of dethatching, do it in early spring. If not, then it’s better to wait for the fall. 
  • Zoysiagrass: Dethatch during late spring.

5. Aerate

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Compacted soil prevents water, sunlight, and nutrients from getting to your turf’s root system, leading to poor lawn health. Aeration alleviates soil compaction by poking holes in your lawn with an aerator to make space in the soil.

Generally, most lawns are fine without an annual aerification. Lawns that get a lot of foot traffic or those with clay soils may be more susceptible to soil compaction and may need annual aeration. You may need to aerate your lawn this spring if you notice these signs:

  • Puddles on your lawn
  • Increased water runoff
  • Thinning grass

There are two ways to aerate your lawn. Spike aeration is done with spike aerators or a spading fork. It’s quite easy to do as you only have to poke holes in your lawn to make way for water, nutrients, and air. While it’s by far the easier aeration method, it’s not a long-term solution: It’s only pushing soil aside, which can worsen soil compaction in other spots.

If you need to aerate your lawn, we suggest performing core aeration. Core aeration is more effective as it removes soil plugs using a core aerator instead of simply pushing soil aside. Here are some simple instructions on how to aerate your lawn:

  1. Mow your lawn to its recommended height.
  2. Water your lawn a day or two before aeration. You also can aerate the day after it rains.
  3. Mark sprinkler heads so you don’t accidentally hit them.
  4. Push the aerator across your lawn, starting at one edge. Overlap your lines a little bit.
  5. Aerate your lawn again, but this time at a perpendicular angle to when you started.
  6. Leave the soil plugs on your lawn and leave them to dry for a few days.
  7. Break up the plugs with the back of a rake. They will break down over time and return nutrients to the soil.

When is the best time to aerate your lawn? Like with dethatching, it’s best to aerate your lawn during your turf’s growing season so it can recover more easily from the damage:

  • Cool-season grasses: If your lawn desperately needs to be aerated, do it in early spring. If not, then it’s better to wait for the fall. 
  • Zoysiagrass: Aerate during late spring.

6. Do a soil test and add soil amendments

illustration showing the pH levels of soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Different grasses have different soil pH preferences, but many of them will thrive in the 6 to 7 pH range. Soil that is too acidic or alkaline may make it more difficult to absorb nutrients and water or foster weeds that prefer these pH levels. You can use soil amendments to change the pH of your soil:

  • How to increase soil pH: Add lime or wood ash
  • How to decrease soil pH: Add elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate

To find out if your soil is in the proper pH range, you can conduct a soil test. DIY soil test kits can be bought at home improvement stores or online, but you also can send soil samples to your local Cooperative Extension office or a private lab. The soil pH level you should aim for will depend on the type of grass you have on your lawn:

Grass typePreferred soil pH
Fine fescue6.0 — 6.5
Kentucky bluegrass6.0 — 7.5
Perennial ryegrass6.0 — 7.0
Tall fescue5.5 — 6.5
Zoysiagrass6.0 — 6.5

The soil test results can tell you more about your soil too, such as its nutrient levels and capacity to hold nutrients. One important result to check is your soil’s N-P-K levels. N-P-K stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three micronutrients that grass and other plants need the most to grow. You also can use your soil test results to check if your lawn needs fertilization; often, they also will tell you what fertilizer will best fit your lawn.

7. Watch for weeds

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Before fertilizing your lawn, you should deal with weeds. There are two sides to weed control: preventative and reactive. While there are many ways to deal with weeds, one of the most effective ways is by using herbicides.

Use pre-emergent herbicides twice in spring to prevent summer annuals, especially the notorious crabgrass. It’s more effective to do two applications of the weed killer as spring showers may wash it away. Apply pre-emergent weed killer once in early April, then again in mid-May. Some other summer annuals that you can prevent with pre-emergent herbicides include:

  • Crabgrass
  • Purslane
  • Lambsquarters
  • Black medic

However, pre-emergent weed killers aren’t as effective on these lawn weeds:

  • Ground ivy (creeping Charlie)
  • Dandelion
  • Nutsedge
  • White clover
  • Broadleaf plantain
  • Prickly lettuce

For perennial weeds like the above, you’re better off with a reactive weed control method. If you go the herbicide route, you need to use a post-emergent herbicide. Spot-treat weeds as you see them instead of spraying your whole lawn.

