Readying the yard for summer can be a challenge for do-it-yourselfers, in part because so many tasks defy scheduling. The best time for fertilizers and new plantings is best determined by the weather, not a date on the calendar. We turned to landscape professionals to get their advice for waking your yard from its long winter nap.
Pick up trash, remove broken tree branches, and rake leftover leaves as soon as the snow melts and the ground no longer yields water with every step. Phil Fogarty, a Euclid-based master franchiser for Weed Man lawn care company, suggests gently raking matted areas of grass "to get light and air circulating around the crowns of the plants." It's a combination that helps get rid of any snow mold that may have developed. Joe Drake, president of J.F.D. Landscapes in Auburn Township, says the spring-cleaning phase is also a good time to take down any remaining holiday lighting. If you wait until after trees and shrubs burst into bud and bloom, you could damage that much-anticipated growth.
Seed Bare Spots, and Plant New Trees and Shrubs
Drake suggests sprinkling grass seed on bare areas as soon as you see them. "Once the ground temperature warms up to 55 degrees, that seed will start to germinate," he says. According to Steve Pattie, president of The Pattie Group in Novelty, trees and shrubs can be planted once the ground is soft enough to work.
Apply Dormant Oil to Ornamental Trees and Shrubs
Pattie says the oil, which kills surviving eggs and larvae of pests such as dogwood bores and magnolia scale, should be applied when the temperature climbs above 50 degrees for 24 hours, there's no threat of rain for at least three or four hours after spraying, and the plants are still dormant. "If the leaves are out, the oil will burn the plant," Pattie warns. Drake includes evergreens in his dormant-oil sprayings but excludes blue spruces. The same goes for Japanese maples. "Japanese maples are sensitive to it," he explains. "And it can change the color of blue spruces."
Mow the Lawn
Fogarty says the first mowing of the season provides the lawn with a clean slate. Therefore, he advises cutting the grass at "the shortest setting your lawnmower allows without scalping it" — usually 2 to 2 1/2 inches — at the end of March or beginning of April. Then raise the setting a notch before every subsequent mowing until the grass is maintained at a minimum 3 to 4 inches. The longer length encourages the development of a healthier root system and prevents the soil from losing moisture.
Spread Crabgrass Pre-emergent and Slow-release Fertilizer
Fogarty notes that although lawn fertilizer can be applied at any time in early spring, crabgrass pre-emergents and fertilizers that contain them must be spread before the soil maintains a temperature of 50 degrees for five straight days and nights. "That's when crabgrass germinates," he explains. "It typically happens well into May." Fogarty notes that crabgrass pre-emergents and fertilizers containing them are going to prevent any seed from germinating. Therefore, they should not be used in seeded areas until the seeds sprout.
Spot-treat Weeds with a Broadleaf Weed Control Product
Wait until dandelions begin to go to seed — usually mid to late April — before grabbing the spray or pump bottle. "Once they hit puffball stage, they're ready to be controlled," Fogarty says. "If you spray weeds too early, the weed control will not be effective, and you'll have to repeat the treatment."
Plant Annuals and Tender Perennials
Don't let a string of unusually warm days lure you into planting those flats of flowers too soon. "I usually wait until after May," Pattie says. "You still have a chance of frost."