Get your lawn ready for summer

Duane Campbell

My lawn areas, at least the two tiny patches I care about and care for, are small enough to feed with a sprinkling can. And I did that today, having noticed a late but optimistic hint of green.

The first thing I did was give it a hard raking. Plastic and bamboo leaf rakes don't do the job I want done. I have a metal lawn rake with pointy tines. This removes all the dead grass, making big fluffy tumbleweeds even in these small plots, and lets me see what's going on. Bare spots or thin spots will get some grass seed.

Then I sprinkled some lime. I haven't done that in a couple of years. All the books tell you to get a soil test before liming, but trust me on this. Northeast lawns don't need a test, they need lime, at least if you haven't done it in a while. Getting a soil test is just an excuse to put the job off.

Then I gave the lawn a sprinkling can of half strength fertilizer. Some experts say you don't want to feed your lawn this early, some experts say you should, mostly experts employed by fertilizer companies. It just seems to me that if most perennials – and grass is a perennial – benefit from feeding as they emerge, grass should too. Anyway, it can't hurt, especially since I fed with a diluted solution. It made me feel good.

Normally grass calls for a high nitrogen fertilizer. That's the first of the three numbers, like 26-5-5. And I would have used that, if I could find mine in the garden shed suffering from several months of just throwing stuff in there, but I couldn't. So I used a common general purpose fertilizer.

What I did not use was a lawn fertilizer specially formulated for early spring or even late spring. Many if not most contain different kinds of herbicides, often a good thing, but not now, not for me.

Some have a pre-emergent herbicide to control crab grass. Pre-emergents prevent crab grass seeds from germinating, but they also prevent the grass seed I intend to scatter from germinating. And the ones that contain a broad leaf weed killer for dandelions will also kill the crocus that come up in my lawn early every spring. By late spring the crocus foliage will have done its job and died back, and it will be safe to kill dandelions.

I also don't use herbicides in the larger lawn out front. The front lawn is my ode to Nature, a multi-cropped, environmentally friendly expanse of mostly native plants. If I were to spray this with a broad leaf native plant killer, it would do in all of the white clover. White clover is a legume, and legumes fix nitrogen. That's what they say, though I am not sure how nitrogen gets broken. In any event, it feeds what grass there is and it's green. There are also clumps of violets. Violets are flowers, right?

Come Memorial Day, I'll start going more by the book. I'll use actual lawn fertilizer with weed killers on my special plots. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the grass grows faster and needs mowing more often. But on the plus side, these well tended lawnettes stay green during droughts when other lawns are brown.

This year I took the lawnmower to a real mechanic for its spring spruce up. This is a job that for decades I have done myself. But frankly I have never fully understood carburetors, and modern engines have not gotten simpler.

So now I have a peak functioning mower with a sharp blade. I am watching the grass grow, and a very strange feeling has come over to me. I am actually looking forward to firing up the machine and mowing. It is a feeling that will quickly pass.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached

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