After our almost 100 inches of snow has finally melted, Syracuse embraces the glorious warmth and colors of spring. As your plants and grass come alive, it’s time to implement our eight spring lawn care tips to help your cool-season grass grow healthy and strong.
- 1. Inspect your lawn care equipment
- 2. Clean up yard debris
- 3. Control weeds
- 4. Treat lawn pests and diseases
- 5. Aerate your lawn, if needed
- 6. Fertilize your lawn for growth
- 7. Water
- 8. Mow the lawn when it starts to grow
- Simplify your Syracuse spring lawn care
1. Inspect your lawn care equipment
Your lawn equipment has been sitting in the garage through the long winter, and now it’s time to get your mower, weed eater, and leaf blower ready for prime mowing season.
The first thing you need to do is sharpen your lawn mower’s blades before the first cut. Here’s why: Grass blades will get bruised if your mower has dull blades.
But to have a beautiful lawn, it’s important to make sure all your equipment is in good working condition before the first cut.
For gas mowers:
- Scrub off all debris, grass and dirt
- Replace fuel
- Clean or replace the air filter
- Change the spark plugs
- Change the oil
- Check tire pressure
- Sharpen or replace blade
For electric push mowers:
- Check cords
- Clean any debris, clippings that might have built up around the mower and near the vents, using a leaf blower or wire brush
- Check and possibly change blades
- Lubricate the wheels
- Clean or replace the filter
- Fully charge battery
For gas weed eaters:
- Clean or replace filter
- Replace the spark plug
- Change oil
- Check the string head for correct size and proper amount of string
- Remove excess gas and replace with fresh unleaded
For battery-powered trimmers:
- Before you do any maintenance, take out the battery
- Clean off any dirt or debris with a dry rag
- Remove and clean filter
- Replace the spark plug
For leaf blowers:
- Replace or clean the filter
- Remove any debris
- Inspect bolts, screws and nuts
- Replace the spark plug
- Add fresh fuel (gas-powered)
Pruning shears and other cutting tools for your yard and garden also should be cleaned and sharpened. This simple spring garden task will enable you to smoothly glide into a branch for a precision cut. Even a shovel with a sharper edge will more easily dig through soil and roots.
2. Clean up yard debris
Winter storms can leave a lot of debris laying around your yard. Not only is it messy, but if left there to rot, it can cause pests and diseases like snow mold. It also will block your grass from getting the air, sunlight, and nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong. Gather all the twigs, branches, and other debris. Rake any leaves covering the ground and add them to your compost pile.
Pro Tip: It’s recommended to use a plastic rake rather than metal as you are less likely to damage the grass and soil.
3. Control weeds
Consider applying pre-emergent herbicide to ward off crabgrass and other spring weeds before they emerge and take over your lawn.
If the weeds have already made an appearance, apply a post-emergent herbicide to kill and control the spread.
Common spring weeds in Syracuse:
- Yellow nutsedge
- Multiflora rose
- Norway maple
- Pale swallow wort
- Broadleaf plantain
4. Treat lawn pests and diseases
Pests like grubs and armyworms and diseases like snow mold wreak havoc on your lawn. If not taken care of, it can spread, and your grass can die.
Watch out for these common spring lawn diseases:
- Pink snow mold will manifest itself on the outer edges of patches casting an orange/reddish hue. This type of mold can kill your grass. The best way to get rid of it is to rake the affected area to remove thatch and increase air circulation.
- Gray snow mold occurs where the last of the snow has melted. This type of mold rarely kills grass. The best way to remove it is to rake the matted area away.
- Brown patch results in ugly spots of brown or gray popping up in your lawn by late spring. Apply a fungicide that contains triadimefon, myclobutanil, PCNB, maneb, thiophanate-methyl, or propiconazole.
- Dollar spot creates small yellowish-colored dead spots in the lawn. Unfortunately, dollar spot can be quite stubborn and resistant to pesticides. It’s best to apply nitrogen fertilizer, remove thatch, and apply compost.
- Powdery mildew coats leaves with a white “baby powder”-like substance or mold. This mildew is also difficult to control, so a preventative herbicide and changes to your lawn care routine work best.
- Fairy ring sounds lovely but it’s actually a ring of mushrooms that can harm your grass. This “ring” can range from a couple of centimeters to several feet. First, rake away the mushrooms. Then aerate, apply a wetting agent, and fertilize with nitrogen. However, if it is serious, you’ll need to remove the infected area and reseed.
- Red thread appears as circular, pinkish-red patches that infects the grass and causes it to die. This disease is largely cosmetic but would benefit from an application of nitrogen fertilizer and proper lawn care practices.
