1. Take It Easy on the Soil
Don't be in a hurry to start working in your yard. Let the soil thaw and dry out before beginning your spring lawn care chores.
Foot traffic on wet soils will cause soil compaction problems. Even worse damage is caused by walking on lawns where the soil has thawed on top and is still frozen underneath, shearing roots in the frozen soil from the grass plants on top.
If you get too aggressive with raking, mowing or aerating - any activity that will open up the turfgrass canopy exposing it to sunlight - you risk damaging fragile new growth and giving early germinating weeds the jump on your lawn grass. Wait until your grass is actively growing.
2. Sharpen Your Lawn Mower Blades
Early spring is a good time to give your lawnmower and other power tools a tune up. Sharpen your lawn mower blades, change the oil, spark plug, and filters.
3. Help the Snow Melt
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that gets a lot of snow, help it melt by spreading the piles and removing it from shady areas. This keeps snow molds from developing as the ground thaws.
4. Had Your Soil Tested Lately?
Or at least in the last three years? A soil test will tell you how much, if any, nutrients your lawn needs. It is the only way to determine whether or not liming is needed, and how much to apply. A soil test is also a valuable tool for diagnosing problems with your lawn, garden and landscape plants.
5. Mow Low To Remove The Dead Tops
Once your lawn starts to green up, give it a good short cut to remove the dead grass tops. This will give the newly emerging leaves the sunlight they need and get them growing. Take care not to cut it too short - scalping and damaging the crowns of the plants.
If you are a 'grasscycler' it's OK to collect the clippings and excess debris this first mow of the year.
6. Core Aeration
Aerating benefits your lawn in several ways: reduces soil compaction, controls thatch, stimulates new root growth and improves water, air and nutrient filtration.
Fall is the best time to aerate cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses should be aerated in the summer - when they are actively growing.
If you missed out on aerating your cool-season lawn last fall, spring is the second best time to get this done. Just be sure you aerate before you apply a crabgrass preventer.
A good time to top-dress with compost is right after you aerate, all soils benefit from adding organic matter.
Thatch Control - Aerating will help control thatch and is less damaging to grass plants than power raking. If your thatch layer is over 1/2" deep, you'll want to consider dethatching with a power rake. Again, wait to power rake until your grass is actively growing and wait to apply crabgrass preventer until after you rake.
7. Over seed bare areas
Fall is the best time to seed cool-season grasses. However, there is a short 'window of opportunity' you can take advantage of in the spring...
Grass seed will start to germinate when soil temperatures reach 50° F. Get your seeding done early enough so the new grass plants have time to develop strong roots before the summer stress period.
Over seeding works best when combined with aerating. Seeds will find their way into the aeration holes where they are protected, make good contact with the soil, and germinate quickly. Skip the crabgrass control if you over seed because it also works on grass seed.
Plant warm-season grasses after the danger of frost has passed - late spring into early summer.
8. Crabgrass Control
Crabgrass prevention is a very important spring lawn care chore. Spring is the time to prevent crabgrass. If your lawn is dense and vigorous, consider taking chemical weed controls off your spring lawn care list. A dense and vigorous lawn will not allow weeds to invade...its the best weed control.
Crabgrass is a prolific seeder. If you had crabgrass last year, expect to see it again this year and consider using a pre-emergence herbicide. These crabgrass preventers stop weed seeds from germinating, so you will want to apply them before seeds germinate to get the best control. This will be when soil temperatures reach 50° F. Many gardeners plan to apply their pre-emergence around Easter. Blooming forsythia is another good indicator - when you see the yellow blooms, the soil temperature is 50° F.
Don't worry if you are late applying pre-emergence - crabgrass and other weed seeds are germinating all season long and you'll still get some control...better late than never.
Pre-emergence herbicides will control a broad spectrum of weeds along with crabgrass and many products will give you three to six months control.
9. When Should You Fertilize and How Much?
Go easy on the fertilizer in the spring. Too much will cause a flush of growth at the expense of the roots.
Cool-season grasses - including Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass - should receive the majority of their annual fertilizer in the fall, that's when they will benefit the most. Lawns that were fertilized in the fall will green up early and won't need to be fertilized until late spring. A light spring application - around Memorial Day - will keep them healthy and give them a nice green color boost. The amount of fertilizer that you apply in late spring should be less than 1/2 lb Nitrogen/1000 ft2.
If you missed your fall fertilizer, make it up with a couple light applications. Wait until the grass is actively growing (around mid-April) and then apply 1/4 to 1/2 lb nitrogen/1000ft2. Make another light application six weeks later (Memorial Day).
Warm-season grasses benefit from summer fertilizer applications, that is when they are actively growing. Wait to fertilize Bermuda grass, Zoysia, St. Augustine, and other warm-season grasses until they green up. At least 75% of the lawn should be green. Fertilizing too early in the spring can cause a flush of growth that can damage the plants if there is a late heavy frost.
10. Wait to Water
The last item on your spring lawn care list should be watering. It's tempting to start watering in early spring, but there is usually plenty of rain to keep your lawn healthy. Wait to water until the weather gets warm and dry.
It's ok to let the grass show signs of drought stress - this will actually cause to roots to grow deep searching for water. Waiting until the weather turns hot and dry encourages deep rooting and that will prepare your lawn for the dog days of summer.