Spring Lawn Care

May 29, 2015

Spring Lawn Care

For the first time in a long time, it feels like spring is here. Hopefully it won't go directly into summer. Here are a few suggestions you can use around your lawn and garden now that will cut down on problems later in the year when we're feeling the full impact of the summer heat.

First I wanted to talk about mowing lawns. My lawn really likes the weather so far this spring. I have to mow every 3 days so it doesn't get too tall and I have to bag it! Some folks want to mow their lawns shorter in hopes of not having to do it as often. This is the exact opposite of what we should do. I have my mower set at the highest setting and never move it lower. Here's why...

Lawns mowed at the correct height are less likely to have disease problems and weed infestations. Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are best mowed at approximately three to three and one-half inches tall. The taller height leads to a more extensive root system. It shades the ground to reduce weed seed germination and soil water loss due to evaporation. During summer, taller blades of grass shade the plant crown, or growing point, which helps reduce heat stress.

It is also important to mow with a sharp mower blade and mow often so that no more than one-third of the grass blade is removed at each cutting. When more than one-third of the blade is removed this weakens the root systems. Maintaining this mowing schedule was difficult during our monsoon season this year, especially if you fertilized with fast release nitrogen fertilizers... but do the best you can.

Normally I mulch my clippings so that they return nutrients to the soil as they decompose. But when your lawn gets away from you, you will need to bag the clippings so the mower doesn't leave piles of clippings that will smother areas in the turf.

There are a couple options for using these clippings... start, or add them to, a compost pile... or use them as mulch. Grass clippings can be used as mulch in flower and vegetable gardens IF they are allowed to dry first. Fresh grass clippings will heat up when in a pile and can injure young tender stems if not allowed to dry first.

It is best not to use grass clippings from a lawn that has been treated with herbicide for broadleaf weed control... such as dandelions or clover. If you choose to use clippings from such a lawn, read the pesticide label for any restrictions. If none are found on the label, wait until after the lawn has been mowed at least three times before using the clippings as mulch. If you don't, herbicide residues on the clippings can injure the plants you are mulching.

Soil temperatures are warm enough now to place mulch around vegetables and flowers. It is important to wait until mid- to late May before placing mulch around annual plants. If mulched too early, such as in April, or even early May this year, cold soil temperatures can slow root growth and reduce plant vigor. In the fall, till the clippings into the soil to help increase beneficial organic matter.

While you're mulching, take time to mulch around newly planted trees and shrubs.  A layer of mulch reduces weeds, controls soil temperature fluctuations, helps retain soil moisture by reducing water lost through evaporation, and mulch prevents trunk damage from lawn mowers and weed eaters. Research has shown trees that are mulched establish twice as fast as trees where grass is allowed to grow right up to the trunk.

Mulching trees is a beneficial practice, but needs to be done correctly. Ideally, the mulch ring should be at least four to six feet in diameter and an organic mulch like shredded wood bark used. Only a two to four inch deep layer of mulch need be applied. Do not pile mulch against a tree trunk. The mulch should be one to two inches deep near the trunk with the mulch depth increasing to four inches near the outer edge of the mulch ring.

For more information on lawn and garden care, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.