8 Spring Lawn Care Tips for Rochester

Man bent down next to a new spring blooming flower

When it comes to horticulture, Rochester rules. The city, known for its glorious gardens filled with beautiful blooms, attracts local residents and tourists from around the world to its famous parks, gardens, tours, and festivals. You can’t have your Flower City lawn looking limp. Start prepping now and your yard will bloom like the Maplewood Park Rose Garden.

Help your lawn recover from winter with these eight spring lawn care tips:

  1. Maintain your mower
  2. Get your soil tested
  3. Aerate
  4. Clear winter debris
  5. Say goodbye to weeds
  6. Treat lawn diseases
  7. Dethatch
  8. Prep your landscaping

1. Maintain your mower

It’s best to make sure your mower is in top condition before spring growth becomes unruly. Mowing with dull blades harms your grass and causes bruising, making your lawn dull and brown. It can also tear the leaf and make the grass more vulnerable to disease. 

You can tell whether the blades are dull by how the grass looks after it is cut. If the grass is uneven and the blades look torn, then it’s time for some newly sharpened blades. You can do it yourself with an inexpensive blade-sharpening kit, or you can bring it to a professional.

DIY Mowing Prep: Sharpen your lawn mower blade. 

  • Disconnect the spark plug.
  • Grab a wrench to remove the bolt on the blade. Take off the blade.
  • Get a paint scraper to remove the built-up gunk on the blade.
  • Put the blade in a vice and use a file to sharpen the edge.
  • Hang the blade on a nail to make sure it is relatively level. If one side leans too much to one side, take off more metal to make the blade hang level.
  • Use an air compressor or paint scraper to remove built-up debris from underneath the deck.
  • Put the blade back on the mower.
  • Reconnect the spark plug.

You’re ready to mow! 

Be sure to change your mower’s oil every 20-50 hours of use. During peak growing season, it’s typically best to mow the lawn once a week, maybe more depending on your grass type. If you have a large yard you’re mowing weekly, be prepared to change your mower’s oil more frequently.

In addition to your lawnmower, you should check other equipment such as weed eaters, hedge trimmers, and leaf blowers. Here’s a quick checklist to see if you’re ready to tackle summer lawn care:

  • Check the gas levels for your gas-powered tools.
  • Replace the filter, spark plug, and change the engine oil for your gas-powered lawn mower.
  • Check the battery levels for your battery-powered tools.

Use this checklist to prepare ahead of time and avoid potential problems with your equipment. 

2. Get your soil tested

Getting your soil tested is imperative in the spring after your lawn has been through the long, cold Rochester winter. Testing your soil lets you know if your soil is lacking nutrients or is too acidic or alkaline. It also lets you know if you should add elements such as potassium, calcium, or lime. 

What influences soil acidity?

  • Rain: Rain carries nitric, carbonic, and sulfuric acid that it has absorbed in the atmosphere down to earth. These levels can be intensified in metropolitan areas. Rochester typically receives around 33 inches of rainfall annually, which can cause nutrients to be leached from the topsoil, increasing levels of soil acidity.  
  • Fertilizer: If your fertilizer contains ammonium, it will lower your soil’s pH level but it will increase levels of acidity as it converts to nitrate once added to the soil. 
  • Microbes: Microbes help decompose organic matter; this leads to more carbon dioxide in the soil, causing further acidity.

The best pH range for your soil is between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic, it can create a difficult environment and damage plant roots. 

How to test your soil:

You can use a soil test kit to figure out your soil’s pH level and whether or not it has nutritional deficiencies. These kits are inexpensive and easy to use, but they don’t provide very detailed information. For a more complete soil analysis, send a sample to a soil testing lab. Contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension office to learn more about low-cost options for lab testing your soil. 

After getting your results, plan to add the necessary soil amendments (such as magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus) at least a month before you add fertilizer. This will prevent any negative interactions between the fertilizer and soil amendments. 

