With the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having in western Pennsylvania, it’s time to think about lawn care.
“Your lawn is waking up right now,” said Mark Petley, owner of Louisa Earth, an organic landscaping company in New Sewickley Township. “You can do a couple things in late March and early April for a healthier, more resilient lawn come July and August.”
The big two: Aerate your lawn and apply lime.
“Aerating gets air to the roots, and that makes for healthier grass,” Petley said. An aerator — they come in every variety from a $30 hand tool to a tractor attachment that costs hundreds — might be a worthwhile investment for homeowners with a lawn. Many home improvement stores rent them, as well.
Likewise, lime is the magic ingredient to a full, healthy lawn in our area. “It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it will give your grass the neutral pH soil it likes,” Petley said.
The soil in western Pennsylvania tends to be very acidic. Whether that’s from years of industry, strip mining, or the naturally occurring clay here — or a combination — is up for debate among experts, but it remains a continual problem for homeowners.
“Ninety-five percent of the lawns I see, the pH is out of balance,” Petley said.
If you’re interested in seeing how acidic your soil is — it varies from region to region — you can get an inexpensive soil testing kit at the Penn State Extension office in Beaver.
One sure sign of acidic soil is moss, Chad Whelpley, manager of the Beaver Agway, said.
“Weeds like acidic soil,” he said. “Neutral soil will give the grass stronger roots, and that chokes out the weeds.” Lime should be applied in the spring and fall with a simple spreader, he adds, and it can be put down in any type of weather.
After spreading lime, the next step to a healthy spring lawn is to apply a pre-emergent herbicide treatment.
“A pre-emergent keeps the crabgrass seed from germinating,” he said. “It’s best to apply it when the ground temperature reaches about 55 degrees, so you have about a two- to three-week window.”
Not good at estimating ground temperature? Look for forsythia blooming (the bright yellow bushes that seem to bloom overnight in the spring.) “It’s a very localized thing, so it might be different up on a hill or a few miles down the road by the river,” Whelpley said. “But when you see the forsythia bloom in your immediate area, the ground is right for the pre-emergent.”
There are many types of pre-emergent herbicide on the market, and it also comes in organic varieties.
Although organic initially costs a bit more, it will produce good results in the long run.
“With an organic pre-emergent, you are really feeding the soil — as opposed to feeding the grass — and that in turn makes for longer roots and healthier plants,” Whelpley said. One mistake people often make, he added, is applying a bag of “weed and feed” too early in the year. “It’s meant to kill crabgrass that has already sprouted, so to use it now is a waste.”
Another good way to prep your lawn now is to do a thorough spring cleanup, said Frank Saus, a Master Gardener with the Penn State-Beaver Cooperative Extension office.
“Every spring, you want to go through the yard and get rid of old debris that’s built up over the winter — sticks, leaves, and so on,” he said. “That will give you a good start for the lawn or garden.”