Now that we're are well into March you may be giving thought to your home's lawn. Coaxing it back to life after a hard winter is important, but don't overdo it.
Makers of commercial lawn care products would like you to go all-in with spring lawn feeding and fertilizing but many experts recommend doing the bulk of that work in the fall. Still, your lawn needs some attention in the early spring.
Scotts, a maker of lawn care products, suggests checking your lawn for signs of snow mold, which it says can occur where the grass is long and snow hung around for extended periods of time. It's a type of turf disease that kills grass – mostly Kentucky bluegrass and fescue. You'll recognize it by its circular shape, anywhere from three to 12 inches in diameter.
After a particularly snowy winter in much of the country many homeowners may find they have quite a bit of snow mold. Fortunately, the grass will likely bounce back on its own without any treatment. However, the video below, produced by an organic lawn care company, shows how you can help the healing process along.
Much of the lawn care advice you'll find online is for specific geographic areas, having to do with specific climate conditions. But some advice is universal, such as proper mowing techniques. Most experts recommend letting the grass grow tall in early spring.
"Most people mow their lawns way too short, which stresses out the grass," said Paul James, who hosts “Gardening by the Yard” on HGTV.
It's much better, he says, to do less, not more. “I'm a great believer in benign neglect," he said.
The reasons tall grass is better aren't complicated. Tall grass promotes healthy roots. It shades the ground so it doesn't dry out as fast. It may keep down weeds, since weed seeds require a lot of sunlight to germinate.
It's also important to sharpen your mower's blade before the first time you cut your lawn. A sharp blade will not tug on the roots as much as it takes off the top of the grass.
Wait until lawn dries out
Even though you may be eager to start working in the yard on the first nice early spring day, make sure your lawn is ready. Many experts say your lawn should be dry before you start walking around on it. If the ground is wet you'll pack down the soil, making it harder for the grass roots to get sufficient air.
In fact, you should consider aerating your lawn if you didn't do it in the fall. If you find bare spots put out some new grass seed.
Despite the climate differences in the U.S., a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that homeowners are able to make their lawns look remarkably similar. The study tried to determine whether homeowners across the country utilized the same lawn management techniques.
Some 79% of surveyed residents reported watering their lawns and 64% applied fertilizer – two practices increasingly frowned upon by environmentalists. In some parts of the country there is growing concern about possible water shortages. Fertilizer is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus which stimulates lawn growth, but can degrade waterways by causing algal blooms that rob oxygen from fish and other aquatic life.
"These numbers are important when we bear in mind that lawns cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop,” said Peter Groffman, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's authors. “What we do in our suburban and urban yards has a big impact, for better or worse, on the environment."
Among the survey's findings, residents of Boston and Miami – cities with very different climates – had similar fertilization rates. Not surprisingly, in the study's two driest cities – Phoenix and Los Angeles – heavy watering correlated with affluence. Overall, the study found local climate and social factors led to the biggest differences in lawn care variability.