The snow has finally cleared and your mind might be on the lazy, long-awaited days of summer. But before you can relax, you need to tend to your winter-ravaged lawn. After the cold winter days, spring is here — the perfect time to revitalize and rejuvenate your hungry lawn. To help you with this task, we bring you the best nine spring lawn care tips for the Northeast region.
Where is the Northeast?
This beautiful region is composed of nine different states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
*The states of Delaware and Maryland as well as the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) are sometimes included as well.
1. Get Your (Lawn Care) Weapons Ready
Spring shows its beautiful face again in the Northeast!
Do you live in this picturesque part of the country? Then it’s time to put the gloves and coats in the drawer and get the lawn equipment out of the shed. Check your lawn care tools so you can ensure they won’t bail on you. Here’s a checklist for what you might need:
- Sprinkler system or 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. And don’t forget to check the spool of the string trimmer line.
- 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.
Alright, now that you’ve got your lawn care weapons ready, we can show you the next steps for a lush, green lawn.
2. Time for a Yard Cleanup
As fellow northeasterners know, winters can mean heavy snow in the region. Besides snow, small branches and dead leaves can build up debris in your grass. This is dangerous because it can lead to:
- Soil compaction: Compacted soil impairs the grass’s absorption of light, air, and water — precious resources to a healthy lawn.
- Moisture accumulation: This layer of detritus can trap excess moisture in the soil, creating the perfect, cozy home for diseases to spread, such as snow mold.
Once the snow melts, rake through the leaves and matted areas and help your grass breathe the spring air! Raking will help fluff and lift the grass to prepare it for the growing season ahead.
Pro tip: Use a leaf blower to get rid of fallen leaves if you have a large yard area. If you don’t have the time or energy, there are professionals who offer yard cleanup services.
3. Test Your Soil
Before applying any nitrogen fertilizer or investing in soil amendments, conduct a simple soil test to find out what nutrients your lawn needs. A soil test should be done every year to every other year — make sure you add that to your lawn care schedule. The results will tell you:
- Soil pH: The pH level affects plant growth. Most grasses prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5 (mildly acidic).
- Nutrient levels: The essential nutrients in the soil are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and a soil test will tell you the levels of each one. This information can help determine if fertilizer is needed and help you choose the right fertilizer for your lawn.
- Organic matter: The amount of organic matter in the soil affects its ability to hold water and nutrients, and it can also impact soil structure and fertility.
- Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC): This measure indicates how well the soil can hold nutrients. CEC levels also tell the amount of organic matter in the soil as well as the amount and type of clay minerals.
- Soil texture: Soil pH, CEC, and organic matter levels can help you determine soil texture (e.g. sandy, loamy, or clayey). Sandy soil, for example, is often acidic and has less organic matter than loamy soil.
You can purchase a reliable, low-cost soil test kit from your local home improvement store or online. You can also contact your county Extension office to get the materials.
4. Fertilize at The Right Time
Once you’ve tested your soil, you’ll know what kind of lawn fertilizer will meet your needs. Now, make sure you fertilize at the right time. Knowing when to apply fertilizers will:
- Maximize grass growth
- Reduce the amount of product needed (therefore, saving you money)
- Prevent product waste, which can happen if the fertilizer is applied before or after the grass growth period
For cool-season lawns: The perfect moment to fertilize in spring is as soon as the grass greens up after winter, between mid April and May. However, make sure you avoid fertilizing if there’s a chance of a late spring frost. (Check the average last spring freeze dates on the map below.)
For warm-season lawns: If you have a Zoysiagrass lawn, which is the only warm-season turfgrass to grow in the Northeast region, wait till mid-spring (around May).
Pro tip: Apply a slow-release fertilizer after mowing the lawn so the product will have time to properly get into the soil before the next mow. And don’t forget to water it in.
5. Water Your Lawn Conscientiously
Spring is a beautiful time throughout New England and the Northeast, when flowers bloom, garnishing the cities with their colors. But since rains are very common in the region during this season, homeowners should be cautious when watering their lawns:
- Make sure your lawn receives around 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly. No more, no less. This quantity includes both rainfall and your sprinkler system. So if any rainfall hits your lawn in a certain week, you can go easy on the irrigation.
- Water deeply and infrequently (once a week is enough) to encourage deep roots.
- Water in the morning, ideally before 8 a.m., so the soil absorbs the water before the sun dries it out.
6. Overseed Any Bare Spots
Have you noticed bare patches in your lawn now that the snow is gone? Overseeding will solve this problem. In the Northeast region, the majority of lawns are cool-season with one exception. In many states, including Rhode Island, homeowners can successfully grow certain cultivars of the warm-season Zoysiagrass due to improved cold tolerance.
Although the optimal season for overseeding cool-season grasses is the fall, spring is also a viable time to do so, especially if you want to renovate smaller areas. Follow these tips so you don’t waste your grass seeds:
- Choose the right time: Seeding in early spring gives the grass seed time to establish itself before the summer heat comes when cool-season lawns enter dormancy and the growth process is impaired.
