Everyone wants their lawn to look great all year round. But what are the important steps that we must take to ensure that our lawn stays healthy? There are a lot of maintenance tasks as well as problem-solving tasks along the way. The lawn coaches at Heritage Lawns & Irrigation have put together this Comprehensive Guide to Kansas City Lawn Care to help you make sure you cover all of the bases when it comes to getting a healthy, thick, great-looking lawn.
Early Spring Lawn Prep
Let’s start at the beginning of the season. Once the weather warms up, it’s time to take action. In March, you need to clean up any debris (dead leaves, sticks, etc.) that may have blown onto your lawn over the long winter months.
Mowing is your next concern. Drop the mower down to two inches high and mow off the tips of the blades to remove any dead or damaged pieces. (Make sure your blades are sharp, not dull, to avoid any other damage to the grass blades.)
Apply a fertilizer as well as a pre-emergent weed control to nip any early weeds in the bud.
Kansas City Weed Control
Sometimes called crabgrass preventer, a pre-emergent kills the weeds before they emerge from the ground. A common misconception is that they keep the seeds from germinating, but that is actually not the case. When the product is applied, it creates a barrier layer on the surface so that the young seedlings die when they come in contact with the barrier. If it is a granular product, when it gets watered in, the solution creates the barrier. If it is a liquid, the barrier sets up right away. Pre-emergents are effective for grassy weeds such as crabgrass.
Why Does Your Lawn Need Pre-Emergent Weed Control?
Plants and weeds will begin to germinate sometime around April 15th or when the ground temperatures hit 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it the perfect time to break out the products to keep them from sprouting. The benefit of this one-time treatment is that you are ahead of the problem which will make these trouble spots easier to manage. Instead of having to fight your entire lawn, you should be able to spot treat with post-emergents for the rest of the year.
Grassy weeds can be the most difficult to control. Luckily, by using a pre-emergent, you can get a jumpstart on them before they hit maturity. This is important if you want to avoid killing desirable lawn grasses along with the weeds in later treatments. The pre-emergent is used to control grassy weeds such as crabgrass and foxtail. Unfortunately, there isn’t a surefire way to prevent all weeds.
When to Apply a Pre-Emergent
One of the first lawn care treatments of the year is the pre-emergent application. Annual grassy weeds appear in late spring or early summer and can be difficult to control. The key is to time your treatment before those nasty weed seeds germinate and kill them as they emerge.
Crabgrass germinates when the soil temperature hits the low 50’s and stays there for a few days. In Kansas City the ideal time is usually around April 15th, but Mother Nature doesn’t always use the same calendar we do. Here are options we have for scheduling:
- Use the calendar. Have your pre-emergent treatment down before April 15th. For most homeowners in Kansas City, MO and the KC metro area, you will be close and more right than wrong.
- Measure the soil temperature. For the real geek in us. It’s not hard to get a soil thermometer and measure the temperature in the hottest part of your lawn and make your application when you hit the upper 40’s.
- Use web data. You can use the Internet to determine soil temperatures and time your applications accordingly. Websites like GreenCast give good data for your area. You can zoom in and get a decent idea of your part of town.
- Use indicator plants. Now this is the exact opposite of high tech #3. This is the old-school farmer version. Certain plants, like the forsythia bush and the lilac, flower at consistent soil temperatures every year. They naturally compensate for the curves mother nature throws each spring. Time your treatments to be completed before the forsythia drop all of their yellow flowers, and before the lilac blossoms open.
- Join a lawn care program: Every homeowner and lawn has different needs. By joining a lawn care program, your Lawn Coach will help you determine when to apply pre-emergent treatment to prevent grassy weeds.
Types of Pre-Emergent Weed Control
Liquid – For your pre-emergent to work, it must be properly mixed and applied evenly. Read the instructions on the label closely to make sure you’re applying it properly. Don’t forget to calibrate your sprayer! Thorough coverage is the key to success; spot spraying will just allow the weeds to pop up where there is no pre-emergent.
