Having a perfectly green lawn may seem impossible, but if you follow these 9 steps for lawn care from lawn and garden expert Frankie Flowers, you are well on your way!
1. Keep off the grass in early spring
When the snow melts, your first impulse may be to get working on your lawn – but starting too soon may do more harm than good. If your lawn feels spongy underfoot, that means it's still too wet. Wait until the ground feels firm.
2. Clean up debris
Remove fallen stems, branches and leaves by raking your lawn gently and gathering up the debris. If there's more than 1 cm (1/2 in.) of brown, matted blades of grass located where the soil meets the roots of your lawn, you can remove it with a fan rake.
3. Curb local critters
Check for evidence of tunneling moles – little raised hills and underground tunnels in your lawn. Fix the damage by tamping down tunnels and applying blood meal (you can find it in the garden centre) to discourage repeat visits. Once the weather warms up, getting rid of the grubs moles feed on will also control future tunneling.
Buy or rent a manual or power aerator (budget tip: share the cost with neighbours!) to remove little plugs of compacted soil from your lawn, so that air, water and nutrients can flow to the root zone, improving your lawn's look and overall health. Aeration is essential in high-traffic areas, such as common paths and where kids play, and in areas with clay-based soil. Aeration will also help remove thatch.
5. Top-dress and overseed
This step will help make your lawn thick and lush – and, as a result, naturally weed resistant. "Top-dressing" means spreading an even layer of soil across your lawn, filling holes and leveling out uneven spots. Don't entirely cover the blades of your grass, though! Then spread a good-quality grass seed across your lawn (check the package before you buy to make sure it's suited for the amount of light in your yard – sun or shade). Rake lightly (there's no need to cover with more soil), then water.
Make sure the grass seed you buy is properly suited to the amount of light in your yard. The package will specify sun or shade. Lawns prefer cooler temperatures, so it's best to water them during the early morning hours, particularly as the summer heats up grass seed needs soil that's warmer than 15°C, or it won't germinate (and you'll just be wasting seed and money). A great way to check the soil temperature is to stick a kitchen meat thermometer in the ground.
Apply law fertilizer that's high in nitrogen (the first number on the bag) early in the season. Choose a "slow release" formula so your lawn gets a consistent feeding of nutrients over time, while limiting the release of fertilizer into the water table and preventing fertilizer burns on your lawn. My favourite is Scott's Turf Builder Pro (32-0-4). Crabgrass control products prevent germination, so if you've used it on your lawn, you must wait up to eight weeks before reseeding.
7. Water wisely
Lawns love water. The average lawn needs at least 30 to 40 mm (11/2 to 2 in.) of water per week. If Mother Nature isn't providing enough in the form of rain, you'll have to top up your lawn's drink with a hose and sprinkler. Water during the early morning hours (when it's cooler – lawns love cool temperatures, too). Set out a wide, empty container (like an old margarine tub) in the centre of your lawn and check the time before you start watering; when the water inside the container reaches 30 to 40 mm (11/2 to 2 in.), you can turn off your water. Check the time again – now you know how long you need to water your lawn.
8. Deal with dandelions
To get rid of weeds, you can apply an environmentally friendly herbicide like Scotts EcoSense Weed B Gon, or remove them by hand. If you choose the latter, I recommend doing so after a rain – weeding is a breeze when the ground is wet. When you're pulling weeds, take care to remove the entire taproot, and get to them before they go to seed, or you'll only have more dandelions to pull in the weeks ahead.
9. Cut your lawn with care
Mow your lawn to a height of 6 to 8 cm (2 1/2 or 3 in.). This ensures the blades of grass are just tall enough to shade out and prevent weeds from germinating, and also to keep the roots of your lawn cool. Plan on mowing once a week, alternating the direction each time, so if you run the mower up and down perpendicular to your house this weekend, you should run it back and forth parallel with your house next time. Use a mulching blade on your mower, so nutrients from grass cuttings are returned to the lawn. Make sure blades are sharp; dull blades won't cut cleanly and will harm your grass.