If using chemical herbicides isn’t up your alley, you also can hand-pull weeds or use a DIY weed killer. However, you have to make sure you get the whole root system if you’re dealing with perennial weeds.

Want to know more about common weeds in the Northeast? Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s weed gallery features many common broadleaf and grassy weeds in New Jersey and the rest of the Northeastern states.

8. Treat lawn diseases

Pythium diseases (Pythium spp.)
Photo Credit: William M. Brown Jr. | Bugwood.org

The cooler and wetter weather of spring makes your lawn more susceptible to disease-causing fungi. Some common lawn diseases in the Northeast include:

  • Brown patch: Irregular circles of thin, light brown grass ranging from a few inches to a few feet in diameter.
  • Dollar spot: 2- to 6-inch tan spots across your lawn.
  • Gray and pink snow molds: Patches of matted grass that look gray, tan, or light pink.
  • Powdery mildew: White spores on grass blades that eventually cover the whole blade. Your lawn may eventually look like it’s been dusted with flour.
  • Fairy rings: Can look like dark green grass circles, brown grass circles, or mushroom circles.
  • Red thread: Irregularly shaped pink, reddish-brown, or orange spots on your lawn. It also kind of looks like cotton or strands of thread. When it kills turfgrasses, affected areas turn light pink or tan.
  • Leaf spots: Small brown spots that become larger over time, turning into tan spots with brown or purple-red borders
  • Melting out: Progresses from leaf spots. Kills the crown and roots of grass, thinning your lawn over time.
  • Anthracnose: Reddish-brown patches of grass with individual blades having long reddish-brown lesions.

The best way to counter lawn disease is by maintaining a healthy lawn through proper mowing irrigation. In a pickle, fungicides will kill most of the fungi causing lawn diseases. If you’re struggling with lawn diseases, consider hiring a pro.

9. Eliminate any pests

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Spring is abuzz with new life, including pesky pests that can invade your lawn. In the Northeast, you may find these creepy crawlies on your lawn this spring:

  • Ants
  • Chinch bugs
  • Cutworms
  • Leaf-footed bugs
  • Sod webworm
  • White grubs

Good lawn care practices, like keeping your lawn’s thatch to a minimum, will keep pests at bay. If you find yourself dealing with pests, you can use chemical pesticides, make DIY pest killers, or simply hand-pick them and kill them. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, consider hiring a pest control pro.

10. Overseed bare patches

grass seeds in a hand
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Overseeding is the process of growing grass seed on an already established lawn. Just like aeration and dethatching, overseeding in the Northeast is best done in the fall (unless your lawn is made of Zoysia). However, it’s not bad to overseed your lawn this spring if it’s an unsightly mess riddled with bare spots.

  • Cool-season grass: Best done in the fall, but can be overseeded from mid-March to early April if needed.
  • Zoysiagrass: Overseed around mid-March to early April.

Overseeding during this time window will allow the new grass to establish before the summer heat kicks in. This is especially important for cool-season lawns as they go dormant during the summer.

If you want to dethatch or aerate your lawn this spring, do so before you overseed. Otherwise, your grass seed might get disturbed during aeration or dethatching and might not sprout.

