Growing up, my father had a pretty logical attitude towards lawns: if it’s part of nature, then you should let nature do most of the work. He’s never used fertilizer, a soil amendment, lime, sulfur, or any other product, and, after 20 years, the lawn still takes care of itself today (aside from a weekly mowing). The reason this works for him is because of naturally good soil, relatively rainy summer months, and a grass that’s native to the climate zone.
However, most of us aren’t quite that lucky. Either the lawn doesn’t get enough water naturally, the grass isn’t native to the climate, too many products have been used, or the soil is too sandy, too silty, or too clayey (and yes, I was surprised that’s a real word too). On top of all of that, you also have turf diseases like snow mold that can wreak havoc on the healthiest of lawns. That’s why I’ve put together this step-by-step tutorial on how to revive your lawn after the cold winter months.
Snow Mold and Other Lawn Diseases
Snow mold, as the name suggests, is a type of lawn disease brought about by winter weather. There are two different types, pink and gray, and it can be particularly difficult to get rid of. The gray variety is relatively benign and only requires some extra attention to reverse the effects. The pink variety is much more damaging, killing your lawn from the roots up, and is extremely difficult to remove.
In many cases, fertilizer and time will take care of most of the problem, but in some instances, you will need to spray a strong fungicide in order to reverse the damage. If this is a persistent problem, which comes back again and again, or just gets worse and worse, then you may have to reseed to get rid of the problem.
Raking your yard every fall before the first snow is actually a great way to help reduce the risk of lawn diseases. Dead leaves can hold in moisture, so when the snow melts that moisture stays on top of the lawn, which then causes mold. The way to differentiate between snow mold and other common lawn diseases is the pattern in which the grass dies.
Snow mold usually grows in circles (sometimes concentric), in small clusters throughout the yard. If you do have snow mold, and you can’t seem to get rid of it, then you may want to call in a professional landscaper to get rid of the problem.
Testing, Testing, 1-2-3
The best way to bring your lawn back after a harsh winter is by testing the soil. You can buy a soil test kit at The Home Depot for about $10, and you get your results in minutes. Perhaps the most important part of maintaining any lawn is knowing the pH level, and how to adjust it when it’s off.
A pH that’s too high (more than 8) means the soil is too alkaline, and one that’s too low (less than 5) means it’s too acidic. If the pH in the soil is too high or low, then you’ll have a difficult (and potentially impossible) time trying to get the lawn to grow.
Lime can be added to soil with a low pH to bring it up, and sulfur can be added to soil with a high pH to bring it down. The best time to add lime or sulfur to the soil is right before a big rain storm. If you happen to live in an area where rain is not commonplace, then watering the yard for about an hour will do the trick. Although, that’s not recommended for people in California, Arizona, or Nevada.
After you’ve made sure the pH level is good, or have taken the right steps to make sure it gets to where it needs to be, it’s time to add some nutrients to the soil. Just like people need food to survive, so does your lawn, and the best way to do this is by using a fertilizer. While there are still plenty of single-nutrient fertilizers (which only provide nitrogen) on the market, these days most of them provide both nitrogen and phosphorous.
You really only need to fertilize three times per season: once in the beginning of spring, once in the middle of summer, and then once towards the end. It’s important not to overdo it with lawn products since you can end up damaging the blades of the grass, the roots, and the soil. A “too many cooks in the kitchen” analogy would work here, but the main point is, less is more when it comes to your lawn.
As long as you follow these easy steps, you’ll be on the right track to reviving your lawn after a hard winter. Just remember, don’t do too much, only do what you absolutely have to in order to help the lawn along, and let nature take care of the rest.
Images courtesy of PSU Plant Science.