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Columns

Down the Garden Path: Too early to do much outside

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

We all want to get out in the yard, do something good for the yard, yet there is all this late winter weather hanging on. The cold weather at night, frosty lawns, cold rains during the day or the frost on the ground can keep us from doing the things we want.

We can do other things besides trying to overseed the lawn, get the garden soil ready for vegetables or work up the ground where the annuals are going. For example, if you bought new flower or vegetable seeds, re-read the packet to be sure when it is time to start them indoors.

When it is not raining and the sun is out, try walking the yard. See where the water is standing in the lawn and yard, and make a note about that for later. Then, when you see the lawn thinning because of disease or when the spring bulbs you planted last fall do not come up in all their glory because they rotted in the ground, you will know more. Even if a flowering spring bulb is designed by nature to withstand such conditions, newly planted bulbs may not be conditioned yet for that environment or the bulb may have not been perfect and a bulb rot entered through a wound.

Older lawn grasses or lawns with lots of thatch are more likely to be troubled by lawn diseases. Standing water sets up conditions for diseases to grow at the expense of stressed grasses in the lawn. There are early spring cool weather diseases and later warmer season diseases that are just waiting to do their thing on your lawn.

While out there in the yard, take a visual inventory of your lawn weeds. You may have treated for dandelions last spring, but all last summer and fall new dandelion seed germinated and grew so you will have them back again. Wherever you see thin spots, that is an opportunity for weeds to grow. Annual crabgrass will move into those spots before you know it, so keep an eye on that part of the yard. Consider thickening up the lawn to naturally prevent crabgrass and other weed seeds from germinating by topdressing to get rid of the areas that retain water, and overseed or reseed using quality disease-resistant lawn grasses. If the yard has had a history of crabgrass, maybe a preventive treatment is the best way to get a handle on crabgrass while you thicken up the lawn.

You can think about mowing, but just don’t try it until the lawn actually needs to be mowed. Instead, prep your mower for the season ahead. Sharpen the mower blade, and then mark your calendar to do it again in July. Siphon out the old gas and add fresh fuel. Perhaps the mower still needs that overdue oil change. If it has been hard to start and not running like it should, replace the spark plug and clean or replace the air filter. A clean running mower engine pollutes less, too.

When the weather does clear up and before you mow for the first time, take your leaf rake and do some light cleaning. Remove the twigs and leaves that made it back on the lawn. That raking will straighten up the grass that has been matted down from the snow and footprints during the winter. Learn about lawn care at go.illinois.edu/lawntalk

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at http://go.illinois.edu/overthegardenfence. Seasonally, stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” videos at http://www.facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the “Green Side Up” podcast at http://go.illinois.edu/greensideup.

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