Granular – Apply when grass is dry. Set your spreader to the appropriate setting as directed on the instructions on the bag. Granules do not need to be watered in, but for best results, the lawn should receive 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water from rainfall or watering within 2-3 days after application. Wait to see if Mother Nature is going to help, and if not, water on the third day. Watering in the product activates the weed killer. It helps it to sink into the soil creating a barrier just below the surface. Most products call for a half inch of water within three weeks of the application.
Fertilizing Your KC Lawn
There are three times of the year that fertilizer is important for your lawn care schedule. Once in the spring to get things off to a good start, definitely in the fall to prepare your lawn for winter, and after you plant new grass seed.
It’s a good idea to fertilize your lawn each spring when you add your pre-emergent weed control. This gives it a good start and helps it green up faster too.
Putting down the right amount of starter fertilizer will help the grass germinate faster, and become established quicker so it is strong when winter hits. A second round of starter fertilizer four weeks after the seeding would improve your results even more.
The winterizer fertilizer treatment provides the nutrients your lawn needs and stores up through the winter to come out of dormancy strong in the spring. Winter fertilizer application is the heaviest round of fertilizer your lawn will receive all year, and if you have been opting out on other applications this is the one you shouldn’t skip out on! The best time to apply winter fertilizer is in the fall when the top growth of your grass slows. This usually happens in November or early December. Your grass will be green on top and have an active root system. Applying winter fertilizer in the fall follows the natural pattern for your grass, it takes in nutrients and stores them during the fall and uses them in the spring.
There is a small window of time at the end of July and the beginning of August when grubs are most easily killed. This is the time of year that the grubs emerge from their eggs and burrow up into the top layer of soil where they eat the roots of the grass. They are easiest to kill in this early stage of development because they are young.
In early fall, the grubs will begin to burrow four to eight inches into the soil away from the cold. They will return older and hardier in the spring and will cause more damage then. You definitely want to get your grub treatment down by the end of July or early August to be the most effective.
Kansas City Lawn Seeding
It may sound silly, but mow your lawn a little shorter than usual before seeding to ensure the seeds will make it to the soil. Good seed-to-soil contact is crucial.
Water Prior to Seeding
Water your lawn every day for a few days before planting, but not the day of planting. The extra moisture will make it easier to work with when aerating or verticutting and will also provide a better environment for new seed.
Choose the Right Seed
We recommend a 50/50 mix of fescue and Bluegrass for Kansas City lawns. If your lawn is already established, you only need to overseed with fescue as Bluegrass spreads more quickly and is usually well established. If you are starting a new lawn, we suggest a 50/50 mix, which, by weight, is actually a 90/10 mix (90% Bluegrass and 10% fescue) as Bluegrass seeds are much smaller and lighter than fescue. This combination seems to hold up the best year in and year out.
Also, read the label. Make sure your grass seed label says “0% weed seeds” and “0% other crop”, or you will be planting weeds in your yard.
Don’t Forget to Water Your New Grass Regularly
Do not let your new seed dry out! It will die. Make sure to water enough to keep the soil constantly damp. Light, frequent watering is best. Try this watering schedule:
- First 3 weeks, water 3 times per day @ 8, 12, & 4 o’clock, light sprinklings to keep the seedbed continually moist.
- Next 2 weeks, water once per day about twice as long as each watering during the 1st three weeks.
- Then water deeply once a week for the remainder of year. Water should be applied for a period of time, so when measured, it accumulates about ½ inch of water in small can or rain gauge.
Fertilizer for New Grass
New seed requires a different fertilizer than established lawns. Seedlings that are germinating need phosphorus and potassium to build healthy and strong roots. Nitrogen is used in the foliage part of the plant. The higher degree of nitrogen can always be added later but phosphorus and potassium need to be in the soil from the beginning.
