Reader Lawn Question

Today’s question comes to us from Sitou.  He asks, “I live in Utah and we get a lot of snow.  If I didn’t feed the lawn before winter, what do i have to do for my lawn in the spring?

Great question Sitou!  Feeding your lawn can be tricky but it doesn’t need to be.  In the photo above you can see my cute son holding Easter his eggs.  You may notice the lawn he is standing on did not come out of winter so well.  If your lawn was healthy and you forgot to fertilize before winter it will likely still be fine and come up in the spring.  That being said, if you want the healthiest lawn on the block the fall feeding is the most important for your lawn.

I should first point out that it is a good idea to check your soil and find out what nutrients it might need.  You can do this by sending in a soil sample to one of your local Utah State extension offices.  They can give you specific recommendations for your soil.

In general lawn needs Nitrogen.  When you buy fertilizer for a lawn you will find bags with 3 or 4 numbers on them.  Nitrogen is always represented by the first number on the bag.  You want to use something where the first number is high and he others are low.  This does not mean the other numbers need to be 0 but avoid using something like a 15-15-15 that would be better for a garden.  The other numbers are not bad they may make your soil more healthy overall but you want your soil healthy for lawn, not other plants.  The other numbers may help weeds grow but they are not as important for your lawn.  Many fertilizes may be a winter mix that will have extra potassium which is the 3rd number on the bag.  That is okay for winter or if you are planting a new lawn.  Potassium specifically helps root growth.  I focus on nitrogen because there is usually enough potassium in the soil.  Some people will disagree with me on that but you can make adjustments based on your soil sample results.

When you fertilize in the fall, nutrients get stored in the roots.  Normally when your turf gets nitrogen it starts sending up new leaves.  When the weather gets colder your lawn starts preparing for winter and stops growing leaves and sends energy to growing roots.  This is why you do not need to mow as often in the fall.  This energy that it sends to its roots is what help it start out strong in the spring.  If you want to be the first green lawn on the block you need to have the fall fertilizer.

Now back to Sitou’s question, what if we forgot?  Although the grass may look yellow and dead and may even have snow on it, below the ground it is still alive.  It is still drinking water and still trying to get nutrients.  You could still fertilize right now even with a little snow on the ground.  Your neighbors might look at you strange and it is cold but it would still help your lawn.  If you want to avoid having your neighbors thinking you might be crazy, you can wait till early spring and fertilize then.  I have been the crazy neighbor mowing and fertilizing in January but it is not needed.

Fertilize: The first thing you should do in the spring is give your lawn the food it needs.  It may be a little slower to turn green than if you had done it in the fall but in a few weeks nobody will know the difference.

Rake: The second thing I would recommend for your lawn in the spring is raking it.  You will have people coming door to door asking if you would like to have your lawn power raked, this is not what i am talking about.  In Utah you will probably never need to have your lawn power raked.  It is more important in a humid climate.  In Utah power raking will usually do more damage than good for our lawn.  The raking I am talking about is just making sure leaves, branches and clutter are off the lawn.  If you have pets make sure to clean up any messes they may have left you.  A light raking helps to lift the old leaves and helps air make it down to the roots.

Reseed: Spring is the perfect time to look over your lawn and fix bare spots.  If your lawn was healthy before winter you probably won’t have bare spots but if it was not so healthy or you have pets you may be seeing a few spots that could use some help.  Buy grass seed and follow the directions on the bag.  Make sure to not buy the cheapest seed.  The bags will tell you a percentage of weed seed in the bag just think of that number as future problems.  What percentage of future problems do you want?  I would go with a very low number.  Also it will have a list of grass types.  If you know what kind of grass you have try to get the same kind.  If not or you are reseeding a whole yard make sure the seed mix has perennial seed.  Many of the seeds that advertise a quick green lawn have a lot of annual grass seeds.  This will help you have a quick green lawn but it will only last one year.  A mix that has both will help you have a fast green lawn that will come back every year.

Mow:  When you mow your lawn in early spring it lets your lawn know it is time to wake up and start growing.  Lawn may not have a brain and think like we do but it is always trying to survive and that first haircut makes it start to spread.  If you think about the evolution of plants and how they survive being eaten by animals they all have to have a way to continue to live.  When you cut grass it will spread to survive.  Mowing your lawn forces it to become thicker and resistant to people walking and playing on it.

Aerate: Aeration may not always be needed. If you don’t know what aeration is, it is poking holes in the ground to help with compaction.  It helps air make it down to the roots and gives the roots space to grow.   If you rarely walk on your lawn or have sandy soil you probably don’t need to aerate every year.  If you have heavy clay soil or you use your lawn for playing and a place to wash the car you will need to aerate.  There are several ways to aerate but the most common for home owners is plug/core aeration.  This is typically done when someone comes door to door and they run a machine over your lawn that leaves behind holes and plugs.   You may have seen shoe spikes advertised for aeration.  These may help with some issues but will not help with compaction so I do not recommend them. Core aeration can be done in the spring or fall but should not be done in the summer.  This will help your lawn grow longer healthier roots.

I hope these tips will help you and have answered your question.  If you enjoyed this post please tell your friends and be sure to like and follow the page so you do not miss tips like this in the future.

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