3. Aerate

Aeration is helpful to all lawns, but it is especially helpful for lawns that experience high levels of foot traffic, thatch buildup, or grow in dense soils. Over time, the ground gets compacted and makes it harder for water, air, and nutrients to seep into the soil. Aeration is a process that gives soil room to breathe and decompress.

Benefits of aerating:

  • Reduces thatch
  • Enhances absorption of water and nutrients
  • Stimulates growth
  • Helps control weeds
  • Smooths out bumps
  • Helps establish new grass

There are two types of aeration processes: spiking and coring. 

  • Spiking: poking holes in the lawn using spikes. This is a more short-term form of aeration, leaving small holes for air and nutrients to make their way through. 
  • Coring: removing plugs of soil from the lawn. This is a more powerful form of revitalization because the holes are much larger and this process removes more thatch than spiking. 

Experts recommend coring over spiking because it frees up more room for moisture and nutrients than spiking.

The best time to aerate your Rochester lawn is in March or April. You also can aerate in the fall, especially if you’ll be overseeding your lawn. If your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, it should be aerated every one or two years. If your lawn doesn’t get that much traffic, aim to aerate every two to four years. It doesn’t hurt your lawn to aerate more frequently, so you can do it annually. 

4. Clear winter debris

Winter storms probably knocked some branches and other debris down onto your property. It’s important to take the time to remove as much debris as possible to allow the lawn to breathe and make way for new grass to emerge in the spring.

Leaving a layer of debris is an invitation for pests and diseases to infiltrate your lawn. It also can lead to brown patches and snow mold. 

5. Say goodbye to weeds

close-up of crabgrass along the edge of a lawn
NY State IPM Program at Cornell University | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Springtime means warmer temps and more rain. This combination creates a healthy environment for weeds.

So what is the best way to manage weeds and crabgrass in upstate New York? 

Apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the early springtime to keep crabgrass and other weeds at bay. Prevent them from undermining the look of your lawn by stopping them before they grow and spread. 

If you are working on your spring lawn and already see weeds popping through, you want to apply a post-emergent herbicide. This will help kill and control the spread of existing weeds.

Don’t worry about spraying annual cool-season weeds, which will die as the temperature gets warmer. It’s the perennial weeds that are tough to kill and will keep returning until you treat them with an herbicide. 

But don’t wait until the weather gets too warm. Spraying herbicide once the grass is established and the temperatures are high can damage your lawn. Wait until your soil is at least 55 degrees, which will likely be around mid-April in Rochester. If you need help identifying weeds in your yard, check out a visual identification resource

6. Treat lawn diseases

There are several fungus-related diseases caused by wet and humid weather that are commonly found in upstate New York lawns. Keep an eye out for matted grass and fungus growth. 

How to minimize lawn disease:

  • Avoid excessive levels of nitrogen 
  • Plant cool-season grass that is disease-resistant
  • Limit watering to the early morning hours

The five most common types of lawn disease in Rochester are dollar spot, fairy ring, snow mold, red thread, and brown spot. 

Dollar spot

What to look for:

  • Dollar spot is a fungal disease that gets its name from the silver dollar-sized dead spots it creates in your lawn. These straw-colored areas are a result of lesions the fungus forms on grass blades. Dollar spot also causes a layer of white growth on your grass in the mornings. It occurs during spring, summer, and fall. 

How to treat dollar spot:

  • Dollar spot has multiple strains, some of which can be resistant to fungicide. Alternate using different fungicides to treat affected areas.

Fairy ring

What to look for:

  • Fairy ring is another fungal disease that often forms a ring of mushrooms outside a ring of dead grass and a ring of dark green grass. These rings range from a couple of centimeters to several feet in size. The mushrooms are poisonous, so keep children and pets away. It occurs most often during the spring and summer.

How to treat fairy ring:

  • If all you see are mushrooms, use a rake to remove them. If the damage is worse, you will need to dig about a foot deep to remove the infected soil. Then just refill and re-seed this area of your lawn. Unfortunately, the fungus that causes fairy rings can be deep-rooted, so fungicides won’t help. 

