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Your Lawn and This March Heat: 10 Do’s and Don’ts

March has been off-the-charts warm for much of the nation.

March has been off-the-charts warm for much of the nation.

If you live East of the Rockies, then chances are your lawn and garden thinks it’s the first day of summer — not the first day of spring. With unprecedented March temperatures confusing every aspect of Mother Nature, however, it’s important to remember that it is, after all, still March.
That means we need to heed the calendar and resist the temptation to treat our lawns like it’s May. Here’s a list of Dos and Don’ts to clarify what we mean:

DON’T . . . head out and apply a high nitrogen fertilizer (anything with an NPK of higher than 10) that will force out a lot of quick growth. It’s a guarantee that in the northern tier of the country we’ll get some more deep freezes and tender new growth will struggle.

DON’T BOTHER . . . If you use corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent weed control and your forsythia and crabapples are already well into or past bloom, then you’re not likely going to get much control from the product. The window has passed. In the most northerly areas the corn gluten meal might still be useful to apply, but read this first before you spend the money: http://www.safelawns.org/blog/index.php/2010/04/corn-gluten-meal-as-weed-control-20-years-later-the-jury-is-still-out/

DON’T . . . dethatch your lawn or rake it vigorously unless you plan to overseed those areas with grass seed. Dethatching and raking stirs up weed seeds, which may germinate if you bring them to the surface and expose them to sunlight right now.

DO . . . RAISE the mower blade to its highest level for the first mowing so that the grass plants stay tall and block the surface of the soil from the sun. This will keep those weed seeds from germinating.

DO . . . apply a fertilizer with at least 3 percent phosphorus if you are overseeding your lawn. The extra phosphorus is necessary to help young roots establish themselves.

DON’T . . . apply any extra phosphorus to an established, healthy lawn. It just doesn’t need it and the extra phosphorus may run off and cause algae blooms in the surrounding bodies of fresh water. In some states in the nation, in fact, the phosphorus in the lawn fertilizer may be illegal unless you’re overseeding.

DON’T . . . aerate the lawn in the spring unless you plan to overseed and, ideally, cover the area with a blanket of compost. Aerating now is the same as dethatching or raking now: it has the potential to create more of a weed problem later this summer.

DO . . . apply water at least once a day to keep the surface dry if you apply new grass seed. The best time to overseed is when rain is forecast the next day — unless the rain is projected to be torrential. Keep the water running every day until the seed is fully germinated.

DON’T . . . lay down straw over your newly seeded areas. Use compost instead. It serves the same function as the straw: 1) it keeps the seed covered and moist and 2) it blocks it from birds. Compost from bulk sources is also cheaper than straw, is much more attractive and far better for the soil.

DON’T . . . worry too much about your lawn if you have already rushed out and applied seed and fertilizer and it suddenly gets really, really cold. The good news is that grass is nothing if not resilient.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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