Finally, it’s here … the end of a long Rhode Island winter. You’re ready for April showers, May flowers, and the rebirth of sweet green grass. The spring spruce-up for your Providence or Warwick home includes a lawn assessment and a workable plan.
With average winter temperatures below freezing, Rhode Island lawns are made up of cool-season grasses; Kentucky bluegrass (KBG), perennial ryegrass, and tall and fine fescues.
Adding these lawn care projects to the spring calendar will help your lawn bounce back from winter:
- Soil Testing
- Seeding for a thick lawn
- Weeding and herbicides
- Aerating to let your grass breathe
- Mowing for the first time of the season
Melting snow and ice means it’s time to perk up the lawn and landscaping. Clearing out winter’s vegetative leftovers lets water flow through to plant roots, absorbs sunlight, and discourages pests and fungi. Remove old leaves, dead grass, twigs, limbs, and other debris from the yard and flower beds. Watch for emerging green shoots in the soil.
2. Soil testing
Spring or fall – soil testing tells all. Soil testing is like when you get your blood work drawn because it gives a good indication of your overall health. Soil testing lets you know the pH level and what nutrients may be overabundant or lacking. Rhode Island lawn soils typically test between 6.0 and 7.0, from slightly acidic to neutral.
The type of nutrients needed for your Providence or Warwick grass depends on a soil test and your grass species. If you’re only going to fertilize once per year, do it in September. But if you’ve split the process into four applications, do one in early to mid-April.
In general, common types of Kentucky bluegrass should receive a total of 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per year (divided into three applications: April, September, October). Higher KBG premiums can use 4 to 5 pounds a year (with an extra application in November). Fescues vary between 2 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per year.
Nitrogen fertilizers are either soluble or slow-release. Soluble fertilizers stimulate growth but they dissolve quickly – usually within three to four weeks. Slow-release fertilizers release nutrients over time — over six to eight weeks in low temperatures — so nitrogen is always available.
4. Seeding for a thick lawn
After a cold snowy winter, it is possible to see bare patches of grass around the yard. While a complete turf overseed is best left for fall, you can thicken up the yard in spring with seed mixes by using an overseeder or slice seeder.
Overseeders are general broadcast spreaders, but slice seeder machines use cylindrical blades that cut open soil and drop the seeds. (Some machines cover the ground after dropping seeds into holes).
5. Weeding and herbicides
Spring weeds are popping up all over, especially when seeds are blowing into the yard from other areas. If you applied pre-emergent herbicides the previous fall, the number of weeds should be fewer, but they will not disappear completely. Post-emergent weedkillers containing bromoxynil and dicamba go after crabgrass, plantain, dandelions, chickweed, clover, ragweed, and pigweed, among other unwanted grass-space invaders. Follow all directions on the product packaging.
Pro Tip: Herbicides are not safe to use on new seedlings; wait until the newly seeded grass is about six weeks old and has been cut three or four times before putting any herbicides on your lawn.
6. Aerating to let your grass breathe
If you haven’t done so the previous fall (or ever), spring is a good time to aerate the lawn. Core aerators punch holes into compacted soil, removing clumps of dirt for grass roots to breathe and spread. Water and fertilizer reach strangled blade roots better after the turf has been aerated, but it can be a big job, depending on the size of the yard (and the muscle in your arms). You can take a weekend and DIY with a rented or purchased core aerator, but it really is easier to hire a lawn care professional.
7. Mowing for the first time of the season
The first mow of spring isn’t just “time to cut the grass,” it’s the beginning of yard care season! OK, maybe nothing to get excited about, but the key to a well-kept lawn starts with sharpened cutting blades set at the right height for your turf.
Before mowing, wait until the soil has warmed up to above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The first mow should be around 2 to 2 ½ inches (cutting the grass too short may damage the roots). Later in spring, raise the cutting blades to about 3 inches high.
KBG, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass can be mowed twice a week during growth spurts brought on by rainy weather.
Pro Tip: Only mow the lawn when the ground is dry, so as not to leave clumps of wet clippings that can choke the turf. Wet grass also could lead to clogged (and damaged) lawn mowers.
Mowing straight lines back and forth in the same direction damages grass because it tamps down the blades. But changing directions — even adding diagonal lines and patterns — spurs the grass to spring back.
If the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit after you’ve mowed once already, don’t do it again until the thermometer consistently stays in the mid-50s.
Your month-by-month guide to spring lawn care
Still need a little guidance deciding what your spring lawn care should look like? Follow this simple monthly calendar:
- Apply broadleaf post-emergent herbicides to help control those unavoidable winter weeds. Spring applications follow up pre-emergent weedkillers from the previous autumn.
- Overseed in thin spots that were not there a few months ago.
- Rake up old growth and watch out for moles, mice, and other critters digging through the soil.
- Test the soil (if not done the previous fall).
- Feed the grass with 0.5 to 1-part nitrogen per 1,000 square feet with a slow-release fertilizer.
- Mow the grass. In spring, KBG, hard and sheep fescues, and perennial ryegrass should be 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches high. Creeping red and Chewings fescue should be 1 to 2 inches high. Tall fescue ranges from 2 to 3 ½ inches high.
- Thatch and aerate, as necessary.
- Use crabgrass herbicides until April 15.
- Do not use soluble nitrogen fertilizers past May 1 because they bring on foliar diseases.
- Apply post-emergent broadleaf herbicides for summer weeds like crabgrass, goosegrass and nutsedge.
- Apply insecticides as needed.
- Water as needed. In Rhode Island, turfgrass needs about an inch of water per week. Spring rainfall provides about 4 inches per month. Take care not to overwater, as too much moisture and runoff leads to fungi and diseases.
- Mow weekly. Leave grass clippings on the ground to absorb natural nutrients into the soil.
Landscaping is all part of owning a home
It may not be high on the list, but homeowners know that landscaping is part of the house chores handbook. From cutting grass to leaf removal, yard work is unavoidable, whether you do it yourself or want to save your weekends by hiring a Providence lawn care pro. In the end, it’s that sweet green grass and outdoor living that makes it all worth it.
Main Photo Credit: pasja1000 | Pixabay