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University of Minnesota Extension

Practice Patience for Spring Lawn Care

Well, the arctic freezer blast in February followed by the warmup in March certainly increased our longing for green things. Around this time of the year, homeowners commonly call the office for help keeping their lawn said green color. However, early spring is more a season of patience than aggressive action for lawns.

During times where we have a soil blanketed with snow for months, snow molds can sometimes give you a nasty surprise during spring thaw. Grey snow molds appear as whitish dead patches dotting along your lawn. Often, the blades of grass are matted down with cottony, fungal fuzz. These diseases love extra nitrogen fertilizer almost as much as stubborn snow—yet another reason to make sure you have a soil test for your yard. For treating snow mold, be sure to rake the matted grass to allow more air movement. Afterward, it may take a bit for the fungus to die out and the grass to come back. Usually the prognosis is good, and no further action is needed. Leave the fungicides for the golf course, most of the time raking that mat up and watching your fertilizer use should be enough.

If you find yourself wanting to take that rake and immediately use it to reseed that dead patch, slow down a bit. Cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass or fine fescue tend to do a little better with a late August to September planting versus a May to June one. Why? The rainfall might be a tad less than spring but that is not a dealbreaker. Temperatures might be similar too between late spring and early fall. So, for the weather, it becomes more of a wash between those two seasons. However, the biggest reason Extension recommends seeding later rather than earlier are the weeds. Everything is getting ready to pop out of the soil soon, henbit, creeping Charlie, you name it. In September, the weedy crowd tends to thin out a bit, and could give your grass seedlings a better chance at success.

Speaking of weeds, one that warrants action in early spring is crabgrass. If you decide to use a chemical control on it, timing is extremely important. Products that work great against crabgrass do this by stopping their seeds from germinating. These chemicals are called pre-emergent herbicides. To effectively control crabgrass, they need to be used sometime in April or early May. This can be tricky; we want to apply before the weather is nice enough for the crabgrass to pop up but not too early as to make the chemical useless. To help you make a decision, you can use growing degree day models, such as Michigan State Extension’s GDDTracker (https://gddtracker.msu.edu/). You can even use forsythia blooming as a bit of hint as well. Before applying any herbicide, please read the label, and do not hesitate to give us a call at the Extension office if you have any other questions.

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