Start a watering regimen. While the effects of winter weather on lawns may not be as obvious as a blast of summer heat, there are some challenges that lawn owners should understand given Colorado’s climate. Conditions such as dry air, wind, reduced precipitation and low soil moisture can contribute to lawn failure. For lawns with southern or western exposure, or situated on a slope, drying out may be a more frequent problem.
To prime turf for spring, supplemental watering may be needed as early as February through mid-April. Once temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit, grass should receive about one inch of water every two weeks. Before irrigating, however, check the soil to determine if it is necessary. A quick test with a screwdriver is all it takes. If a screwdriver goes into the soil easily, there should be enough moisture; if the ground is difficult to probe, then watering is likely needed.
Supplemental watering has the added benefit of helping control lawn damage associated with mites. The destructive impact of mites is most obvious from February through May, during the critical growing season. Many common species in Colorado prefer warm, dry areas, and keeping turf moist can help discourage their propagation.
Get mowers in top shape. Dull blades can tear grass, which can result in rapid water loss, a frayed appearance and increased susceptibility to disease. Get mower blades sharpened before the first cutting, and keep them in top form with sharpening every four to six mowings. Take care of other maintenance needs – such as changing the oil, checking the spark plugs and replacing filters – to keep mowers in serviceable condition as spring lawn care ramps up.
Cut to the right height. When mowing, cutting too much of a grass blade can stress the natural turf. A good rule of thumb is to never cut more than a third of the blade height at once. Before grass begins to grow in spring, however, mowing it to a two-inch height, slightly shorter than normal, can help remove dead leaf blades and other debris. This practice will allow more light to reach emerging plants and help soil temperatures warm more quickly.
By implementing these three tips, lawn care professionals can set the stage for a full-fledged spring lawn care program that combines seeding, aerifying and fertilization – elements needed to ensure a lawn will look its best during the many warm-weather months ahead.
Based in Salem, Oregon, Bryan Ostlund serves as administrator of the Oregon Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Fine Fescue Commissions.