Eye on Extension: Spring lawn care makes for a good start

VALLEY — The secret to a good looking lawn starts with good management in the spring. 

One of the first things to consider is having a soil test done. The soil test will tell you the nutrient content of the soil. When you know the nutrient content of the soil you can determine how much fertilizer you need to apply to the lawn to keep it green.  You also don’t have to spend more money than needed on your fertilizer. 

When you start the lawn management you want to start with a good watering program. Proper watering is the key to promoting a deeply rooted, healthier lawn.  You watering program should be based on the type of grass you have, your soil conditions and the weather. Don’t plan to water every so many days. That may promote over watering or under watering at different times. 

When you water your lawn, apply enough water to wet the root zone as much as possible. Use a shovel or soil probe to determine the average root depth. Clay soil requires more water to reach a 6 inch watering depth than sandy soil. Over watering means water percolates below the root zone and is not available for your lawn.

A good watering program will help the lawn survive a short-term drought and the lawn will have fewer disease problems. It is important however, that the lawn not be drought stressed between waterings. This weakens the turf making it more susceptible to insects or disease.

The most efficient time of day to water the lawn is late evening and early morning between 10 p.m. and midnight or between 8 and 9 a.m. Water when it is calm and not windy, cooler and higher in humidity. This results in less evaporation and more efficient use of water. Watering at night does not encourage disease development in our area.

In the spring people often remove the thatch from their lawn. Thatch is a tight, brown, spongy, organic layer of living and dead grass roots and stems that accumulate above the soil surface. Thatch is more often a problem with Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue lawns. It isn’t usually a problem with tall fescue grass. 

To measure your thatch layer, remove a small piece of turn, including the soil underneath and look at the thatch layer. If it is over 1/2 inch thick, reduce the buildup. When it becomes too thick the grass roots grow in the thatch and not the soil. 

Power raking is one way to remove the thatch from the soil. It is more beneficial if done often and lightly. Deep power raking can damage more grass than you want.  Power raking will allow more air to reach the soil. This can stimulate green up.  Compost the thatch that is removed.

Core cultivating or aerating is more beneficial than power raking. It helps improve the root zone by reducing soil compaction and allowing for better air and water movement into the soil. Aeration removes plugs of thatch and soil up to 3 inches deep. The cores or plugs are left on the soil surface. They can be removed or left on the lawn. Watering will break them down soon. The tufts of thatch that are left can be raked up and composted. It may take a couple of weeks for the cores to break down.

Fertilization is also important to a lawn. A soil test is beneficial to save money and not over or under apply the fertilizer. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient for good color and growth. Do not over apply nitrogen. The application rate will vary with the type of grass and soil type you have. Over-fertilization can cause thatch to build up quickly. Under-fertilization can cause some grasses to die off or look unhealthy. If nitrogen is short grasses may not be able to take up other nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, iron or sulfur. If you leave grass clippings on the lawn some nutrients are recycled. 

For more information on taking care of your lawn, contact the San Luis Valley Area Office of Colorado State University Extension at 719-852-7381.

Marvin Reynolds is the Area Extension Director for the San Luis Valley Area.