15 Spring Lawn Care Tips for the Northeast

image of Great Falls Discovery Center

The arrival of spring is a wake-up call for the dormant lawns across the Northeast. This grass is tender and needs a lot of help to regain its strength, and the only way to help is through proper lawn care. Don’t know what to do? These 15 spring lawn care tips for the Northeast region will guide you through this season’s lawn maintenance.

What is considered the Northeast?

The Northeast region consists of nine states, including all of New England. These states are:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Sometimes, the states of Delaware and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), are lumped in with the Northeastern states.

15 Spring Lawn Care Tips for the Northeast

1. Spread Snow Evenly

An elderly couple shoveling snow
Photo Credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels / Canva Pro / License

Snow rarely piles up evenly on your lawn. Some areas will have no more snow, while others will still have mounds of it. This is actually a problem for your grass as your lawn won’t be able to wake up from dormancy at different rates. It also can foster lawn diseases in some spots because of the excess moisture.

To remedy this, you’ll need to spread the snow across your lawn with a rake or a shovel. Doing this will help the snow melt faster and evenly.

2. Stay Off Wet Grass

Person's legs on grass
Photo Credit: Jaymantri from Pexels / Canva Pro / License

Keep foot traffic to a minimum if your lawn is still soggy and wet from melting snow and rain. Wet soil is more likely to become compacted, which is bad for your lawn’s health. Wet grass is also less resilient and might get damaged when walked on.

3. Clean Up Your Lawn

Mother and son cleaning yard
Photo Credit: Juanmonino / Canva Pro / License

Once all the snow has melted and before it’s time to cut your lawn, you should clean up leaves, branches, twigs, and other debris. A clean lawn is much easier to work with, but it’s also healthier for your lawn. A dirty lawn is more prone to getting diseases, pests, and thatch.

You can use a leaf blower or a rake to clean your lawn. While it’s less convenient, using a rake might be a better choice as it can remove thatch and matted grass. Matted grass, which is caused by snow molds, compacted soil, and overwatering, can prevent new grass from growing.

If you plan to rake your lawn, wait until your lawn is dry. Wet, muddy soil is easier to work with, but you might pull up healthy grass while raking your lawn.

4. Dethatch

Man using a dethatcher
Photo Credit: Agri-Fab, Inc. / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Dethatching is an important lawn treatment that removes excess thatch from your lawn. Thatch is the spongy layer of dead and living plant matter. While thatch is good in small amounts, a thatch layer thicker than ½-inch is detrimental to your lawn, inviting pests and disease. The best way to check if your lawn needs dethatching is by getting 3-inch-deep soil samples and measuring the thickness of the thatch layer.

If you find the thatch layer is more than ½-inch thick, it’s time to bust out a dethatching rake, dethatcher, or verticutter. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to removing excess thatch:

  1. Mow your lawn to about half of its ideal height. (Check out our chart on ideal mowing height by grass type below.)
  2. Use your dethatching tool to remove thatch.
    1. Dethatching rake: Dig your rake into the thatch layer and pull upward to loosen it. Repeat across your lawn.
    2. Dethatcher or verticutter: Read the instruction manual for exact instructions. Make sure your tool’s blades don’t cut deeper than ½-inch into your soil. Pass it through your lawn.
  3. Rake up the loosened thatch and remove it from your lawn.

When should you dethatch your lawn this spring?

  • Cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescue lawns should be dethatched in early spring, if needed. Otherwise, wait for fall.
  • Unlike cool-season grasses, the warm-season Zoysiagrass fares well with a late spring dethatching.

5. Aerate

aeration machine on a grass lawn
Photo Credit: MAsummerbreak / Canva Pro / License

Compacted soil prevents nutrients, water, and sunlight from getting to your turfgrass’ root system. Aeration alleviates that by poking holes in the soil to make more space. However, most lawns don’t actually need to be aerated annually. Only those that get walked on often and those with mostly clay soils may need annual aerification because they’re more likely to have compacted soil.

Here are the signs your lawn has compacted soil:

  • Puddles form after rain or irrigation
  • Increased water runoff
  • Thinning grass

There are two main types of aeration: spike aeration and core aeration. Spike aeration works by poking holes in the soil using a tool, like a spading fork. It’s a quick and easy way to alleviate soil compaction, but it’s a short-term solution. It only pushes soil aside to make temporary space for water, nutrients, and air to flow.

