Ask A Master Gardener – Lawn Care

Authored by: Carol Shirk

Most lawns are an important part of a homeowner’s landscape.  A beautiful lawn can add value to the home as well as keep neighbors happy.  Now that the lawn care season is beginning, it is time to put some consideration into how to approach it thoughtfully.  Last year Dodge County encountered some drier than normal conditions which may affect how lawns respond to the spring renewal.

The first spring task should always be to clean up the yard.  Remove any twigs, trash, and miscellaneous items that might have blown in during the high winds we experienced this spring.  Tune up the lawn mower, sharpen the blades, and get it in top running order.  A well running lawn mower is your best prevention against damaging the turf.

If there are small bare spots in the lawn, hand reseed those spots. If the lawn is heavily compacted with a poor grass stand, run a core aerator over it and use a drop seeder to reseed.   Running a mower over the area will crush the cores and push the seeds into the soil to make better seed/soil contact.  If there is good soil structure, but thin grass, consider renting a slit seeder to overseed the area.

If larger bare patches exist, add one-fourth to one-half inch of good topsoil.  Sprinkle seed on top of the soil, rake it in lightly, roll it to make good soil contact, water, and mulch.

Weed and feed products are very appealing because two tasks can be accomplished at once.  However, they often cause the fertilizer to be applied too early which promotes leaf growth at the expense of healthy roots.  It is better to fertilize independently and use an herbicide targeted specifically for whatever weeds exist in the turf.

Begin mowing when the grass is 2.5 to 3.5 inches high and keep it at that length all season.  Never remove more than one third of the grass blade at a time.  Remember to keep those mower blades sharp to that they cut the grass blades and not tear them.  Unless the grass is so thick that it will smother the turf, do not remove them.  Leaving them in place is a vital source of nitrogen for the lawn and is the equivalent to one application of fertilizer for the season.

An ideal schedule for fertilizer application has been dubbed the “holiday schedule.”  Apply fertilizer around Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Halloween.  Skip the July application if it is a drought year and the grass is dormant.  Skip the Labor Day application if the lawn is well established, at least 10 years old.  If low maintenance is your preference, just use the Halloween application.

Dealing with weeds is another task for lawn care.  Apply a crab grass preemergent herbicide in the spring after the temperatures have been above 58 degrees for more than four days.  Do not apply any herbicide to newly seeded area.  When controlling broadleaf weeds, read the herbicide container to ensure that it will control the particular weed present.  Apply post-emergent herbicides when the weeds are present, and particularly when they are in bloom.  Always use appropriate safety equipment when dealing with chemicals.

An excellent UW Extension bulletin with further details about lawn care is: “Lawn Maintenance” found at:

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener

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