11. Fertilize your lawn

Fertilizer pellets spreading from fertilizer
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Not all Northeast lawns will need to be fertilized this spring, especially since cool-season lawns are typically fed during the fall. However, you will need to fertilize your lawn if your soil test says it’s lacking in nutrients. Here are some fertilization tips you can follow:

  • Fertilize in mid-May. This is the ideal time to fertilize regardless of if you have a cool-season lawn or a Zoysiagrass one.
  • Use a slow-release fertilizer or compost. This keeps your grass fed throughout the season.
  • Fertilize lightly. Don’t use a lot of fertilizer on your grass as too much can cause nitrogen burns and excessive growth. Excessive growth causes poor root growth.
  • Wear protective gear. Nitrogen in fertilizer can burn you. Wear gloves, long pants, long sleeves, and a mask for maximum protection.
  • Always read the instructions. Some fertilizers have special instructions and restrictions. The instructions will also say if you need to water the fertilizer after applying it.
  • Wait for a week after applying herbicides before fertilizing your lawn.
  • Apply fertilizer on a calm day and when the forecast doesn’t predict rain for a few days. Rain and wind can mess with your fertilization attempts.
  • Use a spreader to spread the lawn fertilizer evenly.
  • Fertilize in a grid-like pattern starting at the perimeter of your lawn, then fertilize the center. Go north to south, then east to west.
  • Push back excess fertilizer that has landed on your walkway or driveway onto the grass with a broom or a leaf blower.

Most lawns need 1 pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn. Don’t know how much fertilizer you need to use this spring? Here’s how to do it.

  1. Break down your lawn into imaginary squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles.
  2. Calculate the area of each imaginary shape in square feet then add them together. That is your lawn’s total square footage.
  3. Look for the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio of your fertilizer. Grab the value assigned to “N”.
  4. Convert the value of “N” to a decimal. 
  5. Divide that decimal by 1. The answer is how many pounds of fertilizer you need to apply per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

12. Inspect your lawn tools

close-up of chipped lawn mower blade
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Before you break out your lawn mower for the first mow of the season, you should check if it’s in good condition. Here’s how to prep your lawn mower for spring:

  • Warm up your mower by placing it under the sun for an hour or two. Cold mowers are more difficult to start.
  • Check if your mower has difficulty starting up. If your mower is struggling, you’ll need to perform a tune-up:
    • Gas-powered lawn mower: Change the oil, spark plug, and air filters. Refuel your mower afterward.
    • Battery-powered lawn mower: Check if the battery can hold a full charge. Replace the battery if needed.
  • Sharpen your mower blades. Sharp blades give a clean cut, which is less stressful on your grass. Replace your mower blades if they won’t sharpen or if they have a lot of nicks.
  • Rinse below the mower deck to remove grass clippings, dirt, and debris.

You may also have other lawn care tools in your shed. Generally, you’ll need to check the same parts you checked for your gas or electric mower. Here are some tools and how to maintain them:

  • Lawn edger: Clean it up and check its engine belts, head, oil, fuel/battery, air filter, and blade.
  • String trimmer: Clean it up and check its oil, fuel/battery, and air filter. Replace its trimmer line.
  • Leaf blower: Clean it up and check its air filter, hose, spark plug, bolts, screws, fasteners, oil, and fuel/battery.
  • Cutting tools: Clean and sharpen if needed.

13. Check your sprinklers

automatic garden lawn sprinkler
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You need to wait until the soil temperatures are above freezing before you turn on your sprinklers. You’ll want to restart your sprinklers properly, too; otherwise, your sprinklers may break. Here’s how to de-winterize your sprinkler system:

  1. Clean your sprinkler heads of debris.
  2. Look for the main shut-off valve, usually in a crawlspace or basement. Close the valve.
  3. Slowly open the valve until it’s halfway open, then run each sprinkler zone for at least 3 minutes. This prevents the pipes from being overwhelmed by water pressure.
  4. Go around your lawn and check for issues. The sprinklers may blow out air for a minute but should subside. If it doesn’t, then your sprinkler system may have valve or sprinkler head issues.
  5. Open the valve fully.
  6. Change the sprinkler settings and timer based on what your lawn needs in terms of irrigation:
    1. Cool-season grass: 1 to 1.5 inches weekly
    2. Zoysiagrass: 1 inch weekly

If your sprinklers are broken, cracked, or clogged, you may see issues. Here are some problems you might encounter with your lawn sprinklers:

