(guest post courtesy Valerie Smith for Sod Solutions)
With the first day of spring approaching, warmer weather signals plants to come out of dormancy and start flourishing again. Pretty soon, your lawn and garden will be full of color and activity! If you have a warm season lawn, your turfgrass will come out of dormancy and if you have a cool season lawn, snow in your area will start to melt and you’ll enjoy a greener environment. Click here to learn more about the differences between warm and cool season turfgrass.
For detailed spring maintenance tips on specific grass types, visit the Sod Solution blogs on spring maintenance for your zoysia, St. Augustine, bermuda grass, centipede grass, bluegrass or fescue lawn.
The timing for which the first mow of the spring for your mature, established turfgrass widely varies depending on the area you live in. Grasses come out of dormancy differently depending on the environment and temperatures your area encounters. For example, if you live in South Florida, your grass may have never entered dormancy at all during the winter. Many homeowners who live in South Florida will mow their lawn every other week during the winter—oftentimes starting in September and resuming a regular, weekly mowing schedule again in mid-March.
Generally speaking, mid-March is about the time for you to begin your regimen for spring green-up and mowing. Mowing heights vary for each grass type, but for all of them, never remove more than a third of the leaf blade at any time.
The first mow of the spring should not take place while warm season grass is dormant. Mowing heights differ per each grass type in the spring, however. Lastly, a good tip for spring is to make sure your lawn mower blades are sharpened so that the mower blades neatly slice through the grass in place of ripping them. If the grass blades aren’t cut neatly, the mower is ripping them and opens the grass up to possibility of disease. Performing regular maintenance on your mower is good practice for the end of the mowing season or before spring takes place.
Pictured above: Adjustment of mower height settings.
Spring is one of the most important times of the year to use a fertilizer. Warm season grasses are coming out of dormancy, so you will want to promote healthy roots and the return of green leaf blades.
Be careful when making your first fertilizer application of the year though—a lot of homeowners see their grass green-up and immediately pull out the fertilizer and lawn mower. We advise that you typically wait until the last frost has hit. If you fertilize your lawn and another frost hits, your grass will go right back into dormancy and you’ll have a harder time getting it to green up again. This does more harm than good.
The date of the last frost varies from location to location. In the Florida Panhandle, for example, grass doesn’t ever go truly dormant and reaches its full green-up in early February (depending on how cold the winter was). Even then, you won’t want to apply fertilizer until after Easter once the last frost has passed. Refer to the Farmer’s Almanac to figure out the last frost date for your area in 2021.
Sod University recommends two different options for spring fertilization: Lawnifi Foundation, a slow-release granular option that comes in 25 lb. bags and lasts for three months, and Lawnifi Spring Fertilizer Box, a liquid fertilizer program that includes three bottles of liquid fertilizer that can be applied monthly with a hose-end sprayer. Each option covers 5,000 sq. ft. Learn more in Granular vs. Liquid Fertilizers. The patented nano-fertilizers with Catalyst Technology can give your lawn the jump-start it needs to emerge from dormancy, green up fast and thrive throughout the spring months.
Next, it is important to mention that if you have a warm season lawn, you may start to notice spots of brown or straw-like grass while the rest of your lawn comes out of dormancy. This is usually a sign of disease. You do not want to apply fertilizer to a lawn with disease as the nitrogen in the fertilizer will feed the disease and promote its growth. Apply a systemic fungicide first and then wait several weeks before following with a fertilizer application.
Dormant, warm season turfgrass doesn’t need much water until the active growing season kicks in and your grass starts to green up. In this Winter Lawn Maintenance Tips article, we explain that if you have a dormant, warm season lawn, it is not dead—it’s just “sleeping”. Although dormant grass requires much less water than it would while it is actively growing, it will still need water. Once your grass starts to green up from winter dormancy, however, you should resume watering your lawn with about one inch of water per week including rainfall. If you aren’t sure how to measure how much water your lawn is receiving, an irrigation audit may be beneficial to you.