Mow When Grass Reaches Four Inches
When the grass reaches a height of 4” tall, mow it to a height of 3”. Then mow every 5-7 days. Remove any clumps of grass or dead leaves. We recommend a push mower rather than a riding mower because it is lighter and won’t compact the grass with large, heavy tires.
Aerate if Overseeding
Speaking of good seed-to-soil contact, if you are just overseeding an already healthy lawn, we suggest aerating the lawn. Aerating pulls small plugs of dirt and thatch out of the ground giving the existing grass room to grow and allowing rain and nutrients into the soil so they can reach the roots. Our Kansas City clay soil tends to get compacted quickly, so we recommend aerating once a year to keep your lawn healthy.
Verticut Thin Lawns
If your lawn is thin or you have bare patches, we suggest verticutting. It is a little more aggressive than aeration, but tills the soil better to provide better seed-to-soil contact and better germination. You can also aerate and verticut, but many times one or the other will suffice.
Fall is a better time to seed due to cooler temperatures, but if your lawn has bare spots or your lawn is very thin, it may be worth it to seed in the spring. Just plan to seed again in the fall.
Pros of Spring Seeding
- Shady areas have a better chance of success in the spring.
- No leaves are falling to affect the seed.
- Areas that didn’t survive the winter would be filled in.
Cons of Spring Seeding
- The lawn will have to be re-seeded in the fall.
- The roots of the grass will not be able to establish themselves until the soil reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit; which is when it would allow the seed to germinate.
- Pre-emergent would have to be postponed approximately three weeks to avoid killing the seed.
When spring seeding, postpone your pre-emergent weed control (crabgrass preventer) until late April or May. Your crabgrass preventer will stop any seed that hasn’t emerged yet, so a later application date will make sure your seed is up and safe first.
Dormant seeding is the act of spreading grass seed over the ground in the fall and winter months while the ground is too cold to induce germination of grass. When spring arrives, the seeds that were spread the year before will warm in the ground and sprout, which both repairs and thickens turf grass. Dormant seeding in Kansas City, MO is preferable in the fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which gives the seeds adequate time to sink into the ground; but it can be done all through winter. Dormant seeding also mimics nature’s natural cycle of germination, with seeds lying untouched during the winter and ready for action in the spring. The seeds will germinate in the spring before spring seeding happens and therefore will be stronger and better able to survive the heat of summer.
Kansas City Lawn Care Watering Guidelines
Watering is one of the best things you can do do ensure a green lawn all season long. Here are some basic watering guidelines to help you water properly for optimum results:
- 1 to 2 inches of water per week during the growing season (use rain gauge or a small bucket for proper measurements).
- Water in the morning! The best time to water is between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. when the wind is low and the water doesn’t evaporate so fast. It also helps knock the dew off the lawn which aids in disease control.
- Water slowly. Our heavy clay soil only accepts .25 inches of water per hour so anything over that just runs off down the storm sewer.
- Use the rain/soak/rain method. Let your zones run just long enough to deliver .25” of water and then move to the next zone. Then start over and run through each again about 1 hour apart. This will deliver a deep soaking that is good for the roots.
- Water when needed! Soak the root zone and then let it dry.
- During the hottest part of the year, water 2 to 3 times each week (adjusting your watering for rainfall). As a rule, it is much better to water deeply and infrequently than to water a little bit every day.
- Water a minimum of 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water during each watering session.
- Water slowly to avoid run-off.
- Water to a minimum soil depth of 4 inches (use a stake or screwdriver to test depth).
- More water is required during the summer and hot weather.
- Less water is required during the spring and fall and during cool weather.
Light, frequent watering causes shallow, weak root systems that are very susceptible to drought and disease damage. But heavy, fast watering (high pressure) can lead to unnecessary runoff and soil erosion.
If you follow these comprehensive tips, you should have a healthier, greener, thicker lawn this coming year. If you have any questions, please call us and one of our lawn coaches will be able to answer your lawn care questions.