On the other hand, core aeration is done with a core aerator, which penetrates the soil and removes soil plugs. This is the best remedy for compacted soil, as it actually removes soil from your lawn instead of pushing it aside. The soil plugs also return nutrients to your lawn as they break down.

Here is a short guide on aerating your lawn:

  1. Mow your lawn to its ideal height. (See chart below.)
  2. Water your lawn a day or so before you plan to aerate it. Don’t water your lawn if it has rained.
  3. Mark sprinkler heads on your lawn so that you don’t hit them.
  4. Starting at one edge, push the aerator across your lawn in rows. Overlap your rows a little for an even aeration.
  5. Make a second pass with your aerator, but at a 90-degree angle to when you first aerated your lawn.
  6. Leave the soil plugs to dry on your lawn for a few days.
  7. Using the back of a rake, break up the soil plugs.

When should you aerate your lawn this spring?

  • Like with dethatching, cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescue) should be aerated in fall. But if it needs it, aerate your lawn in early spring.
  • Zoysia lawns should be aerated in late spring.

6. Test Your Soil

A person checking pH of soil of his lawn
Photo Credit: Dekdoyjaidee / Canva Pro / License

Turfgrasses thrive best when they’re in their ideal environment. Part of the ideal environment is soil with the proper pH level, as soil that is too acidic or alkaline can make it more difficult for your grass to get the nutrients it needs. Some weeds also prefer more acidic and alkaline soils; combined with weakened turf, they can easily take over your lawn.

You can conduct a soil test to find out if your soil is in the proper pH range. You can use a DIY test kit — which can be bought online and in home improvement stores — or send soil samples to a private lab or your local Cooperative Extension office. Here is the ideal pH range for the most common lawn grasses in the Northeast:

Grass TypePreferred Soil pH
Fine fescue6.0 — 6.5
Kentucky bluegrass6.0 — 7.5
Perennial ryegrass6.0 — 7.0
Tall fescue5.5 — 6.5
Zoysiagrass6.0 — 6.5

If your soil’s pH isn’t in the ideal range, you can change it with soil amendments:

  • Increasing soil pH: Add lime or wood ash
  • Decreasing soil pH: Add elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate

Aside from telling you your soil pH, a soil test also can reveal your soil’s nutrient levels and capacity to hold nutrients. Soil tests can reveal what nutrients your soil is lacking and – depending on the test – tell you what fertilizer is best for your lawn. What’s most important is to know your soil’s N-P-K levels in particular. N-P-K stands for the three macronutrients that plants, like turf, need most to grow: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

7. Control Weeds

Gardener horticulturalist spraying weed killer herbicide on lawn
Photo Credit: Henfaes / Canva Pro / License

There are two ways to deal with lawn weeds: killing them and preventing them from growing in the first place. There are many methods to deal with weeds, but the most effective is using herbicides.

Using a pre-emergent herbicide can prevent summer annuals, like crabgrass, from germinating. Apply it twice this spring: once in early April, then again in mid-May. Applying pre-emergent weed killers twice this season makes them more likely to succeed even if it rains. 

Here are some summer annuals that you can prevent with pre-emergent herbicides:

  • Crabgrass
  • Purslane
  • Lambsquarters
  • Black medic

However, pre-emergents aren’t as effective on these perennial weeds:

  • Dandelions
  • Broadleaf plantain
  • Nutsedge
  • Prickly lettuce
  • Ground ivy (Creeping Charlie)
  • White clover

Using post-emergent herbicides is more effective on the pesky lawn weeds above. We recommend using these weed killers sparingly, spot-treating them instead of treating your whole lawn. It’s safer for the environment and your wallet.

If you don’t want to use chemical herbicides, you can use natural weed killers, make your own herbicide, or hand-pull the weeds. Just make sure to dig up the whole root system or else the weeds might return.

For more information on common weeds in the Northeast, you can check out Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s weed gallery.

