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Know when to get into the groove with lawns and landscaping

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 30, 2016

 Lawns don’t need cutting until they start growing again after the winter and the grass blades reach a length of 3.5-4 inches.

Lawns don’t need cutting until they start growing again after the winter and the grass blades reach a length of 3.5-4 inches.

Shutterstock image

METRO DETROIT — Spring is technically here, according to the calendar, but experts caution that it is possible to begin tidying up lawns and landscaping too early.

Two local experts agreed that homeowners should wait until overnight temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees, lawns dry out and grass begins to grow before doing anything that will compact the soil and grass roots.

Mike Clark, a senior manager at Bordine’s, said the ground has thawed but that soil is still fairly damp. Michigan, he said, is not out of the frost-free zone until approximately late May.

Foot traffic and machinery on lawns that are not yet dry, he said, can compact the soil, especially if it is clay-based, which can stunt the roots’ ability to reach farther down in the soil for moisture and nutrients during the summer.

“You don’t need to do anything to your lawn at all until you see your grass growing,” Clark said. “Not the weeds, the grass itself. You should not be fertilizing until the grass wakes up and starts growing on its own.”

He said many people jump the gun when it comes to fertilization, and liquid fertilizer companies often spray lawns too early.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to do damage to your lawn, but if you get a bunch of young, tender growth, a hard freeze could damage the lawn,” Clark said.

Once grass begins to grow on its own, he said homeowners should use a step one fertilizer geared at preventing crabgrass.

Cindy Roback, owner of Young’s Garden Mart in Warren, agreed. Roback emphasized the importance of pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. 

“It also has lawn food with it, but what it does is it prevents crabgrass seeds from germinating,” Roback said. “Later in the season, (crabgrass) is very hard to get rid of.”

She added that an extra step homeowners should take when lawns are dry is to rake out all the dead grass from over the winter. Removing the dead grass, she said, allows for the root systems to spread out, grow and breathe.

Clark said homeowners can put down grass seed on bare spots at any time, but it will only begin to sprout when the temperatures begin to rise.

Roback said an extra step to even out lawns affected by freezing and thawing is to fill in any grooves or valleys with topsoil and spread grass seed on top.

“You don’t want to use weed and seed until the weeds are actively growing,” she said. “If the weeds aren’t actively growing, (chemicals aren’t) doing anything yet and can prevent the grass from growing.”

Another cautionary measure, she said, is for homeowners to spray trees to kill any dormant overwintering insects, such as aphids, before the leaves sprout.

Clark recommended that homeowners mow their grass when the blades reach a length of 3.5-4 inches.

“What you can do right now is give your lawn mower a tune-up and sharpen the blades to get ready for the season,” he said.

Roback added that dull lawn mower blades will rip grass blades to shreds.

As for when to trim bushes and trees, Roback said to wait until they have flowered. Clark agreed that the best time to trim is during the fall or winter.

“You have to be a lot more careful with spring trimming, especially things that flower in the spring,” Clark said. “You may be cutting off flowers if you prune now.”

He added that spring and summer is not the proper time to prune larger trees, because sap will ooze from the open wounds and make trees a target for insects.

Both Roback and Clark recommended starting vegetables inside and planting them outdoors when temperatures increase. Good picks to start indoors now, Roback said, include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants. Clark said lettuce and peas are also good choices.

“You can (take care of your lawn and landscaping) all yourself. It’s really easy and you can keep a lot of money in your pocket,” Clark said. “You just have to use the right product at the right time.”