Mid-February isn’t too early to be thinking about lawn care

By Bonnie Orr
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener
February 16, 2022

Lush green grass.
A lawn to be proud of requires a bit of work. It’s not too early to put together a lawn care plan, writes Master Gardener columnist Bonnie Orr.

Bonnie Orr
Bonnie Orr – WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

Our lawns probably need tender, loving care this year. The winter and spring of 2021 were abnormally dry, and the early summer was abnormally hot, and this winter has been a return to our winter cold temperatures. These events all affect how the lawn grows.

The heat last year caused turf grasses such as fescue to go dormant earlier than usual. The dormant grass left open spots that led to an eruption of spotted spurge and crabgrass.

Later, lawns did not go dormant as early as usual because of the warm weather in November, but lawns dependent on irrigation water struggled for six weeks without water, and the soil became really dry. If you still use a fall fertilizer, you may have created a greater chance for snow mold to develop. Moving the mass of heavy snow might have compacted the lawn where the snow was plowed or blown.

Well, this is quite the list to contend with, isn’t it?

A healthy lawn has only 2 to 3 inches of thatch. How long has it been since your lawn was thatched? Thatch is dead grass stems and roots produced by some species of turf grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass. Thatch creates an impervious mat that prevents water from soaking into the ground. This results in shallow turf roots which are more likely to be damaged from heat and drought.

Another early task when the soil has warmed to 50 degrees — that’s when the Forsythia blooms — is to apply a pre-emergent fertilizer for crabgrass and broadleaf weeds.

If the lawn was really affected by spotted spurge, oxalis and other weeds, it might be necessary to scrape the bare spots —places where the soil is exposed —and reseed areas. If you applied a fertilizer with pre-emergents in it, you cannot reseed for two months. This might be too late for the new grass plants to get established before the summer heat. Truly eyeball the lawn to see how deep the thatch has developed. It will not work to spread seed into dead places in the lawn that are covered with thatch.

Snow mold looks like pale round patches in the grass. During the winter, the light travels through the layers of snow and the grass continues to grow slowly. Fall fertilizer causes the grass to be stressed under the snow and makes it more likely that snow mold will develop. The lawn will outgrow this fungus naturally, and no fungicide needs to be applied.

Compaction will prevent water from seeping into the soil. Compacted areas are easy to spot because water pools on the surface of the lawn.

Aeration, which pulls plugs of turf to the surface, breaks up compaction.

When you begin to irrigate the lawn, check each sprinkler head to be sure it is working properly. Check for overwintering insects in the sprinkler heads. It is very important to very carefully observe drip irrigation tubing and emitters that are installed under landscape fabric or bark or stone mulches.

Trim back plants that overreach the lawn and interfere with the distribution of the water. Re-examine the spray patterns of the sprinklers to be sure that there is overlapping water applications. A lawn that’s a minimum of 3 inches tall is less likely to be affected by heat, so adjust the mower height to give the lawn a fairer chance this summer.

That’s enough to keep you busy for few weeks!

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