- Wait for the right temperature: The overseeding process will only be effective if done when soil temperatures (not air temperature) are around 50 to 65 degrees, which is the sufficient warmth needed for the new grass to grow.
- Be mindful of the process: Choose quality seed and, using a seed spreader, broadcast evenly on the ground to ensure thorough distribution.
Pro tip: Dethatching and aerating help the overseeding process. But if you are not having any thatch or compaction problems, you can increase the seed contact with the soil simply by raking the grass before overseeding.
7. Mow The Lawn
For cool-season lawns, it’s good to begin mowing as early as possible in the spring, as soon as the grass starts growing. Doing so will help jumpstart your lawn’s growth by removing the dead grass. Follow these tips so you can mow the right way:
- Adjust the height: In the spring, keep the mower blades high. Aim for the higher end of the grass type recommended mowing height (see the chart below). Cutting the grass too short can damage the roots and cause your lawn to become weak and susceptible to disease and pests.
- Mow as the grass grows: In the spring, your lawn will be growing quickly. In April or early spring, it’s important to mow weekly to keep the grass at the right height. During peak growth periods, in late to mid-spring, you might have to mow twice per week.
|Grass Type||Recommended Mowing Height|
|Kentucky Bluegrass||2.5 to 3.5 inches|
|Perennial Ryegrass||1.5 to 2.5 inches|
|Tall fescue||2 inches|
|Fine fescue||2.5 to 4 inches|
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!
8. Apply a Pre-Emergent Herbicide to Control Weeds
Spring is the time to kill off any pesky annual weeds before they sprout in the summer, competing with your grass for resources. Here are some of the weeds that may bother your Northeastern lawn:
- Common Chickweed
The best approach against annual weeds is applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the early to mid-spring. Here are some details you have to consider before getting into action:
- Weed type: Pre-emergent herbicides will mostly work on annual weeds and grassy weeds, but not so well on perennials. So make sure you correctly identify your weeds.
- Soil temperature: These herbicides must be applied when the soil temperature is around 50 to 55 degrees, when the seeds will start to germinate.
- Water: Regardless if you apply a liquid or a granular herbicide, make sure you water your lawn afterward to properly activate the product.
What if I’m having trouble with perennial weeds? You can hand-pull them or remediate them with a post-emergent herbicide as a spot treatment. Here are some of the common perennial weeds in the Northeast region:
- Ground Ivy
- White Clover
- Broadleaf Plantain
A pro tip: For all weed types, cultural practices are the best prevention method for weed control. Weeds are less likely to appear in a strong, healthy lawn.
Also, weeds are in the eyes of the beholder (or so they say). Consider the benefits of certain “weeds” in these articles:
9. Treat Common Lawn Diseases
Spring is here… and they’re among us. Humidity is a favorite of fungi that cause lawn disease. Here are some of the most common lawn diseases in the region and their tell-tale signs:
- Dollar spot: Discolored brown spots the size of a silver dollar coin are typical, hence the name “dollar spot.”
- Brown patch: You’ll see a big circular brown patch with a gray-white circle around its perimeter, a “smoke ring.”
- Snow mold: This disease grows beneath snow during winter. You’ll see matted circular patches of gray.
- Anthracnose: Symptoms of anthracnose can appear as yellow, red, or bronze patches.
- Leaf spot: Browning or yellowing areas that, when you look up close, produce black lesions on grass blades are telling signs of leaf spot.
- Fairy ring: Circles of brown and wilted grass, or a ring of mushrooms or puffballs; these may indicate the presence of the fairy ring fungus.
- Red thread: Red-colored structures called “stroma” that grow from affected grass blades are typical symptoms of red thread.
The first thing when it comes to lawn diseases is to correctly identify brown spots or other symptoms of the disease in its early stages so treatment is effective. Early spring is generally the best time to apply fungicides, but be aware that in some cases, as with fairy rings, fungicides are not effective. Consider hiring a local professional if you’re unsure.
The best thing you can do to prevent disease is to maintain a strong and healthy lawn. Here are the recommended lawn maintenance practices to reduce or prevent disease:
- Mow at the right height: Cutting it 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.
The best season to dethatch and aerate cool-season lawns is the fall, but spring is the second best time. The recommended frequency is every year or so depending on your soil type (for sandy soils, every two to three years is enough).
The grasses that best fit the region’s climate are the cool-season species:
● Kentucky bluegrass
● Tall fescue
● Fine fescues
● Perennial ryegrass
You can always use organic fertilizer alternatives to reduce the impact of synthetic fertilizers, which can pollute the local environment and runoff into the water supply.
Make Your Lawn Come Alive
The beautifully colored spring days are here, but you don’t want to spend much of your time caring for the lawn? Look for a Northeastern lawn care pro near you.
We have trusted lawn care pros in Hartford, Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, and Providence, and many more cities across the East Coast.
Main Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region / Flickr / CC0 1.0