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Early Lawn Activities to Consider

As spring has begun, so has work in the home landscape. This week, we’ll concentrate on things that can and should be done soon. Next week, we’ll cover some things to avoid doing that many ignore and do anyway.

Early lawn activities to consider include: applying pre-emergence herbicides to control crabgrass, preparing lawn for mowing, performing pre-season lawnmower maintenance, re-seeding small bare spots, and mowing lawn as needed.

A healthy, dense turf is a good cultural control against crabgrass. However, if pre-emergent herbicides are needed, they should be applied as soon as possible through about the middle of April in northeast Indiana. Basically, these products must be in place before crabgrass seeds germinate (sprout) in the soil for an effective kill. Purdue research has shown that these herbicides can be applied as early as March 1 and still be effective all season.

Although the date of actual crabgrass germination will depend on the weather each spring, the average germination date at Fort Wayne is April 29. Track the estimated best application timing of preemergent crabgrass controls at

Some post-emergent crabgrass controls are available, but they are very difficult for the average homeowner to use safely and effectively. No crabgrass control should be attempted after mid-July because most crabgrass is too large to control effectively.

Spring seeding of turfgrass is sometimes a hit-or-miss operation, due to cool soil temperatures, longer periods before emergence, and summer stress of newly emerged, weak seedlings. But, if you have small bare spots, you may wish to give spring seeding a try. Disturb the soil to ensure seed-to-soil contact, seed, and water frequently. (Seeding of cool-season turfgrass varieties like Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue is best done in late August through early September.) If you need to re-seed bare spots, skip crabgrass controls as they will likely interfere with desired grass germination and growth.

Basic preparations for lawn mowing include picking up sticks and fallen limbs, and raking to remove leaves, twigs, and trash. Sticks left in the yard can hasten dulling of mower blades. Give your mower a tune up, including an oil change, and sharpen the blade. A sharp blade results in a cleaner and healthier cut, leaving a more attractive lawn.

Although many have had their mowers busy already, the first mowing should be slightly lower than normal to encourage green-up. Then, move to the season-long mowing height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Although optimum mowing height will vary with turf species, 3 inches is a good average target height to shoot for. The more leaf area, the more capacity the plant has for photosynthesis, which results in carbohydrates that are used for plant maintenance and growth.

Other things you may consider this spring include thatch control and aerification (or aeration) of turf. Thatch is a layer of dead grass stems on top of the soil surface that limits water and air penetration into the soil. Power rakes or core aerators can help with thatch. Aerification (thatch or no thatch) also helps relieve soil compaction, improves water and air movement into the soil, increases rooting, and can greatly improve turfgrass health. It’s best to wait until turf is actively growing (usually in April) for these operations.

For more information, access Purdue Extension’s publication, Mowing, Dethatching, Aerifying and Rolling Turf, at To follow current issues with home landscapes, access the Purdue Landscape Report, at

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