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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:00 am

Plan your strategy for lawn

Ricky Kemery

Question: I would like to get a head start on my lawn this year. Is it too early?

Answer: In my opinion, it is a bit early to begin your lawn program. The issue is with soil and air temperatures. Turf grass begins to grow when soil temperatures reach the mid-40s into the 50s. A good site to check is AGWeb, which has a good map ( We will need a week or so of temperatures reliably in the 50s before the turf begins to green up.

Once the turf begins to grow (usually mid-March into early April), then we can talk lawn management.

I have always promoted slow-release, low-phosphorus fertilizers for the spring lawn application. Too much phosphorus is ending up in waterways, so unless a soil test shows a phosphorus deficiency, back off on the phosphorus on the lawn.

Nitrogen also plays a role, so it is important to keep the nitrogen available for the turf. Quick-release fertilizers can leach nitrogen into the rivers and lakes during heavy spring rain.

Remember, nitrogen is the first number on the bag, followed by phosphorus, then potassium. Try to find a fertilizer with 18-25 for the first number, zero to 5 for the middle and 5-18 for the last number.

Spring is a good time to renovate a lawn. A slit seeder, available for rent at hardware and rental stores, cuts grooves in the lawn and drops the seed into the grooves. It is a very efficient way to add color and disease resistance to a lawn that is poor or tired.

One can also core-aerate the lawn (when the soil is moist, not wet) and then renovate. Core aeration is good to perform in lawns in our area at least every two to three years in the spring or fall to deal with compaction that can occur in our heavy clay soils. Core aerators can also be rented.

Many folks apply broadleaved weed killers and crabgrass controls to lawns in spring. I would encourage spot treatment of lawn weeds. A lawn full of weeds generally shows poor management or poor soil conditions. Healthy lawns rarely have big-time weed issues.

Apply crabgrass control to the lawn only if you have a history of crabgrass invading. If you plan to seed and renovate a lawn, use only a crabgrass control that contains the active ingredient siduron.

GDD Tracker ( is an excellent website that tracks growing degree days and helps citizens time crabgrass and broadleaved weed applications in our area.

Try to spot-apply broadleaved weed controls. The weed must be actively growing but not mature and in flower. Avoid drift to neighboring yards by following label directions.

Or, avoid the hassle and worry and hire a lawn care company to maintain the lawn. Make sure the company is licensed and bonded. Many companies now offer organic or sustainable options for lawn care.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.