Spring Lawn Care Guide – 12 Simple Tips

With Spring just around the corner, it’s time to think about lawn maintenance again. It’s important to kick start the growing season by providing the grass with the nutrients it needs to get established and healthy before the summer heat and increased foot traffic arrives. Neglecting your lawn in the spring will have you paying for it for the rest of the year. There are only a few key items that need attention. Some things, like seeding, are better left for later in the year. Here are the main things to remember:

    • Help the snow melt by spreading it around
    • Lightly rake the lawn to help it dry out
    • Wait until the soil dries out before you start working in your yard
    • Clean up winter debris
    • Sharpen your lawn mower blade and ready your equipment
    • Have your soil tested if it has been more than three years
    • Mow low to remove the dead grass tops
    • Aerate your lawn if it didn’t get done in the fall
    • Overseed bare spots if absolutely necessary
    • Apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer around April 1st
    • Apply a light fertilizer application around mid April – late May
    • Wait to water your lawn until the early summer

1. Help the Snow Melt

If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, help it melt by spreading the piles out with a shovel and removing them from shady areas. This keeps snow mold from developing as the ground thaws. In areas with heavy snowfall, leftover snow piles can smother the grass underneath.

2. Lightly Rake

Once the snow has melted and the ground begins to dry, it’s helpful to lightly rake your lawn with a flexible steel tine rake. This helps the lawn dry out, reducing the chance of snow mould or fungus developing. Make sure you minimize your foot traffic on the lawn when doing this. Also, before starting, make sure the ground is soft and the soil temperature is above 40 degrees, i.e. not frozen. Damage can be caused by walking on lawns where the soil has thawed on top and is still frozen underneath, shearing roots in the frozen soil from the grass plants on top. If in doubt, wait until it warms up a bit more. Most people shudder at the idea of raking in the spring after all of the heavy raking they did in the Fall. If the idea of raking in the early spring is particularly offense to you, don’t worry, this step isn’t critical, it just helps speed things up.

3. Wait for the Soil to Dry

Don’t be in a hurry to get back on your lawn until the soil dries out. Foot traffic and hard raking can compact or leave depressions in wet ground and can damage new grass shoots. If you get too aggressive with raking, mowing or aerating (or any activity that will open up the grass canopy exposing it to sunlight) you risk damaging fragile new growth and giving early germinating weeds an advantage. Wait until your grass is actively growing reduces this risk.

4. Clean Up Winter Debris

Once the soil is dry, give your lawn a good spring cleaning to encourage grass growth and discourage pests and diseases. Throughout the winter, wind likely deposited a bunch of fallen leaves, branches, and twigs on your lawn. Remove leaves and debris gently with a spring tine rake. Accumulated debris on the lawn whether it’s from tree leaves or other items, block the sunlight and will smother the grass. Raking also helps to separate any grass shoots or clumps caused by snow mold. New grass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches.


Raking in the spring is also intended to control the buildup of thatch. Dethatching allows the soil to breathe and permits nitrogen exchange with the atmosphere. Grass blades that died over the winter are just waiting to become thatch if not removed. How heavy you need to rake will depend on your lawn – how thick is is and how much thatch needs removing. Also, if you raked in the fall this will make your job easier in the sping. Dense lawns need more frequent dethatching. If you have a large lawn, or your thatch layer is over 1/2″ deep, I recommend buying or renting a power dethatcher (power rake) instead of doing it all manually. Make sure you wait to power rake until your grass is actively growing.

When is the Best Time to Rake the Lawn in the Spring?

Late spring (mid-April onwards) is usually the best time to rake your lawn in the spring or when soil temperature supports growth but before weeds can get a foothold. This may be sooner in the southern U.S. (as early as February). Heavier taking (or scarifying) should only be done when your grass is growing strongly.


Spring cleanup is a perfect time to clean up the rough edges of your lawn in between flower beds etc. A good edge between your lawn and garden beds not only looks good but it keeps the grass out of your beds and the mulch out of your lawn. Pull back existing mulch with a rake and then use a garden spade or shovel to touch up the edges. If you have plastic lawn edging I recommend removing it. It usually ends up being more work then maintaining a natural edge and doesn’t look nearly as good. When done, re-position the mulch and add new mulch if necessary. Mulching at this time of year is ideal as it stops weed seeds from germinating by blocking their access to sunlight.

5. Equipment Maintenance

Early spring is a good time to give your lawnmower and other lawn equipment a tune up. Take a few minutes to check over your equipment to make sure you’re set for the year. Here are a few things to add to your checklist:

  • Give everything a wipe down with a damp cloth
  • Get your lawn mower out of storage, give it a tuneup or oil change if needed
  • Check your blade sharpness
  • A quick squirt of oil on all moving parts like wheels and handles will keep them moving freely and squeak free
  • Turn on your outdoor water and prepare your hoses/reels

If you were organized in the Fall, you’ll have a sharp blade ready to go. For most homeowners, sharpening twice a year is recommended. Once at the beginning or end of the growing season, and once mid way through. Check out my article on mowing for more information. Remember to never work on the mower or deck while the engine or motor is running.

