Archive for Sunday, April 7, 2002

Ease into spring lawn routine

April 7, 2002


These warm spring days are a big temptation for even the most seasoned gardeners in town. However, do not be fooled and begin gardening too early.

Keep in mind that the average last frost date in our area is April 15. That means we have a 50 percent chance of frost on that date. Every day after that, the chance decreases.

But many gardeners are anxious to begin working on their lawns. Here are some tips on managing your lawn this time of year.

Discussions about spring lawn care start with "How low should I mow?" The answer is not simple. Removal of old, dead plants left from last year has proven to benefit the lawn for early spring greening and growth. However, removing too much top growth can injure the crown and open the soil for weed growth and development.

A general rule of thumb is to mow the grass about 1 or 2 inches lower than you plan to mow the lawn the rest of the season. Mow low only once, then begin raising the height to help prepare for summer heat.

Next is fertilization. Many gardeners have their spreaders loaded and ready to roll. But this may not be the best thing to do at this time. Early fertilization encourages quick spring top growth with little root development. What you end up with is lush green tops and little to no roots to support them. After the initial burst of energy is used, the grass becomes weak and spindly.

To better support slow, even growth, apply lawn fertilizers in mid-May. By then the grass is actively growing and will produce roots and shoots at the same time.

Finally, it is not too late to apply crabgrass preventer. Make your application now and water it in with an inch of water. If you are starting to see other broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, be patient. Trying to control them now will be frustrating.

The weeds are coming out of winter dormancy so there is an upward flow of energy from the roots. Chemicals applied now get trapped in the leaves and do not work well. If you wait a month or two and then apply the weed killers, they will be taken down to the roots and do a much better job of control.

 Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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