Out here in the Heartland, the ground is either brown or covered in snow for close to seven months. When we finally have nice weather in central Iowa, we want our yards to look gorgeous! I get asked all the time about how to establish a healthy, lush lawn, especially in the spring.
It’s completely possible to grow a great lawn without just starting over with sod. Sod brings its own problems anyway: it’s incredibly expensive and risky, requiring water all. the. time. If you don’t want to invest in sod, you can still have good grass – it just takes time and a bit of work.
HOW PERFECT DO YOU WANT IT?
If you’re interested in a perfectly manicured lawn with not a blade out of place, I understand! There’s no better space to walk barefoot, throw the ball, or roll around with the kids. However, what we’re asking for is a monoculture: one single type of plant growing in an area, with nothing else allowed. That’s just not how nature works.
While I don’t like crabgrass, I am personally FINE with a patch of clover or other “weeds” here and there, and my bees love it too! The point is that we are pushing against the tide when we want a pristine lawn, and it takes some strategy to fight nature. My recommendation is to be relaxed about it, and limit the area where all your efforts (and chemicals) go.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
In order to get ahead of both Mother Nature and invasive weeds, we have to game the system. There are a few things to learn that will help you get ahead of your lawn:
Most of our lawn weeds are annuals. (I’m looking at you, crabgrass)
That means they die each fall and new seeds sprout each the spring. This gives us a window in the fall where the lawn weeds aren’t as much of a problem, and we can use this to our advantage to out-compete them.
Lawn grasses are perennials.
Whether you’re growing Kentucky bluegrass or fescue or anything else, you’re growing a perennial plant. They’ll go dormant in the winter but their root systems are already established in the springtime and they can take off fast.
Give it three years.
Nobody wants to hear that they have to wait. You WILL see results the first season, but it’s worth warning you that this process takes time. We’re working against a whole bunch of weed plants that have nothing else to do but grow. All perennials, including grass plants, take about three years to get established. So be patient! Play the long game.
The big secret is that SPRING isn’t the only season that matters! FALL is actually the best time to get new lawn plants going, even though we’re all thinking about it in the spring. There’s plenty to be done in spring and summer, though, to be ready for planting time. Let’s take a look at what you can do throughout the year.
YOUR THREE-STEP STRATEGY FOR GROWING A GREAT LAWN:
Early spring (when the forsythia is blooming)
Treat the lawn with a pre-emergent herbicide. This is a product that will keep seeds from germinating – from starting to grow. Pre-emergent herbicides will stop the annual weeds seeds from sprouting, so they won’t become a problem in your yard. However, pre-emergent herbicides stop EVERYHING from sprouting, so don’t plant new grass seed now. Let your old grass seed benefit from reduced competition, and help it out with some supplemental fertilizer. Look for “Weed and Feed” options at the store, and read the label! If you’re into using organic controls, look for Corn Gluten Meal- it’s a great option to inhibit seed germination.
Feed your lawn through the summer. In the Midwest, we can use the major summer holidays as guides: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Lawn grasses are heavy feeders, and they benefit from additional fertilizer throughout the growing season. PLEASE read and follow the label instructions! Don’t over-fertilize and pollute our water!
Late summer/early fall: aerate and over-seed your lawn.
What’s aerating? It’s when we pull up little cores of soil just an inch or two deep, all over your yard. It opens up the lawn and encourages turf growth. You’ve probably seen it before – it looks like duck poop all over. You can rent an aerator and do it yourself, or hire a lawn company to come take care of it. Many of them offer this service without needing to buy a maintenance package.
Fall seeding is best: plant new grass seed in the fall after you aerate. The weeds are dying back and your new lawn can get started growing with less competition. Many companies sell seed mixed with starter fertilizer to give the lawn all it needs to get going.
That’s it – follow those three steps for a few years and you’ll win the battle against lawn weeds and have a thick, healthy lawn.