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Growing Green: Don't start lawn, garden work if it's muddy

With this later than normal spring, gardeners are just itching to get out and...what else? Garden.

These warm, sunny days amplify my dreary winter lawn crying for attention, and it is all I can do to keep from grabbing my rake.

If you are also tempted to get started on your lawn, remember this pointer: Don't begin yard work when your lawn is wet or muddy.

Raking your lawn when the soil is cold and muddy can uproot your healthy grass plants and can increase soil compaction. You can begin raking when the soil is no longer soft and muddy.

The same goes for mowing. Get your lawn mower ready for the coming season by sharpening the blades, and cleaning and servicing the mower, but don't mow until the soil is warm and dry. Early mowing can also cause damage to your grass and compact the soil.

If areas of your lawn have been damaged by vole activity, de-icing salts or dog stains, re-seeding might be necessary. Re-seeding of cool season grasses can be done in April and May, as soon as the soil is no longer muddy.

Lightly loosen the soil, or spread a layer of topsoil in the damaged spots and seed the area according to package directions. Look for a salt resistant grass, or one specifically for use in pet areas for best results.

The early spring has also created profuse inquiry regarding that prolific lawn weed, crabgrass. If you want to preemptively strike out against this menace, the following information should help in your home lawn defense.

Crabgrass is a warm-season, annual grass that grows best in the heat of mid-summer. It overwinters as seed in your lawn and typically begins to grow around Memorial Day, when the soil temperature reaches about 50 degrees.

Crabgrass grows close to the ground and is usually lighter in color than desirable lawn grasses. If you had crabgrass in your lawn last fall, you probably have seed waiting to sprout this spring.

The good news is that there are several measures you can take to prohibit crabgrass from getting a hold in your lawn.

A healthy, relatively dense lawn is your best prevention against invasive, undesirable weeds. Properly fertilizing and watering your lawn will help ensure an adequate supply of plant nutrients and water for vigorous grass growth.

• Adjust your mower height to 2-1/2 to 3 inches to provide more shade at the soil surface. Without adequate light, crabgrass seeds (and other lawn weed seeds) will be less likely to germinate.

• Mow frequently, removing only one-third of the blade length each time.

• Water consistently and thoroughly throughout the growing season. Apply enough water to bring the weekly total to 1 to 1-1/2 inches of rain and irrigation water combined.

• Fertilize more heavily in fall than spring.

• Aerate the lawn in early fall as soon as temperatures cool, if soil is compacted or clay-like.

• Apply a pre-emergent weed killer.

Pre-emergent herbicides come in either granular or liquid form and kill crabgrass seedlings as they germinate. They act as an invisible shield across the soil surface that stops emerging crabgrass from breaking through.

Do not aerate lawns once you have applied a pre-emergent, and never use a pre-emergent on lawns that have been seeded.

Apply pre-emergents from late April to late May. Granular forms are easy to apply with a spreader and are often mixed with an early summer lawn fertilizer.

For more information, visit www.extension.