In the Pacific Northwest it can feel like snow is never far away no matter the season, but thankfully spring is popping up here and there. As the slush melts and your yard greens up, you might also spy some lawn issues.
Nip yard problems in the bud before you start mowing. Your grass (and neighbors) will thank you.
1. Be on the lookout for snow mold.
Just when you thought it was too early for allergies, your lawn strikes back with “snow mold.” Caused by a cold-weather fungus that loves cool-season grasses, it can look like gray rings in your grass. According to Scott’s, “Snow mold is most problematic when you receive a heavy, deep snowfall before the ground has completely frozen. All that weight on fragile grass plants, coupled with lots of wintertime moisture, not to mention cover from leaves, long grass, and lawn debris, spells trouble in the form of snow mold. There are two types of snow mold: gray snow mold (also called Typhula blight) and pink snow mold (also called Microdochium patch or Fusarium patch).”
The best cure is prevention in the fall, by way of a topical treatment. But in the spring, you can help by gently raking the affected area to loosen up that flat matted grass left behind by the heavy snowfall. It helps dry out the grass and give the healthy stuff room to grow.
2. Think about aeration to let some air in.
Before you start mowing this year, give your yard a little wake-up with a gentle raking to loosen up those grasses. You can also clear off winter debris like sticks and excess leaves. If your lawn is in bad shape, you might take care of some professional maintenance tasks like aeration or power raking.
Aeration is best done once your lawn is fully green (don’t jump the gun, say the professionals at lawncare.org, or you might do more harm than good). You might need to do some aeration if your lawn is badly thatched. Best handled by a professional with solid equipment, aeration is best tackled after the ground has thawed. (Beware of “too good to be true” do-it-yourself tools like funny shoes with spikes. They’ll just compact your issue further.) The process involves removing some plugs of compacted soil, allowing the grass to spread out and have an easier time growing. It also lets water and fertilizer get to grass roots and allows beneficial bugs like earthworms do their good work under ground. You should only have to aerate your lawn if it needs it, and infrequently at that (no more than every five years).
3. Dethatch your lawn by hand or with specialty equipment.
If you’ve got a severe thatch problem (if it’s ¾ of an inch thick or more), then a vertical mower or “power rake” might be a good resolution. You can rent one or get a professional with their own equipment tackle it. Best performed before your lawn is fully green, dethatching can make your lawn look a little ragged, but feel so much better. It’ll grow healthier after a dethatching, ensuring a strong and beautiful lawn in the years to come.
Not sure how thick your thatch is? Take a quick “core sample” and measure with a ruler! If the thatch is built up ½-3/4 of an inch, it’s time to give it some attention. Check some dethatching tips from This Old House where the experts show you how to take a quick core sample and how to use a thatch rake or a power rake.
4. Check your sprinkler system before you turn it on.
After a long winter, your sprinkler system might need a little love and attention. Besides checking each sprinkler head for damage (from snow buildup, ice, or just the misplaced tire tread by the curb) you should also take a look at your outdoor faucets, and the sprinkler valves, before turning on your exterior water supply.
5. Apply fertilizer carefully!
Most everyone can agree that a nice green lawn is a real point of pride for any homeowner, but you should always remember to apply any fertilizers with caution. Things to keep in mind when applying fertilizer to your lawn are:
- Make sure to keep small children and pets off of freshly fertilized lawns.
- Water after application, and follow labels for safe application and storage.
- Don’t use too much, as some fertilizers will burn if applied too liberally. (Clean up spills immediately.)
- Wear gloves and protective clothing (including eye protection) and wash carefully after you finish using fertilizer.
- Be aware of excess fertilizer runoff, and how that pollution can harm local waterways and wildlife. Pennington fertilizer notes that “Excess fertilizers allowed to run into ponds and waterways may, at a minimum, pollute water or cause algae problems. Herbicide-containing fertilizers may be toxic to fish and other aquatic life.”
- Even if you use a fertilizer labeled as “organic” or “natural” it doesn’t mean it’s safe for pets and kids to come in contact with it. Always treat fertilizers with caution.