8. Treat Common Lawn Diseases

Bermudagrass with dollar spot
Bermudagrass with dollar spot
Photo credit: Scot Nelson / Flickr / Public domain

The cool and humid weather of spring might feel nice, but it can foster fungi that cause diseases. Northeast lawns are susceptible to these common turf diseases in spring:

  • Anthracnose: This causes reddish-brown lesions to appear on grass blades. Over time, reddish-brown patches of grass will form on your lawn.
  • Brown Patch: This causes irregular circles of thin, brown grass to form on your lawn. These circles can be as small as a few inches to as big as a few feet.
  • Dollar Spot: It causes tan spots to appear on your lawn. These spots range from 2 to 6 inches wide.
  • Fairy Ring: There are three types of fairy rings. They can look like dark green circles of grass, brown circles of grass, or circles of mushrooms.
  • Gray and Pink Snow Molds: They cause patches of matted grass that can look gray, tan, or pink.
  • Leaf Spot: It causes turf to develop small brown spots. These spots enlarge over time and develop brown or purplish-red borders. It progresses to melting out.
  • Melting Out: This progression of leaf spot kills grass by rotting its crown and roots. Over time, your lawn thins out.
  • Powdery Mildew: It shows up as white spores on grass blades. Eventually, these spores cover the whole blade. Your lawn will look like it’s been sprinkled with flour.
  • Red Thread: They cause irregular pink, reddish-brown, or orange spots to develop on your grass. At a glance, it may look like strands of thread or cotton. Turf killed by this disease turns light pink or tan.

You can prevent most lawn diseases by simply taking good care of your lawn, especially when it comes to irrigation:

  • Mow at the right height: Cutting your lawn too short can stress the grass and make it more susceptible to disease.
  • Water properly: Water deeply and infrequently, encouraging deeper root growth and making your lawn more resilient.
  • Fertilize appropriately: Over-fertilizing your lawn can lead to disease. It’s important to follow recommended fertilization rates for your grass species and use the soil test results as a guide.
  • Aerate and dethatch: Aerating and dethatching your lawn can help improve soil drainage, nutrient absorption, and airflow, all of which are key for preventing disease.

If you do find yourself dealing with fungal diseases, you can spray fungicides or hire a pro to do it for you.

9. Watch for Pests

Fire ant mound in a lawn
Photo Credit: Mhillgartner / Canva Pro / License

Spring brings many baby critters. Unfortunately, this also includes baby bugs that like munching on your turfgrass. Here are some pesky pests that Northeastern homeowners may find on their lawns:

  • Chinch bugs
  • White grubs
  • Ants
  • Sod webworms
  • Leaf-footed bugs
  • Cutworms

Maintaining a healthy lawn is a good deterrent against these pests. Keeping your thatch layer thin is also a good idea as some of them make their home in thatch. 

You can use store-bought pesticides or DIY insect killers to get rid of pests. Hand-picking the bigger insects out of your grass and plants is also a viable option — if you don’t mind touching them, of course. If you don’t like the sight of bugs, you may want to hire a pest control pro instead.

10. Overseed Bare Spots

overseeding over the lawn
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Throughout the year, your lawn may develop bare patches from diseases or foot traffic. A patchy lawn is unsightly, lowers your curb appeal, and may earn you a visit from your HOA. If you want to get rid of your lawn’s bare spots, you’ll need to overseed your lawn.

Spring isn’t the best time to overseed most Northeast lawns because cool-season lawns grow best in the fall. You should overseed in spring if your lawn desperately needs it, though. Here are the best times to overseed:

  • Cool-season grass: If needed, Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and perennial ryegrass can be overseeded in mid-March up to early April.
  • Zoysiagrass: This warm-season grass should be overseeded from mid-March to early April.

Why are these turf species overseeded at the same time? Overseeding during this time will allow the grass to establish before the summer heat really kicks in. This is more important for a cool-season lawn than a Zoysia one, though; cool-season turf goes dormant in the summer.

Don’t overseed until after you’ve dethatched or aerated your lawn (if you plan to do it in the same season). These treatments will disturb your grass seeds and may interfere with their germination.

11. Feed With Fertilizer

feeding lawn with granular fertilizer for perfect green grass
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Most Northeast lawns don’t need much fertilizer in the spring, especially if they’ve been fed last fall. However, you should fertilize your lawn if your soil test indicates that your soil lacks nutrients. Here are some tips you can follow to fertilize your lawn properly:

