When potential buyers or any visitors really, pull up to your home, one of the first things that grabs their attention is your yard. Is it lush and green? Is it neatly mowed and well maintained? The answers to these subconscious questions tell a great deal about you and what you invest in your home. In the last blog, we considered weeds and what you can do in the spring to prevent weeds from taking over and give you a head start on the summer battle. The other step you can take in the spring is to improve the quality and quantity of your grass. Keep in mind that you cannot strive to grow new grass and kill or prevent weeds at the same time so each spring you will need to choose which problem needs the most attention that year.
There are really five main steps you can take this spring to quickly move your lawn from sparse and struggling to healthy and green: raking; aeration; liming; over-seeding; and fertilizing. Let’s take a moment to consider why and how you would or would not do each of these.
The first step involves nothing more than a strong rake and some manual labor. I know you have probably heard of raking in the fall to rid your lawn of leaves, but raking in the spring? Yes. You need to rake deeply to rid your lawn of thatch. Thatch is the layer of dead grass and debris that builds up between the green vegetation and the soil. You have to remove this because it will become more and more packed and choke off the living grass. This is called dethatching and you simply rake vigorously enough to pull up the brown and dead vegetation to separate it from the healthy living grass. Sometimes it pulls up in large chunks and looks much like woven straw. Other times it springs up with each rake motion like brown bits of string taking flight. After you have dethatched, the next step is aeration.
Aerating is when you use a tool or machine to create many holes throughout the yard. This is done to negate the effects of compaction. If you have kids or pets that frequently play in the lawn you probably have some degree of compaction. Like thatch, compaction prevents the healthy grass from getting everything it needs to flourish. The most efficient way to aerate is by using a machine which you can rent. Many neighborhoods coordinate this rental and schedule a couple of hours each to use the machine sharing the expense of rental. Ideally, aerating removes plugs of soil or creates holes spacing at least 12 per square foot. These holes allow grass roots to expand and grow more deeply and allow water and nutrients to easier reach the grass roots. The holes also lesson the effects of drought by allowing water to seep in through a deeper route. Once completed, you will have this great access to the roots of your grass which provides an excellent opportunity to “feed” it.
Post aerating is the best time to consider liming, fertilizing and over-seeding. It is vital that you recognize this is time to CONSIDER doing these things because too much lime or fertilizer can do as much harm as too little. Lime is used to help balance the ph of your soil and is best employed when your soil is too acidic. Fertilizer will give grass a boost in needed nutrients but, using too much can cause burnt or bare patches, the exact opposite of your goals. Read the packages carefully and make certain you follow the amounts that correlate to the type of grass you have. Also consider that you don’t want to fertilize too much in the spring since you are feeding not just your grass but any weeds that are trying to take root as well. Over-seeding can be done now that you have created the holes with aeration particularly to repair any bare patches. Really, the main seeding should be done in the fall so new grass won’t have to fight with weeds, which die in winter, to become established.
As you can see, mowing and watering are the minimum care given to create a great lawn. There are some great resources that give you more specifics about lawn care like http://www.lawncare.org/spring-lawn-care/. You also need to think about your temperature zone and the specific timing and needs of your geographical location. Here in East Tennessee, we have all four seasons of weather and deal with soil that has a great deal of clay. A terrific resource for the Knoxville area is the UT Extension Office affiliated with the University Of Tennessee School Of Agriculture. Look for the closest state university to your home and they can give you very “area specific” advice to put you well on your way to being the envy of neighbors with an extraordinarily lush green yard.