Keeping up with lawn maintenance can be very rewarding and is just a matter of knowing when to do what. Starting in early spring, remove twigs, leaves and any other debris that may have accumulated in your lawn over winter. It is best to prep your mower for the season by sharpening your mower blades. Dull mower blades can shred the tips of grass and not only cause discoloration but encourage pathogens to spread.
In early spring, apply a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass. Weeds are easiest to control early in the season, so hand-pull or apply herbicides directly to any weeds as they appear and ideally before they go to seed.
If you’ve struggled with your lawn before, spring may be a good time to get a soil test done. Many county cooperative extensions offer soil tests for around ten dollars. Turf thrives in a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 7. If your lawn is too acidic, it will be vulnerable to pests and diseases and not respond to fertilizers. Spreading pelletized lime will help neutralize the soil and should be done in fall or spring. Generally, lawns do well with 15-20 lbs of lime per 100 square feet, but a soil test may give you a better idea of how much lime to use, or other suggestions tailored to your specific space.
Fertilizing is also done in fall and/or spring. Use a nitrogen-based fertilizer. Though not entirely necessary, lawns benefit from being aerated prior to fertilization. Aerating punches small holes into the ground and allows fertilizers and oxygen to more readily reach the roots of your grass. It is best to aerate when soil is damp, but not overly wet.
When mowing your lawn in the spring, be careful not to scalp your lawn or cut too short. In spring, an ideal height for grass is 1-1/2 inch. Never cut more than 1/3 of the grass height. As the weather warms up in the early summer, raise the blade height on your mower to about 3 inches. Taller grass will shade the soil and slow water from evaporating, keeping your lawn from drying out as quickly. Taller grass will also produce deeper roots that will help grass survive in times of drought.
In summer, keep an eye out for grubs. Grubs can eat away at turf roots and a lawn that is affected by grubs will turn brown and wilt. To check for grubs, lift a portion of the affected area. If grubs are the culprit, you will see that the grass has no roots. Treat with pesticides as necessary or use an alternative organic solution.
In summer, grass will turn brown and go dormant if not watered. It is normal and will not kill your grass, though it will still need about 1 inch of water each month to stay healthy. When the weather begins to bring regular rains, grass will green up on its own. If you choose not to let your lawn go into dormancy, it will need about 1 inch of water every week in summer to stay green. Turf benefits more from single soakings than multiple sprinklings, so water thoroughly when you do water. Do not water your lawn every day, only water when your lawn needs it and ideally in the morning.
Don’t mow when your grass is overly dry. Mowing a dry turf causes stress, so mow only when it has rained (or lawn has been watered) recently.
In fall, over-seed if needed. If dealing with an area that gets less light, be sure to use a blend of shade grasses. Fall is also a time to fertilize again if you choose to. Fertilizing in the fall will encourage roots to grow, allowing them to store nutrients for a healthy start in spring.