Snow mold

What to look for:

  • Snow mold is another type of fungal disease, but it comes in two forms: gray snow mold and pink snow mold. Gray snow mold appears as bleached, circular patches that reach up to 2 feet wide. Once the snow melts, grass will have a matted appearance. It also may be surrounded by a ring of grayish-white fungal growth. Pink snow mold also appears in similar-sized bleached, circular patches. However, pink snow mold has a more pinkish tint. Snow mold occurs with melting snow or during cold, wet weather. 

How to treat snow mold:

  • Apply fungicide and rake the mold away. Active ingredients that work with both gray and pink snow mold include azoxystrobin, bacillus subtilis, and propiconazole. Thiophanate-methyl can help with pink snow mold. It’s important to distinguish between the types of snow mold because they are treated with different fungicides. 

Red thread

What to look for:

  • Red thread is a disease that can spread across your lawn, covering it with irregular-sized, red-pink patches. Infected blades will die and turn tan. You might be able to spot red thread early, which appears as water-soaked patches of grass. It mostly affects bluegrasses, fescues, and ryegrasses that are growing in nitrogen-deficient soil. It occurs in spring and fall during warm, humid weather. 

How to treat red thread:

Brown patch

What to look for:

  • Brown patch is a fungal disease that causes unsightly patches of gray or brown grass. These patches can be circular or irregular-shaped, and range in size from a couple of inches to several feet. It sometimes forms a “smoke ring” — a gray and white band — around the patch. Brown patch emerges during hot and humid weather, and cool-season grasses will start showing symptoms in late spring. 

How to treat brown patch:

  • Use a fungicide that includes myclobutanil, maneb, PCNB, triadimefon, thiophanate-methyl, or propiconazole to kill the brown patch before it continues to spread.

7. Dethatch

Graphic explaining thatch on grass

The best time to dethatch is early spring after all the snow has melted. This is when the grass has started growing and the soil is extremely moist from melted snow. 

What is thatch?

Thatch is a layer of dead grass shoots that is tightly interwoven with living grass. It is beneficial in small amounts, making the lawn a little bouncy and increasing its resiliency. Thatch occurs when grass is growing so rapidly that there isn’t quite enough time for dead grass to decompose. 

Why dethatch? 

Thatch buildup can lead to several devastating problems: 

  • It hosts insects that cause disease. 
  • It prevents proper root growth.
  • It keeps nutrients from being absorbed in the soil.
  • It can hold onto moisture and increase fungal growth and disease. 

Signs of thatch buildup include dry spots, increased pests and disease, and decreased grass resilience. 

You can dethatch using a rake or a dethatcher:

  • Rake method: Use the tines of the rake to dig into the thatch, then pull the rake up, pulling thatch out of the ground.
  • Dethatcher method: Follow the instructions of your rental dethatcher carefully. Make sure that the blades cut no more than a half-inch into the soil. 

Once you’re done, rake away the debris, fill in any new bare patches, and fertilize your lawn. 

Pro Tip: Dethatch when the soil is moist, but not too wet. 

8. Prep your landscaping

What is springtime in Flower City without beautiful blooms? While you shouldn’t plant anything until May, it’s never too early to start planning your summer garden. You can give your flowers and vegetables a head start by planting them indoors, and transplanting them after the last snowfall has melted.

How to tell if your soil is ready for planting season: 

There is a trick called “the squeeze test” where you dig into the ground, grab a handful of soil, and squeeze. If the soil is dripping, clumpy, and stuck together, wait a few more days. If it’s crumbly and not so wet, it’s ready for planting. 

Typically the last snowfall in Rochester occurs in April, so don’t plan to start planting outside until May. Refer to a planting calendar for planting dates for specific flowers and vegetables. 

Give your lawn TLC year-round

It takes a lot of preparation to have a lush, beautiful lawn in Rochester. Putting in the effort in spring to keep your lawn healthy is always worth it in the long run because it saves time, energy and money year-round. 

If you want your yard to look like Ellwanger Garden but don’t have the time and know-how to do the work on your own, why not rely on a Rochester lawn care professional? They are experts at what they do and are ready to help. 

Main Photo Credit: bark | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.