Spring To Do List

Top 12 Questions & Answers on Spring yard care: 

What should you be doing to your yard now?
Precautions when spot seeding your lawn?
When does crabgrass germinate?

Q. My neighbor told me to do something to my lawn when Forsythia is blooming. What is it?

A. Crabgrass germinates in the spring at the same time blossoms are falling off of Forsythia (when the soil reaches 50-degrees F. or 10 C). Therefore, the bright yellow flowers should remind you it’s last call for getting crabgrass control applied to your lawn. This is what’s technically known as a “plant phenological indicator.” Another phenological indicator is the hatch of Gypsy Moth caterpillar eggs when Serviceberry trees are in full bloom. MORE: Flowering tree photos


Q. What are the first ‘Spring yard projects’ to focus on?

A. Lawns will benefit from a light leaf raking to remove any remaining fall leaves which may have matted down. Lawn areas showing signs of snow mold (matted down grass) should be raked more vigorously to loosen and open-up the flattened-out grass. Ornamental grasses (like Maiden Grass) and perennials that were not cutback in the Fall should be cutback early in the growing season. This is also a good time to sharpen your lawnmower blade, and ensure your lawnmower starts after sitting all winter. If fuel stabilizer was not added to the gasoline in the fall, your fuel system may be clogged, requiring service. VIDEO: Spot-seeding your Lawn

Q. Should I worry about my daffodils with more cold weather coming?

A. Gardeners are often concerned when daffodils poke their heads up before the weather seems warm enough. Not to worry, daffodils are a hardy bunch (pun intended) and the worst that can happen is some burnt leaf tips from a cold snap, which will have no detrimental effect on their blossoms. Want to have some fun this year? Try mixing some red (or blue or green) food coloring in with the water in the vase for your cut daffodils, and watch what happens over the next week!

Q. I always thought Spring was the best time for lawn seeding and improvement, but someone told me Fall is the best time. Which is it?

A. Spring and Fall are both good, but Fall is the best.
This is true in regards to seeding since 1) there is less weed competition in fall plantings, and 2) the young grass has two cool growing seasons before facing the heat of summer. It also applies to controlling broadleaf weeds, since weeds are starting to store reserves for winter and herbicides tend to be more effective. However, do not attempt to seed and control weeds at the same time — in most cases the herbicide will adversely affect the young grass. With Spring plantings, it is best not to apply crabgrass controls and seed a lawn — most pre-emergent chemicals also inhibit grass seed germination. Be sure to read the entire label of any herbicide you use!

Q. Now that Spring is near, newspaper ads say Zoysia grass is the greatest thing going. Their photos look beautiful! Why don’t more people plant Zoysia?

A. In the midst of all that great advertising is the key objection — Zoysia completely loses its green color after a hard frost and doesn’t green-up again until warm weather returns. In Pennsylvania, this translates into a pale, straw-colored eyesore 6 months out of the year! Most of our clients wanted to get rid of Zoysia… now! We’ve also seen problems develop between neighbors when the highly invasive zoysia grass crosses a property line… then both neighbors want to get rid of it!  VIDEO: Best Rx for your lawn

Q. Is it alright to do some lawn seeding in early April since the weather is still cold? When does crabgrass germinate?

A. Grass seed is more resistant to cold than most people realize. In fact, some old-timers used to apply grass seed in the winter to allow the freeze-thaw cycle to work it into the soil. A more important concern when seeding in the spring is working around the herbicides applied for crabgrass prevention, since many of those can also inhibit grass seed germination (Crabgrass germinates when soil is 50-degrees F. or 10 C) or about the same time Forsythia drops its yellow blossoms). Sometimes it is best to postpone lawn seeding until “Lawn Month” which is September in the northeastern United States. Understanding soil tests.

Q. Now that my daffodils are finished blooming, can I cut them down to the ground?

A. It’s important not to remove daffodil leaves since they help the bulb ‘recharge’ for next year. In Pennsylvania, it’s safe to remove the foliage after the 4th of July. Fertilize daffodils with a balanced fertilizer when they are finished blooming.

Q. The ornamental grass clump in our back yard still has a lot of brown in it from last year. What should we do to get rid of it?

A. Ornamental grasses should be cut back to low (6 to 12 inch tall) clumps in late fall or early winter, every year. Use twine or a rubber strap to wrap the dead bundles tightly together before cutting them — this will ease cleanup work. If new growth has already mingled in with the old brown stems, it may be best to wait until late this fall to cut them back. Ornamental grasses should also be divided, or split, every 3 to 4 years. Sharp tools will help!  VIDEO: Cutting back clumps of tall grass

Q. Why is there a big flock of Black Birds on my lawn this Spring?

A. Chances are you have an infestation of Sod Webworms and the birds are having a group lunch. You will also notice small round holes in the sod where they have worked their beaks into the turf. You may want to treat your lawn with an insecticide, following label directions.

Q. When can I plant my tomato seedlings outdoors?

A. In our area (Western Pennsylvania) the last annual spring frost usually occurs around May 20th. This is why many local gardeners set out their tender garden plants on Memorial Day. If you plant sooner, be prepared to protect plants from frost damage. Now is a great time to take a soil test!

Q. Should I paint the areas where I cut off tree branches?

A. No! Extensive research has shown that trees have natural defenses in the “collar” area if branches are properly pruned. Be sure to leave the “swollen area” (collar) at the base of the branch. VIDEO: How to remove a tree branch

Q. How can I protect my tender annual flowers from frost?

A. If you plant sensitive flowers before Memorial Day in Pennsylvania, you may find you’ll have to protect plants from frost. We found burlap works the best, but an old bed sheet or similar fabric will do just fine. Some people use newspaper or paper shopping bags, if wind isn’t a factor. Remember: Covering plants won’t protect them against a freeze — in which case they must be moved to area that will remain above 32 degrees F.

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