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Published April 26, 2009, 12:05 AM

PRAIRIE GARDENER: Early spring is perfect for cleaning up the lawn and for reseeding

A well-maintained lawn is the basic element of an attractive home landscape. Such a lawn can be yours with minimal effort. Unlike many woody and herbaceous plants, grass is very unforgiving. Early spring is a perfect time to begin work on that perfect lawn, which will be the envy of your neighbors.

By: Darrel Koehler, Grand Forks Herald

A well-maintained lawn is the basic element of an attractive home landscape.

Such a lawn can be yours with minimal effort. Unlike many woody and herbaceous plants, grass is very unforgiving. Early spring is a perfect time to begin work on that perfect lawn, which will be the envy of your neighbors.

If you have an established lawn, you are probably ready to either get out the rake or the mower and bagger. While there is a great temptation to get the lawn cleaned up, it’s important to wait until the soil has dried. If the earth feels soft when you walk on it, or if you can see your footprints, it’s too early. Don’t compact your soil, which can create real damage to your lawn. In the meantime, you can pick up the paper and larger debris that blew in during the numerous winter storms that pummeled the region between December and March.

Once the lawn has dried sufficiently, you can rake or mow and bag leaves, thatch and pick up other debris. Most homeowners prefer the ease of the mower method. But if you rake, use a light metal or bamboo rake rather than a heavy iron rake, which will pull the grass out by the roots.

Early spring is perfect for both cleaning up the lawn and for reseeding. Hold off with aerating and dethatching operations until later in May when the soil has dried even further. Pre-emergence herbicide for crabgrass is usually applied about mid-May. Other fertilizer and herbicide operations can wait until Memorial Day.

In some cases you may want to replant some damaged lawn areas or those where the grass has died for a variety of reasons. While autumn is the best time to reseed, spring also works well. For dog spots and other small areas, you can purchase a prepared seed and fertilizer mix and apply according to label information. For larger areas you can purchase bulk seed.

Best grass

Kentucky bluegrass or Junegrass is the most desirable turf grass for the region. It was first brought over from Europe. It thrives in cool climates and is a medium-textured, bright green, sod-forming grass. Besides common bluegrass, there are named varieties including Park, Newport and others. Your lawn seed should by law contain at least 50 to 60 percent, by weight, of bluegrass. Creeping red fescue is a common companion grass and is more shade and drought tolerant than bluegrass. There are shade and sunny mixtures, so choose accordingly.

For most seed mixtures, 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet is adequate. Two pounds is more than adequate if the seed mix contains primarily bluegrass and if conditions for germination are optimum. If seed mixtures contain 30 to 40 percent or more of creeping red fescue, then 3 to 4 pounds per square feet is recommended.

You can sod those spots where erosion may be problem or where it is difficult to get seedlings to establish, such as terraces and steep banks. Seeding is most cost effective, but both sod and seed require adequate watering. But you can go the sod route if you prefer an immediate lawn without the hassle.

Lawn care tips

Here are some tips that will make your neighbors green with envy:

Don’t scalp your grass. Follow the one-third rule by never cutting more than one-third of a blade. Twice as much fertilizer is never twice as good.

Control weeds while they’re young, either in spring or fall. While we discussed crabgrass control earlier, you can apply a broad-leaf herbicide in September to control dandelions and other weeds that may have sprouted earlier. Sharpen the mower blade once a year.

Water your lawn early in the morning. The sun will come up shortly and dry off leaf blades that minimizes disease. Shoot for 1 inch of water a week, including rain. A good soaking is better than mini daily watering. Use a baking tin to measure the amount of water applied.

Don’t bag grass clippings. They are composed mostly of water and do not contribute significantly to thatch accumulation in a lawn. An exception would be if the grass is more than 3 inches in height. By not bagging, you can the equivalent of an extra free fertilizer application each growing season.

Use a complete lawn fertilizer. They should contain a nutrient analysis of 22-5-9, 24-4-8 or 28-3-3. For best results a high nitrogen fertilizer is preferred. (Nitrogen the first of the three numbers indicated on bag).

Spring rolling of established lawns is not recommended on heavy clay soils as compaction of soil may result. Lawn insects generally are not a serious problem, although ants and white grubs can create minor problems.

Check seed

If you have excess vegetable seed from years past, you may want to be careful. Onion and parsnip seeds will keep for only a year even under the best storage conditions. Other vegetable seeds – including tomato, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce and radish – remain viable for four to five years or more. For best results, use new seeds or seeds that have been properly stored. (A sealable glass jar kept in the refrigerator works well.) You can attempt to germinate older seed in a flower pot or with paper toweling. Or, mix old seed with new seed when planting.

Early planting

If you can work up a good seed bed, you can plant early vegetables now. Those veggies in this category would include potatoes, spinach, radishes, onions, garlic and peas. Most others will have to wait until Mother’s Day.

Garden tour

The Grand Forks Horticultural Society is preparing for the 25th annual Garden Tour scheduled for July 18-19. Extra special things are being planned for the extra-special yards the group has slated for this tour. Volunteers will be needed. More information will be forthcoming, but be sure and mark the dates on your calendar.

Sessions end

The monthly meetings of the Grand Forks Horticultural Society will end for the season May 16. The group will meet at Heritage Village in East Grand Forks. The site is on the city’s northeast corner at 219 20th St. NE. Business meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. followed by a plant exchange and potluck lunch at 10 a.m.

Supply shortage

With the renewed interest in gardening this year, there is a corresponding interest in canning and freezing supplies. It might be a good idea to check out your lid and container supply now and make any needed purchases. Back in the early 1970s, there was a serious shortage of canning lids.

Koehler is the Herald’s garden columnist. His column is published every Sunday in this section during the growing season. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly garden show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX 1210 (A.M.).