  • Wild or odd streams of water
  • Runoff
  • Puddles
  • Leaks
  • No water coming out

14. Mow properly

illustration showing the different types of mowing patterns for your lawn
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

In the Northeast, you’ll usually need to wait until May before mowing your lawn for the first time this season. When the time comes for your first mow, remember these lawn mowing tips to maintain your lawn’s health:

  • Wait until your lawn is 3 to 4 inches tall before you mow your lawn for the first time.
  • Cut only 1/3rd of your grass height whenever you mow to avoid stressing out your grass.
  • Don’t mow wet grass as it can clog up your mower. It might spit out wet clumps of grass, which will smother and kill your lawn if not broken up.
  • Mow in a different pattern each time you mow. This will prevent a pattern from forming and force your grass to grow in different directions, which makes them healthier. Overlap a little to ensure an even cut.
  • Mow during mid-morning or late afternoon. Mowing when it’s too hot out will cause your grass to dry out and weaken. 
  • Try grasscycling. Leave your healthy, non-treated lawn clippings on your lawn. When it breaks down, it will return nutrients to your lawn. You also can put them in your compost pile if you have one.
  • Mow down to your turf’s ideal height. Different grasses have different ideal heights. Consult this table to find out the recommended height for your grass type:
Grass typeIdeal lawn height (inches)Mow when the grass reaches this height (inches)
Fine fescue1.5 – 32 – 4
Kentucky bluegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Perennial ryegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Tall fescue2 – 42.5 – 5.25
Zoysiagrass1.0 – 2.51.25 – 3.25

15. Take care of landscaping

person mulching garden bed with hands
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Spring is the perfect time to take care of your landscaping, from mulching to preparing your garden beds. Wait until all threats of frost have passed, usually in late May. Here are some things you may want to take care of this spring:

  • Mulch. Mulch has many benefits, such as preventative weed control and temperature control. Organic mulches, like leaves and grass clippings, can also help fertilize your lawn as they break down over time.
  • Deadheading. Deadheading is the process of removing old seed heads from flowers to encourage new growth. Prune the dead flowers just above the first set of healthy leaves.
  • Garden beds. Prepare your garden beds when the temperatures consistently hit 60 F.
  • New plants. Before adding new plants, check your soil with the squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil is clumpy and dripping, don’t plant anything yet. If it’s slightly moist and crumbly, then it’s time to break out the gardening gloves.

FAQs about Northeastern spring lawn care

What states are part of the Northeast?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Northeast includes New England and three others. In total, there are nine Northeastern U.S. states:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Some people lump in Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. with the Northeastern states, too.

What is the best type of grass for the Northeast?

Because of the climate in the Northeast region, homeowners find a lot of success with cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass.

Most warm-season grasses won’t survive the freezing winter temperatures. The exception is Zoysiagrass, which can survive in Northeastern lawns thanks to its relatively excellent cold tolerance.

How do you check your sprinkler system’s water output? 

You can do the tuna can test to test your sprinkler system’s water output:

  1. Place tuna cans around your lawn.
  2. Run your sprinklers for 15 minutes.
  3. Measure how much water is in each can with a ruler.
  4. Average out the measurements.

This table shows how long you should run your sprinklers based on the average water measurement you got:

Average water depth after 15 minutesTotal minutes needed to water 1 inch
⅛ inch120
¼ inch60
½ inch30
¾ inch20
1 inch15

Have a pro help out with your Northeast lawn

Once spring rolls around, it’s only a matter of time for you to start your lawn care routine again. However, you must start your spring lawn maintenance at the right time and in the right way so your lawn can recover properly from the cold winter months. 

Don’t have the time to care for your lawn properly? Why not find a pro through Lawn Love? We can help you get in touch with Northeastern lawn care pros who can do all the work for you. Hire a pro through Lawn Love today and enjoy a green lawn this spring without lifting a finger.

Main Photo Credit: KenWiedmann | Canva Pro | License

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.