If you’re a homeowner who lives far enough south and your warm season grass doesn’t go dormant during the winter, you may continue to regularly water your lawn in the winter. However if you live in South Florida, for example, you may turn your irrigation off completely during the winter and during the months of June–August when it rains a lot. The atmosphere in South Florida isn’t usually evaporating much water and the grass isn’t using it much during the winter, so frequent irrigation isn’t needed.
The next few tips in this article discuss spring applications for fungicides, herbicides or insecticides. If any of these control products or fertilizers are granular, you will need to water the product in so that your lawn absorbs it. This means that you will already be watering your lawn with the appropriate amount of water during the week of application. The same can be said with any liquid products as they are either products that attach to the end of your garden hose or require tank mixing with water.
Spring Weed Control
The most important thing you can do for any weed issues your lawn may be having come springtime is apply a pre-emergent herbicide. A pre-emergent herbicide functions to prevent weeds from emerging from the surface of the soil, as its name suggests. So if you know you get a lot of weeds in the summer like crabgrass, goosegrass or sandspurs, applying a pre-emergent to keep them from even appearing may be a good idea for you. It will also save you time, money spent on more product and effort from pulling the weeds that appear in the future. It’s actually not recommended you use an herbicide in the summer or winter, so pre-emergents can be especially useful for this reason. Read more about this in The Best and Worst Times for Herbicide Applications.
Pre-emergents should be applied during the spring when ground temperatures reach about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact dates for these applications differ depending on the area you live in, but generally speaking, pre-emergents should be applied between March 1st and March 15th in the spring. For more information, read this blog on spring pre-emergent applications.
Apply post-emergent herbicides in May as needed to control summer annual and perennial broadleaf weeds like white clover, knotweed, spurge and lespedeza. Products containing multiple broadleaf active ingredients like SpeedZone Broadleaf Herbicide for Turf are more effective in controlling broadleaf weeds.
Spring Insect Control
If your lawn has suffered from insect damage around this time in the past, it is a good idea to apply a broad-spectrum insecticide at this time to prevent them from coming back again. If the insecticide is a granular product, be sure to water it in so that it soaks into your soil. If it is a liquid product, you will either need to attach it to the end of your garden hose or tank mix it. Some of the most common of insects in the springtime are white grub worms, chinch bugs and billbugs. You can read more about these insects in this Insect Identification blog.
Pictured above from left to right: White grub worms, Southern chinch bugs, and a hunting billbug.
Spring Fungus Control
As previously mentioned, if you have a warm season lawn, circular brown or yellow spots may start to show up as it comes out of dormancy. This is a sign of disease and you may need to make applications of a systemic fungicide. Even if you don’t have disease in your lawn, it’s still good practice to apply it preventively to keep disease from taking over—especially if you’ve had disease in the past around this time. Systemic fungicide applications should take place before you apply any spring fertilizer. If you have fungus in your lawn, the nitrogen found in fertilizers oftentimes feeds it and helps it spread. Apply a systemic fungicide and wait a few weeks before applying any fertilizer.
Pictured above: Spring dead spot.
Lastly, if you notice thatch that is thicker than 1⁄2 inch, de-thatch in late May. For compact soils, consider aerating in late spring instead. Read more in Aerating vs. Dethatching.
Spring maintenance tips somewhat differ from maintenance practices that take place during the rest of the year because the weather is starting to warm up and everything starts to turn green again. Although cool season grass doesn’t usually go dormant during the winters, snow in a lot of the areas up north starts to melt and your lawn will receive more sunlight. It is important to partake in spring maintenance so that you can set your lawn up for success for the rest of the year.
Editor's Note: Sod Solutions has helped successfully develop and release to the market over 20 different turfgrass varieties over the past 27 years including PalmettoⓇ and CitraBlueⓇ St. Augustine, EMPIREⓇ and InnovationTM Zoysia and CelebrationⓇ, Latitude 36Ⓡ and NorthBridgeⓇ Bermudagrass. The company is based in the Charleston, SC area.