Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
It is time for my yearly reminder to homeowners to wait until the proper time to do lawn chores and apply fertilizer and lawn chemicals. The warm daytime temperatures tempt us to get outdoors and it makes us forget that only a short time ago we had snow on the ground. Likewise, the garden centers and discount stores are featuring fertilizers and weed control products and the manufacturers are encouraging homeowners to apply their products to their lawns in April. It is very important to withstand these temptations and wait to apply lawn products at the proper time. No matter how beautiful the weather, keep off the grass until the soil feels fairly firm underfoot and you no longer leave footprints when you walk across the lawn. If it's still soggy wet, you will compress the soil wherever you step which will add to compaction and promotes poor root growth and poor water drainage. This is especially important if you are going to use your lawn tractor or other heavy equipment to clean your yard. In addition, it is very easy to pull the grass out by the roots when the grass is wet. When the lawn is ready to rake, use a lightweight lawn rake, not a heavy garden rake. The lighter rake removes dead grass and weeds as well as allows air to reach the crowns of the grass plants without harming the roots. Raking also removes rocks and other debris that could pose a problem when you mow later this spring. Despite what you read in fertilizer advertisements, April is too early to make your spring fertilizer application. If fertilizer is applied before the grass plants are growing rapidly enough to utilize the nutrients, particularly nitrogen, the nutrients will leach below the roots of the grass plants and become unavailable to the plants. If you fertilized last fall, there really is no need to fertilize in early spring. If you missed the fall application or have determined your lawn needs spring fertilization, wait until the lawn is ready for its first mowing which is normally early May before applying the fertilizer. At that time put down only a light application of fertilizer as heavy spring feeding encourages fast green-up and a flush of succulent growth that is more vulnerable to fungus diseases. The heavier applications of fertilizer should be made in September and October, at which time it promotes good root development, which will, in turn, produce lush green grass in the spring. To remove the guesswork as to the amount of nutrients to apply, consider having the soil tested. Call or stop in at your University of Minnesota Extension Office to get an information sheet and a soil sample bag. Don't be too anxious to apply a pre-emergent chemical to kill crabgrass and other annual weeds. Wait to apply the pre-emergent chemical until about two weeks before the crabgrass normally germinates. If the pre-emergent product is applied too early it will have lost its effectiveness before the crabgrass begins to germinate. Crabgrass begins to germinate when the soil temperature is about 55 degrees, which is usually around Memorial Day. Therefore, in this area the proper time to apply crabgrass control is during the second week of May. Warm spots, like those along driveways or sidewalks and on the south sides of buildings, may encourage germination a little earlier. Unless your entire lawn has been infested with crabgrass, consider applying the chemical only in those areas where you have had a crabgrass problem. There is no need to use excess chemical by treating the entire yard. Postemergent broadleaf weed killers used to kill dandelions, clover, plantain and other perennial weeds should be applied when the weeds are young and actively growing. If the herbicide is applied before there is sufficient leaf surface to accept the chemical it will be ineffective. Apply these chemicals at the time you spot the first dandelion in bloom. Again, consider spot treatment with the chemical unless the dandelion population is high over the entire lawn. To avoid stress on your lawn as well as the disappointment and economical loss of ineffective weed control and fertilizer applications, wait until the proper time to do your lawn maintenance activities.