Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
Your lawn has just survived another long winter. In
order to restore it to its former lush, green glory,
it will need to be raked, renovated, repaired, and fertilized.
First, make sure there is good drainage. You cannot
grow grass in standing water. Drainage may consist of
ditches or, if underground, drainage pipe or tiles.
Then rough grade the area.
Add six inches of topsoil, if needed. A normal, well-drained
subsoil may be adequate if amply fertilized. This may
be a reasonable gamble unless subsoil is poor. If it
is, add organic matter. Figure on three large bales
of peat moss per 1,000 square feet. Then mix it thoroughly
into the top six inches of soil. Using any less than
this amount of organic matter will have little impact
on the condition of your soil.
You may need to add limestone if the soil acidity or
pH is below 6.0. To find out, have your soil tested
by the Agricultural and Environmental Testing Laboratory
at the University of Vermont (802-656-3030) or other
Prepare a smooth seedbed free of stones, hollows, and
ridges. Raking off the old leaves, sticks, and other
winter debris gives your lawn a chance to breathe, as
well as makes it easier to repair and reseed.
Broadcast a complete fertilizer or one of the commercially
mixed fertilizers specific to lawns. The exact grade
is not important if you use enough to supply two pounds
of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. This translates to
40 pounds of 5-10-5 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium)
or 20 pounds of 10-10-10. This is double the usual lawn
Uniform application at the proper rate is essential
for good end results. If you are using a spreader, follow
the setting on the fertilizer bag or ask your lawn and
garden dealer for the proper setting.
If you are reseeding or sodding the lawn, the earlier
you do it in the spring the better. Remember to prepare
the seedbed well, and water the lawn thoroughly. A less
frequent, heavy soaking of the lawn is better than frequent,
light waterings, but don’t let the germinating seeds
dry out initially.
When reseeding, choose the right mix for your growing
conditions. Zoysia, for example, is not a good choice
for northern New England as it will turn brown in hot
weather. A Kentucky bluegrass-red fescue mixture is
ideal. Choose one with 55 percent or more Kentucky bluegrass
for sunny lawns in good soil. For dry soil, sun or shade,
use a mixture with 65 percent or more of red fescue.
Avoid any mixture containing bentgrass or tall fescue
or more than 15 percent ryegrass.
Broadcast seeds with a mechanical spreader using three
or four pounds per 1,000 square feet. Any more than
that is wasteful.
Rake the seedbed lightly, using just the tips of the
rake teeth. Go over the area with a lawn roller if convenient.
Sprinkle the soil gently, and keep it moist until the
Mow once the grass starts to grow. Grass kept at a
height of two to two and one half inches can withstand
heat stress better than closely cropped grass. This
mowing height encourages deep rooting, so you don’t
have to water or fertilize as often.
A healthy lawn is the best cure for weeds and pests.
This includes proper culture. If problems occur, such
as insects and diseases, check with your local garden
center for answers. Homeowners in Vermont and northern
New Hampshire also have the option of calling the toll-free
UVM Extension Master Gardener Hotline at 1-800-639-2230
for a diagnosis of the problem and best solution.
Be aware that if you are using a combination fertilizer
and herbicide, this may be taken up by the tree and
shrub roots under the lawn and injure them, too. Or
if you use residual weed killers that linger in the
soil to prevent future weed growth, these may kill many
soil microorganisms. This sometimes results in poorer
soil, and thus, poorer lawn growth and vigor.
If applying weed killers, be sure to properly identify
your weed problem before you select an herbicide. Then
select the least toxic product for the job, looking
at application rates and potential toxicity to plants,
animals, and humans. Read and follow all label directions
carefully. Always use these products judiciously to
avoid contamination of water supplies and lakes, streams,
and other surface waters.
Lawn pests, such as chinch bugs and Japanese beetle
grubs, can be a problem in northern New England. However,
control of these grubs is usually ineffective when done
in the spring.
Your local garden supply store will be able to answer
many of your lawn care questions. For special lawn treatments
such as vertical cutting, dethatching, or coring to
reduce soil compaction, consult a lawn care professional.