Watch out for these common spring lawn pests:
- Armyworm moths migrate north in spring and make their home in the lawn. They persistently munch on grass and plants.
- Grubs travel out of the soil in early spring to munch on grass roots. By late spring they emerge as pupae and at that point become resistant to insecticides.
- Hairy chinch bugs mate in late April, and eggs will appear in late May. They especially like munching on perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass. They damage grass by injecting a toxin that causes the grass to turn brown and eventually die.
5. Aerate your lawn, if needed
If you spend a lot of time outdoors entertaining guests, have kids or pets, or just enjoy spending time enjoying your yard, you may need to aerate your lawn.
Aeration creates holes in the lawn to alleviate compaction that deprives your lawn of air, water, and nutrients. The best time to aerate is in the fall when your cool-season grass is actively growing but weeds are less active. The second best time is early spring, March, or April.
Core aerators maximize your lawn’s air and nutrient levels and improve grass growth and beauty. On the downside, these machines can be costly to purchase and cumbersome to use for the average gardener. If you have a large yard, call in a professional to get the job done for you.
6. Fertilize your lawn for growth
To kick start the growth of your cool-season grass, fertilize your lawn in early May after the last frost. This first application will allow the turf to grow resilient through the hot, summer months. Reapply a “winter” fertilizer on or around Labor Day.
Before applying fertilizer, do a soil test to see what nutrients your grass needs. Check your local agricultural extension office for either explicit advice on how to perform the test or where to send the sample. Soil test kits are also available at your local garden center.
How to obtain a soil sample:
- Use a small garden shovel or spade
- Dig approximately 6 inches into the soil
- Collect samples from a dozen locations throughout your yard
- Use dry samples only
- Collect about 2 cups
Once you get the results of your soil test, you will know what nutrients your soil needs (if any). The essential ingredients in fertilizer are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Every fertilizer will feature a label with an NPK ratio. For example, it might state 10-10-10. This means the fertilizer has 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium.
Pro Tip: Be sure to apply nitrogen-only fertilizer, and do not spread lawn fertilizer after a recent rain.
The best time to water your lawn is early morning, always before 10 a.m. The early morning sun will dry off the turf, and the chance of a lawn disease will be greatly reduced.
If you water later in the day when the sun is at its hottest, the water will evaporate, which defeats the whole purpose of irrigation. Watering at night will encourage fungus and bacterial diseases.
To determine if your lawn needs water, perform the screwdriver test:
- Press a screwdriver about 2 inches into the soil
- If it comes up dry, it’s time to water
Other indications that your lawn needs watering:
- Lawn looks yellowish or droopy
- Your footprints are clearly marked on the grass after walking on it
If your lawn is getting too much water, you’ll see the following:
- Water run-off
- Dull, blue-gray coloration to your lawn (If your lawn feels damp, don’t turn on the irrigation).
On average, cool-season grasses require about 1 ½ to 2 inches of water weekly during the growth season. To determine how much water to give your grass, perform the tuna can test:
- Place two empty tin cans (like tuna cans) in different areas around your yard.
- Time your sprinklers to run for 15 minutes.
- Use a ruler to measure and record the depth in each can.
- Then take the average of the two cans (add the amount of water in each can and divide by 2).
- Now you know how much water your sprinkler puts out in 15 minutes. You can determine how long you need to run your sprinkler to get 1 ½ to 2 inches of water a week.
- Still not sure? Contact your local water conservation office.
8. Mow the lawn when it starts to grow
When should you mow your lawn for the first time in spring?
Don’t attack your turf until the air temperatures have consistently reached at least 40 degrees and your grass has started to grow. Once you get into lawn mowing season, you will be mowing every four to seven days (depending on your lawn’s grass type). It’s important not to cut off more than one-third of the grass blade with each mow. While you might be tempted to go for a shorter cut, the sun will dry out the soil and brown dead patches could result.
Recommending mowing heights for Syracuse lawns:
- Fine fescue 2-3.5 inches
- Tall fescue: 2-4 inches
- Kentucky bluegrass: 1.5-3 inches
- Perennial ryegrass: 1.5-2.5 inches
Also, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation recommends you leave your grass clippings on your lawn to serve as an organic fertilizer which will nurture the environment and save landfill space. It’s a win-win for all!
Simplify your Syracuse spring lawn care
Debris removal, pruning, shaping, irrigating, fertilizing, aerating, raking — it’s all required for lawn health. Just reading that to-do list can be exhausting.
Main Photo Credit: PhotoMIX Company | Pexels