Reviving your lawn after a long winter slumber
By Phil Bull
It is always exciting when that first hint of spring hits the air, the winter snow begins to melt and your lawn finally starts to emerge from beneath a blanket of white. Those first signs of green can be invigorating after the dark, cold winter months; so invigorating that it is almost impossible not to run right out and get started on your lawn. For some, it might be the one time of year when they truly look forward to a little yard work.
While the urge to get a jump on things is strong, it is important to exercise a little patience when it comes to your lawn. Rushing in without a plan can actually do more harm than good. The key is to have a well-designed approach to lawn care before you ever head outside. The following to-do list will ensure you can revive your lawn and keep it healthy as you head into the summer months.
Task #1: Thatch removal
If your lawn feels like it has thick, spongy underpadding, dethatching may be necessary. Thatch is a tightly interwoven layer of roots and dead or living stems that develops between the growing grass plants and the soil surface. It is usually formed as a result of infrequent cutting, over-fertilization or excessive irrigation. Contrary to popular belief, mulching your grass clippings will not contribute to thatch in a healthy lawn. Thatch can harbour many lawn-threatening diseases and pests, while also preventing nutrients, moisture and grass roots from reaching the soil.
When dethatching, it is always best to use a fixed blade dethatcher, which removes thatch by cutting and gently lifting it out of the lawn. These machines, also known as vertical mowers or power rakes, are readily available from most rental shops; dethatching may also be a service offered by your local lawn care company. Fixed blade dethatchers cause a minimal amount of stress to the turf, leaving your lawn with a raked appearance afterwards. These machines will also raise a little bit of soil to the top of the thatch layer; this soil contains microbes that will help to break down even more thatch.
Avoid using any kind of spring tine dethatcher, as it can cause significant harm and place added stress on the lawn, during which it will be more susceptible to pests. Spring tine dethatchers use flexible metal tines that literally flail the lawn to tear out the thatch. While it is true this equipment can remove a large amount of thatch, they can also cause severe damage to your lawn in the process.
Task #2: Aeration
You can think of aeration, the process of removing soil plugs from your lawn, as a good back massage for your yard. It is one of the most important things you can do to promote the overall health and vigour of your grass.
Soils become quite compact over time and the winter freeze-and-thaw cycles tend to leave lawns looking uneven and bumpy. Aeration relieves compaction in all types of soils (this is especially true in the case of clay soils). It also allows air, moisture and nutrients to reach the grass roots and promote growth.
Aeration can also stimulate the growth of soil microbes that help break down thatch and make nutrients available to the lawn throughout the season, while also allowing for increased root growth. This will help the grass better feed itself and survive extended periods of hot, dry weather.
When aerating, it is best to leave the plugs on the lawn, as they are filled with beneficial microbes that reproduce readily in the presence of increased oxygen. If you have a thick thatch layer, these microbes will digest the thatch and help decrease its density.
Task #3: Topdressing
Topdressing, the act of spreading a thin layer of compost on top of the lawn, can greatly improve a lawn’s heat and drought tolerance, as well as improve the soil’s overall quality. It can be combined with aeration or dethatching as part of your lawn care regime.
When topdressing, stay away from products such as triple mixes (often a mix of topsoil, peat moss and compost) or topsoils, as they are often heavy and can smother your lawn. These types of soil are also typically stored in large piles throughout the season, where weed seed can continually blow into them. In fact, bulk triple mix and topsoil can have up to one million weed seeds per cubic yard of soil. As a result, once spread, they promote the growth of a new crop of weeds—hardly a great payback for all of your efforts.
Comparatively speaking, certified compost, which is full of beneficial microbes, is a much better choice for topdressing. It will help reduce thatch layers, thanks to those hungry microbes, which turn it into nutrients that feed the turf. The composting process also destroys weed seeds.
If using traditional compost, spread it over your lawn in a layer no thicker than 6.35 mm (0.25 in.) There are also granular compost products that make topdressing a quicker and easier process. These can be applied using any fertilizer spreader, saving you hours of hard labour.