If left to its own devices, your grass will undoubtedly deteriorate and grow thinner and weedier by the year. Even if you don't want a perfect lawn, you need to treat your grass to a little TLC. Here's what to do:
Begin by raking the lawn lightly to remove dried leaves. Raking also takes out annual weeds that died over winter, and -- perhaps more importantly -- any debris that may have accumulated. Objects such as dog bones, small toys and rocks can all pose a danger if they become caught in your lawn mower.
If you want to plant seed in areas where the grass is thin, rake those areas vigorously with a heavy garden rake to scruff up the soil and create a receptive environment for the seeds.
Use starter fertilizer where you're planting, and unless there is daily rainfall water lightly but frequently. Don't apply any weed-killer unless it is specifically labeled for use with newly seeded grass.
Many people assume spring lawn care means fertilizing. However, unless you want a truly luxuriant lawn and plan to fertilize several times this year, a spring application shouldn't be necessary: one or two fall applications should be sufficient.
If you do decide to fertilize the lawn this spring, wait until the grass is growing so actively that you've had to mow it a couple of times.
Sandy soil may need to be fertilized more frequently, but at a lower rate. Because rainfall can wash nutrients deep in the sandy soil, beyond the reach of grass roots, nutrients must be supplied more often.
The best way to know what your lawn needs is to have your soil tested. You can download forms and instructions from the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory website: soiltest.coafes.umn.edu/.
Weed control looms large in spring, in part because Minnesotans have more enthusiasm for outdoor chores now than in late summer.
You can control crabgrass and other annual weeds by spreading and watering in a pre-emergent herbicide before their seeds sprout. Late April or early May is usually the time to use pre-emergents in the Twin Cities area. If you prefer organic weed control, corn gluten meal products are a good option.
Perennial weeds such as dandelions, plantain and even the dreaded creeping Charlie will be killed or at least set back when sprayed this spring with broad-leaf herbicide. Though it can be done in spring, you'll usually get better results in treating perennial weeds if you wait until early autumn.
If your lawn isn't overrun with dandelions, try digging them out when the ground is moist. If hand-digging isn't practical, spray dandelions with a product containing 2,4-D. Dandelions are so sensitive to 2,4-D they'll curl up and die within days, but if they've flowered already, their seeds will continue to develop. Be sure to check the lawn for small plants next fall, then spray again.
If you spray with herbicide this spring, be careful to follow these guidelines to minimize potential damage to young plants nearby:
Read and follow label directions carefully.
Spray only when the wind is calm, usually early in the day.
Choose a day when no rain is expected for at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours or more.
Use a hand-held sprayer and keep your arm close to the ground to avoid accidents.
Deb Brown is a garden writer and former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota.