Usually, spring tiptoes her way gradually to Minnesota, giving us time to appreciate a few extra hours of daylight each week as well as warmish weather and bug-free outdoors. This year, though, Persephone must have gotten impatient and spring arrived all at once in one big glorious, confusing jumble of sunshine, shorts, green grass, wildflowers, mosquitoes, ticks and even lawnmowers. Daffodils and crocuses are up all over town and friends of mine are reporting that pasque flowers and prairie smoke are already blooming in their native gardens. Earlier this week, Baby Charlie and I spent an hour pulling dandelions out of one of my front yard gardens, and it’s not even April yet.
It’s weather like this that leads Minnesotans to make rash decisions, like planting tomatoes before Mother’s Day or heading to the beach while water temperatures are still hovering in the 50’s. The sight of green grass emerging from a brown winter wasteland is one that drives many to foolhardy action. They walk into the garage to put away their snow shovels and come out carrying sprinklers and plastic bags of fertilizer. Take it from a lawn chair enthusiast; all this effort is more trouble than it’s worth.
Let’s start with the topic of lawn fertilizer. The University of Minnesota Extension advises homeowners to fertilize lawns once per year in the early fall, not spring. Adding fertilizer now might seem like a good way to give your lawn a healthy boost, and in fact, the grass will react quite well initially by greening up and growing tall. In the long run, however, this artificial burst of nutrients often causes the blades of the grass to grow faster than the roots and by the time summer rolls around, the lawn dries up quickly and is more susceptible to weeds.
Speaking of lawns drying up, you can put away the sprinkler and hose as well. Here in Minnesota, most lawns can survive year-round without any watering whatsoever. Even if you choose to water during the hot summer months to keep your grass looking green, you need only give your lawn 1-1.5 inches of water per week, and less than that if it rains. While it is true that Minnesota is still suffering from drought, there have been enough rain showers already this spring to keep lawn grass healthy. If that’s not enough to convince you to sit back down in your lawn chair, though, consider that over-watering now could encourage shallow rooting, which will make your grass more likely to suffer during the summer.
Before you get too cozy in the lawn chair, however, there are a few things that should be done during the spring to help you better enjoy the summer. Spring is the best time of year to inspect your yard for winter damage. Reseed any bare spots in the lawn and take steps to fix erosion on hillsides or along natural drainage pathways before spring rain washes away loose dirt and begins to create gullies. Tackle garden weeds now, while the roots are still small and before they can out-compete the flowers you have planted. Now is also a good time to freshen up mulch in garden beds and to re-anchor any edging that was pushed up by frost heaves. Finally, take an hour to sweep and pick up that slimy mix of half-decomposed leaves and twigs in the street along the curb before it washes into the storm drain and contributes to summer algal blooms on our local lakes.
Spring may have caught us by surprise this year, but next week could bring anything from snow, to wind to hail. So, go ahead and grab your lawn chair and enjoy the weather now, before it surely changes.
Regarding early use of our garden hoses, we’re still in an area of drought (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/DM_midwest.htm). The lawn may not need water, but many trees do, so put that hose to work. Here’s a tee watering recommendation for our metro area (http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/143991096.html):
“Water? Yes, as soon as the ground is thawed. To determine whether your ground has thawed and your trees need water, push a kabob skewer or other metal rod into the ground, suggested Gary Johnson, extension specialist in urban and community forestry. If the skewer can be pushed into the ground 8 to 10 inches, you can water. If the 8 to 10 inches is moist, there’s no need to water yet. If the 8 to 10 inches is dry, watering is critical.”
Thanks for the clarification and good advice Roger!