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Go ahead...get an early start on lawn care

By John Woodmansee, Whitley County Extension Educator

As weather finally begins to warm up, many folks are itching to do something in the yard. This week, we'll concentrate on things that can and should be done soon. Next week, we'll cover some things to avoid doing that many ignore and do anyway.

Early lawn activities to consider include: applying pre-emergence herbicides to control crabgrass, preparing lawn for mowing, performing pre-season lawnmower maintenance, re-seeding small bare spots, and mowing lawn as needed.

One pest I have been dealing with in my own lawn is crabgrass. A healthy, dense turf is a good cultural control against crabgrass. However, if pre-emergent herbicides are needed, they should be applied now through about the middle of April in northeast Indiana. Basically, these products must be in place before crabgrass seeds germinate (sprout) in the soil for an effective kill. Purdue research has shown that these herbicides can be applied as early as March 1 and still be effective all season. Although the date of actual crabgrass germination will depend on the weather each spring, the average germination date at Fort Wayne is April 29.

Crabgrass is a summer annual weed, meaning that it sprouts in the spring, grows, produces seed, and dies before winter.

Some post-emergent crabgrass controls are available, but they are very difficult for the average homeowner to use safely and effectively. No crabgrass control should be attempted after mid-July because most crabgrass is too large to control effectively.

Spring seeding of turfgrass is sometimes a hit-or-miss operation, due to cool soil temperatures, longer periods before emergence, and summer stress of newly emerged, weak seedlings. But, if you have small bare spots, you may wish to give spring seeding a try. Disturb the soil to ensure seed-to-soil contact, seed, and water frequently. (Seeding of cool-season turfgrass varieties like Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue is best done in late August through early September.) If you need to re-seed bare spots, skip crabgrass controls as they will likely interfere with desired grass germination and growth.

Basic preparations for lawn mowing include picking up sticks and fallen limbs, and raking to remove leaves, twigs, and trash. Sticks left in the yard can hasten dulling of mower blades. Give your mower a tune up, including an oil change, and sharpen the blade. A sharp blade results in a cleaner and healthier cut, leaving a more attractive lawn.

The first mowing should be slightly lower than normal to encourage green-up. Then, move to the season-long mowing height of about 3 inches.

Other things you may consider this spring include thatch control and aerification (or aeration) of turf. Thatch is a layer of dead grass stems on top of the soil surface that limits water and air penetration into the soil. Power rakes or core aerators can help with thatch. Aerification (thatch or no thatch) also relieves soil compaction, improves water and air movement into the soil, increases rooting, and can greatly improve turfgrass health. It's best to wait until turf is actively growing (usually in April) for these operations.

To whet your appetite for next week, two items on the list of things to avoid are rolling lawns and early season fertilization.

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