  • Learn what N-P-K ratio you need. N-P-K stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are the three most important nutrients your turf needs. Fertilizer has different N-P-K ratios, so pick a fertilizer that suits your lawn’s needs. Your soil test results may tell you what fertilizer ratio your lawn needs.
  • Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer or compost in mid-May. This time is ideal for the common types of grass grown in the Northeast. Using a slow-release fertilizer will keep your lawn fed throughout the season.
  • Fertilize a week after using herbicides. If you need to apply herbicides to kill weeds, wait at least a week to fertilize.
  • Fertilize lightly and use a spreader. Don’t use too much fertilizer as it can cause your grass to grow too fast and weaken its roots. Using a spreader will help you spread fertilizer evenly on your lawn, which prevents nitrogen burn. Nitrogen burn happens when too much fertilizer is dumped on your turf.
  • Wear protective gear to prevent nitrogen burns on yourself. Ideally, you should use gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and a mask.
  • Read the instructions for your fertilizer. Some lawn fertilizers have restrictions. Your fertilizer should also tell you if it needs to be watered in after it’s applied.
  • Wait for a calm day before applying fertilizer. It’s best to feed your lawn when it’s not windy or rainy.
  • Fertilize in a grid. Start at the perimeter of your lawn, and then go to the center. Fertilize from north to south, then east to west.
  • Return excess fertilizer that has landed on your walkway or driveway to your lawn using a broom or a leaf blower.

How much fertilizer will you need? Generally, most lawns need 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. However, 1 pound of nitrogen doesn’t mean 1 pound of fertilizer. Check your fertilizer’s product label to find out how much you can cover with one package. Usually, 14 to 20 pounds is enough to cover a 5,000-square-foot lawn. 

Don’t know how many square feet your lawn is? Here are some easy ways to calculate your lawn’s square footage:

  • If you know your property’s square footage and your home’s square footage, then subtract your home’s square footage from your property’s square footage. The result is your lawn’s square footage.
  • Take a measuring tape or measuring wheel and measure around the perimeter of your lawn. Multiply the length times the width to get your lawn’s area in square feet. However, this won’t be as accurate if your lawn isn’t a rectangle or square.

12. Ready Your Lawn Care Tools

lawn mower
Photo Credit: Pxhere

Before you start your lawn care routine, you’ll want to check your lawn care tools. You don’t want them bailing on you, after all. Here’s a checklist for what you might need:

  • Lawn mower
  • String trimmer
  • Leaf blower
  • Fertilizer spreader
  • Garden hose
  • Basic yard tools: Shovels, rakes, and cutting tools

Okay, but what should I check for? Well, you can start by checking:

  • Blades: Make sure the blades are sharp. They’re crucial for lawn mower, edger, and cutting tools. While not a blade, you shouldn’t forget to check the spool of the string trimmer line either. 
  • Spark plugs and air filters: Test to see if spark plugs are properly igniting your equipment and check if the air filters need changing.
  • Oil levels, fuel lines, and batteries: Make sure the equipment has sufficient fuel and that oil levels are not low (you can use a dipstick for that). If you have a battery-powered mower, make sure you properly charge your lawn mower batteries.

Don’t forget to clean your tools. This is especially important for your lawn mower as it won’t cut properly if it’s caked with grass clippings and dirt.

13. Restart Your Sprinklers

image of a sprinkler system watering the grass
Photo Credit: Elena Photo / Canva Pro / License

Before restarting your sprinklers, make sure that the soil temperature is warm enough; you’ll be fine as long as it’s consistently above freezing. De-winterizing your sprinklers at the proper time is important to ensure they don’t break. Here’s how to restart your sprinklers in the spring: 

  1. Clean your sprinkler heads. Debris can clog your sprinklers.
  2. Locate your system’s main shut-off valve. This will usually be in a crawlspace or basement.
  3. Open the valve carefully until it’s half-open. After a few minutes, run each sprinkler zone for at least 3 minutes. This will acclimate the pipes to the water pressure.
  4. Walk around your lawn and look for issues. Don’t be worried if you see your sprinklers blowing out air or sputtering out water; it should stop after a minute. If it doesn’t stop doing that, make a note as something may be wrong with your valves or sprinkler heads.
  5. Open the shut-off valve all the way.
  6. Set up your sprinklers based on what your lawn needs:
    1. Cool-season grass: 1 to 1.5 inches weekly
    2. Zoysiagrass: 1 inch weekly

Here are some warning signs you might see with a broken sprinkler system:

  • Wild or odd streams of water
  • Runoff and leaks
  • Puddles
  • Leaks
  • No water

These problems may be caused by broken, cracked, and clogged parts. There are many parts that make up a sprinkler system — some are even electrical. It’s better to contact a pro to fix your sprinkler system rather than taking a crack at it yourself if you don’t have a lot of tinkering experience.