6. Monitor your Soil

It’s recommended that you test your soil at least every three years, or if you have any unsolved lawn mysteries that you’re trying to diagnose i.e. moss. A soil test will tell you how much, if any, nutrients your lawn needs. It’s also the only way to determine your lawn’s pH level and whether or not lime is needed. Having the correct pH level for your yard can help save you many problems in the long run.

There are two ways to test your soil: DIY or lab tested. They both have pros and cons, which is why I use both. For a DIY solution I recommend the Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test KitI find they work well for a general testing. They’re inexpensive and give you a result right away, however they are less accurate than a lab test. For lab tests, every county usually has an agriculture department or university that is able to conduct soil tests, and there are some mail in options s well. For US residents the Soil Savvy test kit  is a convenient option that is highly regarded. They are available on Amazon here. Check out my article on soil testing for more information.

Rectifying PH Imbalance – When to use Lime

Grass likes a neutral pH. If your soil test shows that your pH is low you should apply lime with a broadcast spreader to lower the acidity levels. Then it’s time to be patient. Don’t expect a quick fix as the effects are slow to take place. You should test your soil yearly in these areas to monitor its progress. Make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging, and the soil test recommendations. Liming is only a corrective measure, not a preventive measure. One common myth is that ‘you can never add too much lime’, however this is not true. If you add too much lime, the soil with suffer from being too alkaline.

7. Proper Mowing

When to First Mow your Lawn in the Spring?

Once your lawn starts to green up, make a pass with the deck on a low setting to remove the dead grass tops. This will give the newly emerging shoots the sunlight they need to get them started. Make sure not to cut too short however, as scalping can cause damage. If there’s still debris and leaves on your lawn you should consider bagging your clippings. Your first few mowings should be done with your mower set on a lower setting. Raise your mower height every 1-2 weeks until it is around 2 1/2 to 3 1/2”. This higher height helps to protect the root system from the sun and retain moisture as it gets hotter out. More info here.

8. Aerate your Lawn if it Didn’t get Done in the Fall

Once the raking is taken care of, check your lawn for compaction, especially if your lawn gets a lot of traffic. Compaction is when the soil has become dense and roots have a hard time taking hold. As a result, your lawn has a hard time getting the necessary nutrients and oxygen it needs to have a healthy root system.

How Can I Tell if my Soil is Compacted?

There are several signs that indicate a lawn that might be suffering from soil compaction. The most obvious sign is when a lawn is generally struggling, which leads to other problems like weeds, moss etc. A more definitive way is to try sticking a screwdriver or a pencil into the soil. If it’s difficult to penetrate the soil it’s a sign of compaction. Other signs include water puddling on the lawn after rain and the lawn drying out more rapidly. This is because the water is unable to get absorbed properly by the soil when it’s compacted. You can see this more directly if you take a shovel and dig into your lawn to see it’s profile. If you do this, look for the depth of roots. Compaction leads to shallow roots (less than 4 inches).

Core Aeration

If you determine that your lawn is compacted, the remedy is core aeration. This is a process that physically removes cores of soil from your lawn allowing water and nutrients to reach your lawns roots. You can either rent one or hire somebody to do it. Cost is between $50-100 depending on the size of your lawn and which option you choose. Make sure you do it on a day when the ground is moist so that the cores will be able to penetrate deep enough (ideally 3” or more). I recommend doing two passes in opposing directions to get thorough coverage. The cores can be left to decompose/disintegrate in the lawn. This can take a week or two to take place. For hard to reach spots it’s best to use a hand aerator.

When Should you Aerate your Lawn?

It’s generally recommended that you aerate your lawn annually. Fall is the best time to aerate cool-season grasses. If you weren’t able to do it then however, spring is the second best time to get this done. Warm-season grasses should be aerated in the summer when they are actively growing. Make sure you aerate before you apply a crabgrass pre-emergent.

9. Over Seeding

Should You Overseed Your Lawn in the Spring?

In short no, it’s a bad idea (for cool-season grasses at least). The fall is the best time to seed cool-season grasses. While it’s still possible to overseed in the spring, it’s simply easier to do so in the fall. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that there is usually a much larger ideal weather window in the fall (ie cool temperatures, but warm soil). The second is that overseeding is incompatible with the application of most pre-emergent herbicides. Pre-emergents are a great way to keep crab grass under control (more on this in the next section), however they also inhibit new grass seed from germinating so you can’t do both – the herbicide will be active for up to 12 weeks, which means you’ll miss the spring planting season. So you need to choose between weed control and seeding. I personally think that weed control is the better idea, because faced with competition from crabgrass, you may find it difficult to establish your new grass. In the fall there will be no competition from crabgrass because the fall temperatures kill it off.

When to Seed?

