The Morehouse Personal Spring Lawn Checklist
Spring is coming!! It may not look like it, but under the two feet of snow we still have, seeds are already starting to germinate. Trees are starting to push more energy into creating buds, the chipmunks have emerged from their dens (ok, my basement), and my husband can be found wandering aimlessly down lawn and garden aisles.
It's also time to get organized for all of the things we do for our yard every spring. Spring is arguably the busiest time for us personally and for the business. There is just a lot to do. Every year we go through a checklist to make sure we're not missing anything for our lawn and garden. It also helps us to track what we do so that we can make adjustments and learn how things work in our particular Adirondack soil.
We have really unique soil in the Adirondacks. It's sandy (duh), with a lot of clay, it's prone to compaction, and doesn't hold water well. Because we've been doing this for a while, we've gotten pretty good at knowing what works in our region and what is kind of a waste of time and money. For example, aerating works really well to deal with the compaction issues, but really only needs to be done once a year (we recommend fall). Sod, on the other hand, is really difficult to get established here, and often dies off after the first year.
We've put together our personal list of tasks that we do every single spring, and that will most likely work for you too. It's designed to be relatively easy, inexpensive, and kind to our environment.
For the fall version of this post, see our fall checklist here
MARCH - Prune
Ok, almost all of March is still technically winter, you got me. The snow agrees with you too. But along with getting our equipment and tools set for the season, there are actually a few things we can do around the yard to get ready for when spring (really) comes. Ok, maybe it's just one thing.
Winter pruning. In our area mid-March is the perfect time to prune fruit trees, roses, ornamental flowering trees, and many other trees and shrubs.
APRIL - Clean & prep
This is it. April is the big one. Everything we do in April sets up our yard to be the prettiest, healthiest, greeniest version of itself. Our lawn living its best life. So the name of the game in April is cleaning everything up (lawn debris, garden beds, etc) and treating the lawn. We use four primary products to treat the lawn in the spring. After this initial treatment, then we'll go into a much milder fertilizing schedule until the fall.
Lawn treatment: Pre-emergent. When the soil temperatures reach around 50 degrees, it's time to put down pre-emergents. Pre-emergents are weed killers that are applied before the weeds actually emerge (hence the name). These are especially useful for crabgrass, which once it starts growing, is super difficult to get rid of.
Lawn treatment: Pesticide. Pesticides are tricky, especially around the lake. Thankfully there are a lot of organic and low impact pesticides that are still effective for most of our local pests, like grubs and chinch bugs. Be careful, and talk to a professional.
Lawn treatment: Fertilizer. We love a good old, nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer (you know, poop). Sandy soil leaks nutrients like a sieve, so in order to grow a healthy lawn, it will need to be fortified. A hearty application in the spring followed by regular interval feedings throughout the year is our go-to schedule.
Lawn treatment: Lime. Lime balances the PH in soil. Last summer my grandmother asked my grandfather if he would add a little lime to her tomato plants that were looking a little peekish. So he sprinkled the lime directly on the fruit, and wouldn't you know it, they didn't make it... We do NOT recommend applying lime directly to your tomatoes. We DO recommend adding it to the soil underneath your tomatoes, and in your lawn and garden beds, if your soil is acidic. Acidic soil can stunt grass growth, and you might see an excess of moss and other weeds growing in your lawn. Get a soil test to be sure, though, because it's easy to over-lime, and it's a lot harder to increase the acidity in the soil than it is to decrease it.
NOTE: Be super careful and responsible with weed and pest killers. There is some nasty stuff out there that you can get that is really harmful to the earth. And we love our earth. Do your research and call a DEC certified applicator for help
Clean out garden beds. As soon as the snow uncovers your garden beds, you can start cleaning them out. If you did a good job last fall, it should be a pretty easy task to clear out any downed branches and leaves that blew into the beds over the winter. If you didn't get to it last fall because you were trying to work from home while doing remote school with a million kids and hadn't had a date with your spouse in nine months, don't worry. You can do it now. And go on a date, please, even if it's getting takeout and eating it in the car (locked so the kids can't get in).
Clean up leaves & dead branches. If you have kids and are a mean parent, like we are, hand them a rake and put them to work. The winters up here can do a number on the lawn, so now is the time to clean up leaves, branches, and deflated soccer balls that fell from the trees over the winter.
Set up and test irrigation system. Whatever type of irrigation system you have, now is the time to get it set up and working so that it's ready to go when things start to really grow. This could be as simple as turning the water on to your outdoor spigots and checking your hoses for holes, or it could involve calling your irrigation system company to turn on your system for the season.
Dethatch. Ok, so thatch is like a really thin layer of dead grass, leaves, and other organic matter that naturally builds up at the base of grass shoots. A little bit is totally natural, and actually helps protect and feed your lawn, like a totally free little compost layer. Thatch can build up, though, and start to choke your lawn out. Anything more than an inch will lead to poor growth and a yellow lawn. Dethatching is just intense raking that will clear out the thatch. Like brushing the ketchup residue out of your 4-year-old daughter's hair. You can use a heavy-duty manual dethatching rake or a power rake (not recommended for toddler hair).
MAY - Grow
Finally we can get to the fun stuff. May is my all-time favorite month, because you do all of this hard work in April while the world is still brown and cold, and then in May it springs to life and I can actually bear to be outside for any length of time without a winter coat. Magical.
First mow. If you live in Northville or north (zone 4b), then your first mow will probably be in the beginning of May. South of Northville (zone 5a) is likely to start in April. There is a 2-3 week difference just from Northville to Amsterdam.
Plant annuals. Now that your garden beds are freshly cleaned up, it's time to fill them with all kinds of colorful things. We have a Mother's Day tradition here of spending way too much money on way too many flowers to surround the house with.
Patch repairs / lawn installs. Lawn repairs and new lawn installs can really be done any time during the year. We recommend spring and fall, mostly because the temperatures are cooler and the soil retains water better. The only time to definitely NOT try to grow grass (other than the dead of winter), is after putting down a pre-emergent or other herbicide. If you're doing it in the spring, May is a good time because the pre-emergent will have already been soaked into the soil and won't stop the seeds from germinating.
You can see our step-by-step process for rehabbing a lawn here, complete with some pretty satisfying before & after pics.