14. Mow Your Lawn Properly

mowing lawn with the help of mower
Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s best to mow your lawn for the first time this spring once it reaches 3 to 4 inches tall. For the Northeast region, this may happen as late as May. Here are some lawn mowing tips you’ll want to remember when it’s time for the first mow of the season:

  • Keep your mower blades sharp. Instead of cleanly cutting your grass, dull blades tear your grass. This stresses it out and may turn their tips brown.
  • Cut only 1/3rd of your grass height when you mow. Any more than that may stress out your lawn.
  • Mow down to your turf’s ideal height. Cutting the grass too short can damage the roots and cause your lawn to become weak and susceptible to disease and pests. Try to cut down to the higher end of the recommended height, though. Consult the table below to find out your turf’s ideal height.
  • Mow in a different pattern every time you mow. This will force your grass to grow in different directions, which makes it more resilient.
  • Mow when it’s not hot out. The best time to mow your lawn is mid-morning or late afternoon. Mowing when it’s hot out causes water to evaporate from your grass when they most need it.
  • Don’t mow when your lawn is wet. Wet grass can clog your mower, making it spit out clumps of wet grass that can suffocate your lawn.
Grass TypeIdeal Lawn Height (inches)Mow when the grass reaches this height (inches)
Fine fescue1.5 – 32 – 4
Kentucky bluegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Perennial ryegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Tall fescue2 – 42.5 – 5.25
Zoysiagrass1.0 – 2.51.25 – 3.25

Pro tip: When you mow, consider leaving the grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them. These residuals can help add nutrients and a boost of natural, organic fertilizer without the need for expensive chemicals. It’s the beautiful cycle of life!

15. Start Landscaping

Mulching of a tree
Photo Credit: m.czosnek / Canva Pro / License

Spring is the season of new life, so it’s the perfect time to start adding to your landscape. You can start preparing your landscape beds once you’re sure that temperatures won’t drop below freezing again; usually, the threat of frost has passed by late May.

Here is a landscaping checklist you can refer to this spring: 

  • Existing flowers. If you want to encourage your flowers to bloom, you’ll need to prune the old seed heads and dead flowers. Called deadheading, this process involves cutting these dead parts just above the first set of healthy leaves.
  • Garden beds. You should prepare your garden beds as soon as your soil temperature consistently reaches 60 Fahrenheit and above.
  • Soil. Your soil should be only slightly moist and rather crumbly before you add new plants to your garden. To check if your soil is ready, take a handful of it and squeeze; if it clumps up and drips, it’s not yet ready.
  • Mulch. The best time to top off your mulch is in the spring. Some of its benefits include preventing weed germination and temperature regulation. Organic mulches, like grass clippings, leaves, and bark can also supplement your lawn fertilization as it breaks down.

FAQs About Spring Lawn Care in the Northeast

Are My Sprinklers Putting Out Enough Water?

The tuna can test can tell you your sprinkler system’s water output. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place tuna cans or similarly straight-edged cans around your lawn.
  2. Turn on your sprinklers and let them run for 15 minutes.
  3. Use a ruler to measure how much water is in every can.
  4. Take the measurements and average them out.

Check how long you should run your sprinklers in the table below.

Average water depth after 15 minutesTotal minutes needed to water 1 inch
⅛ inch120
¼ inch60
½ inch30
¾ inch20
1 inch15

What are the Best Grass Types for the Northeast?

The grasses that best fit the Northeast region’s climate are the cool-season species:

  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Tall fescue
  • Fine fescues
  • Perennial ryegrass

However, some homeowners have embraced Zoysiagrass as a lawn grass. While some consider it a weed, it is one of the most cold-tolerant warm-season grasses out there and can survive in warmer areas of the Northeast.

How Often Should You Mow Your Lawn in Spring?

Most Northeast lawns will need a weekly mow as spring is one of the growing seasons for cool-season grasses. During peak growth periods (around late spring), you may even need to mow twice a week. Only mow if your grass is tall enough, though.

Get a Pro to Help Out With Your Northeast Lawn

Spring is the time for Northeast lawns to bounce back from the winter cold. However, it won’t be able to recover without your help. You’ll need to stay on top of your spring lawn care routine and do critical treatments at the right times.
Not all homeowners will be able to care for their lawns; some would rather enjoy the season without worries. If that sounds like you, consider hiring a lawn care professional to maintain your lawn. LawnStarter’s network of pros is reliable and capable of giving your lawn the TLC it needs to green up this spring. Hire a pro through LawnStarter today.

Main Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region / Flickr / CC0 1.0

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.