Where to Start
Start lawn maintenance once the snow is fully melted and the soil has begun to firm up. Too much trodding across a soggy lawn will not only muck it up but also compact the soil, choking grass roots of adequate air.
In fact, aerating the soil is a good first step in early lawn care. To aerate, rake the lawn with a bamboo or wire rake, removing the leftover thatch and leaves that have accumulated since the fall clean up. The lawn has likely experienced some grass die-back over the winter, so removing these dead blades will help aerate the soil. While aerating the soil is always a smart thing to do during the fall of the year, it can be beneficial in the spring as well. Aerating has been shown to reduce run off, limiting the leaching of nutrients that occurs as a result of spring rains.
Mechanical aeration is especially good for soils that compact easily, such as clay or silt soils. Aerators actually pull bits of earth and grass from the lawn and help loosen compacted soil. It’s like opening “pores” in the soil, so it can better absorb moisture and nutrients. If your lawn is large, you may wish to rent or buy an aerating machine or hire a lawn maintenance company to do the work. If you rent or buy an aerator, consider the weight and size, since aerators average 300 – 400 pounds and rival a large push mower in size. Even if you don’t want to invest the time and money in mechanical aeration in the spring, put it on your list for the fall maintenance.
Look Out for Mould
As you give your lawn the early raking, be on the lookout for patches of snow mould. Snow mould is a fungus caused by two pathogens that cause turf grass to matt and die. The two pathogens cause a pink mould or a gray mould, hence the names. High nitrogen fertilization of fall lawns and copious amounts of snow are frequent causes of snow mould. If your lawn has circular straw-colored patches, roughly 10 inches across, and orange or brown spots on the blades, the problem is probably gray snow mould. Pink snow mould is orangish-pink in color and covers areas up to a foot in diameter. Ryegrasses are more susceptible to snow mould but most any variety may suffer from it. Vigorous raking can be an effective treatment for grasses infected with snow mould because it breaks up the patches and lets the sun shine through. Seed heavily but don’t fertilize just yet. Instead, sprinkle the patches lightly with lime to aid healing.
You’ll also want to over-seed other bare patches. Salt and road chemicals may have caused die-back where your lawn borders streets. Dog feces and urine can spoil lawns as well. Over-seed any resulting dead patches.
Finally, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control weeds before they germinate, sprout, and go to seed. Do not apply pre-emergent herbicides before aerating the lawn because the process of aeration may interfere with herbicide effectiveness.
When those things are done, better hunt up the lawn games and clean off the lawn furniture. You and yours may be using those in no time at all.