Spring lawn care tips

Doug Soldat, Extension Turfgrass Specialist
Department of Soil Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison
(608) 263-3631

Photo by Petr Ganaj from Pexels


0:11 – Spring lawn care maintenance
0:48 – Repairing damaged sections of lawn
1:21 – Best turfgrasses for Wisconsin
1:44 – How to get a weed-free lawn
2:46 – Controlling Creeping Charlie
3:21 – Grass clippings – bag or spread?
3:56 – Ideal mowing height
4:32 – How frequently should lawn be mowed
5:00 – Lead out


Lorre Kolb:
Preparing your lawn for summer. We’re talking today with Doug Soldat, Extension Turfgrass Specialist and professor in the Soil Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Madison and I’m Lorre Kolb. Doug, what should people be thinking about when it comes to lawn care?

Doug Soldat: Well, it’s been a cold wet spring this year so we’re a little bit behind schedule for most of the state, which means that there’s still time to apply crabgrass preventer if you’ve had crabgrass problems in the past. It’s a weed that germinates when soil temperatures reach between 55 and 65, and that’s about where we are now in Madison, so timing is right about now but if we wait any longer, we’re going to miss that that window. Other than that, though, fertilization is coming up around the corner. We like to say fertilize your lawn around Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Lorre Kolb: And what should people do if they see damaged sections of lawn?

Doug Soldat: Yeah, really common issue in the spring is to deal with those thin damaged sections. I like to take a wheelbarrow or five gallon bucket full of topsoil, and then another package of seed, rake up the dead area – scratch the soil – put down the new topsoil, sprinkle some seed on top of it, and then rake that new mix again. Step on it with your foot to get good seed to soil contact, apply some mulch and then try to keep it moist, usually by watering it lightly two to three times a day.

Lorre Kolb: What types of lawns should we be growing here?

Doug Soldat: Yeah, the best grasses for Wisconsin are Kentucky Bluegrass and any of the fine fescues and there’s a group of five fine fescues – strong creeping red fescue, slender red fescue, chewings fescue, hard fescue, sheep fescue, they’re all about the same, but a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass and those fine fescues is the best lawn for most of Wisconsin.

Lorre Kolb: What about weed free lines? How do we get those, we see clover, we see dandelions?

Doug Soldat: I have a hierarchy of weeds to control. Clover is the best weed, it provides nitrogen for the lawns and actually, if you go back into the in the 1920s 1930s, Scott’s was selling Kentucky Bluegrass and clover in the same bag and because the clover provides a lot of nice nitrogen for the Kentucky Bluegrass, which means you don’t have to fertilize it. So and we’re experimenting with that again. So I think we’re we’ll see that on the shelves again, Kentucky Bluegrass and clover on purpose. Crabgrass is the worst one because it creates bare soil in the spring and the fall. It’s a warm season grass that only grows in the summer. And so what that means the bare soil that can be eroded and runoff and can pollute our lakes. Dandelions are kind of middle of the road. They don’t cause a lot of environmental issues. People don’t like the look of them. They’re in an indication that your lawn is thinning out though. And so, if you fertilize two times a year, our research has shown you can keep dandelions at bay by keeping your lawn thicker, which is good for the environment.

Lorre Kolb: What about Creeping Charlie?

Doug Soldat: Creeping Charlie is one of the toughest weeds to control but most of the time we see people with Creeping Charlie problems when they have heavily shaded areas. So ground ivy or Creeping Charlie is a shade loving plant and turf grass hates shade. So the best time to control it is when it’s flowering in the spring and around the first hard frost in the fall, sometime around Halloween and an herbicide a conventional herbicide called Triclopyr is the best for Creeping Charlie. But if you do have shade, it’s going to come back year after year and it’s you’re going to be fighting a losing battle.

Lorre Kolb:  Let’s talk a little bit about mowing lawns. First of all, grass clippings – bag or spread them?

Doug Soldat: Oh yeah, absolutely return those grass clippings to the lawn they act as a fertilizer application. A lot of the new mower blades are really good at mulching them up into really small bits. That said, keep your mower blades sharp, so sharpen them at least once a year. I have two mower blades so I can quickly switch one out if I hit a rock or something and that gives me some time to sharpen the spare one and get it loaded up but that’s the most important thing you can do is mow with a sharp blade.

Lorre Kolb: How high should you mow your lawn?

Doug Soldat: Mowing height is really important too and there’s a temptation to mow your lawn lower because you get you get good density and it looks really nice and smooth, but it’s actually worse for the plant. You have shorter roots and you have chance for more damage. So I like to mow my lawn almost as high as the lawn mower will go; three and a half inches is sort of what our research says is ideal for having the healthiest lawn and that means keeping weeds out and also staying green longer without any irrigation.

Lorre Kolb: How often do you mow your lawn?

Doug Soldat: Yeah, this is another really important outcome of research that’s been done. It’s really important to mow your lawn frequently. If you allow your lawn to get too long, we call it scalping when you cut off too much at one time, it damages the plant and it allows for weeds to come in. So we call it the one third rule, which is never more than one third of the of the leaf off at any one time. The more frequently you mow your lawn, the more healthier lawn is going to be.

Lorre Kolb: We’ve been talking with Doug Soldat, Extension Turfgrass Specialist and professor in the Soil Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Madison and I’m Lorre Kolb.