What if you have major bare patches on your lawn though? Then you may have no choice. If this is the case, there is a short window you can take advantage of in the spring. Obviously skip the crabgrass control if you go this route. Before seeding, you need to make sure the soil is warm enough but also make sure its done early enough so that the new grass has time to develop strong roots before the summer heat arrives. Grass seed will start to germinate when soil temperatures reach 50° F (10° C) but establishes much better when the soil is at least 65° F (18° C). Use a compost or outdoor thermometer to check the soil temperature. You can also tell by sticking a stake into the ground to see how thawed it is. If it’s thawed between 4 1/2 – 5” that’s a good indication.

Time your activities according to the type of grass. Cool-season grasses can be planted as soon as the air temperatures get into the 60s and soil temperatures are in the 50s. Plant as soon as temperatures allows. Warm-season grasses can be planted when air temperatures are in the 70s, soil temperatures are in the 60s, and all danger of frost has passed. Late spring is the best time to plant warm-season grasses. Source: Today’s HomeownerCheck out my article on overseeding for more information.

10. Deal with Weeds

Controlling Weeds by Applying a Preemergent Herbicide

Spring is the best time to prevent weeds by using what is known as a pre-emergent weed control, which works by preventing weed seeds from germinating. It essentially creates a barrier against weed growth that can limit the spring weed explosion. Once you place down a pre-emergent, do not aerate, since this will allow breaks in the barrier that weeds can work through.

It is best to apply it before seeds germinate for the first time to get the best control. This will be when soil temperatures reach 50° F (10° C) or when the forsythia bushes are blooming in the spring. Many gardeners plan to apply it around April 1st. Don’t worry if you are late – crabgrass and other weed seeds are germinating all season long so you’ll still get some control. Better late than never.

Both cool-season and warm-season lawns benefit from weed prevention in the spring. Pre-emergent herbicides work for about three months, so plan on putting down a second application during the summer. Pre-emergents will control a broad spectrum of weeds, however crabgrass control is its biggest benefit. Crabgrass is a prolific seeder. So if you had crabgrass last year, expect to see it again this year. A great pre-emergent is Prodiamine 65 WDG. An organic alternative to pre-emergent herbicide is corn gluten meal, which has a few drawbacks, such as cost and effectiveness, but has the added benefit of acting as a fertilizer as well. It also comes in liquid form. If your lawn is exceptionally dense and vigorous, you may not need to use a pre-emergent as it may be able to inhibit weeds from growing.

Ongoing Treatment

For ongoing weed treatment, dig out or pull any larger weeds that make it through. For smaller weeds consider spot spraying with a selective post-emergent like Weed B Gone or Quinclorac 75 DF. I highly recommend not using a weed and feed type product. This type of product applies post-emergent herbicide over your entire lawn, even those areas with no weeds. Not only is this wasteful from a cost perspective, it’s also more environmentally damaging in comparison to targeted weed control.

11. Fertilizing

You may have fertilized your lawn in the fall, but it is also important to do so in the spring. Spring fertilization helps your lawn replenish reserves that were depleted over the winter. For cool season grasses, resist the urge to heavily fertilize your lawn in the spring. Most experts recommend a lighter feeding in the spring and a heavier one in the late fall, when cool-season grasses are at their peak growing season. Too much fertilizer in the spring will cause a flush of growth at the expense of root development and can lead to disease and weed problems. Check out my article on fertilizing for more information.

When Should you Fertilize Your Lawn in the Spring?

Wait to fertilize until the ground is not frozen. To check the soil temperature use a compost or outdoor thermometer (you should aim for 65°F (18°C)). You can also tell by sticking a stake into the ground to see how thawed it is. If it’s thawed between 4 1/2 – 5” that’s a good indication. And the grass should be actively growing. This is usually between mid April – late May for cool-season grasses. You can make another light application six weeks later.

Its recommended to fertilize warm season grasses in late spring or as soon as the lawn greens up and begins actively growing. This is usually in April or May, after the last frost. At least 75% of the lawn should be green.

What’s the Best Spring Lawn Fertilizer?

Your soil test results will tell you what your lawn needs most. For most people they will want to use a balanced, slow-release granular fertilizer. Starter fertilizers are normally a good fit for this purpose. A 24-25-4, for example, could be used at 3lbs/ 1000ft2 distribution rate.

12. Know When to Water

The last item on your spring lawn care list should be watering. It’s tempting to start watering in early spring if it hasn’t rained in a few days, but there is usually plenty of moisture in the ground at this time of year to keep your lawn healthy. Wait to water until the weather gets warm and dry. It’s even ok to let the grass show signs of drought stress. This will cause the roots to grow deeper and better prepare your lawn for the heat of summer.


Give your lawn some attention at a few key junctures this spring and it will green up faster than ever and you’ll be thankful all year long. Monitoring the health of your soil, in conjunction with its temperature and moisture level is the secret to effective spring weed control and fertilization. Combine that with some good yard maintenance practices like dethatching and aeration and you’ll be ready for whatever the year has in store. Good luck!

Check out my recommended gear section here for all the tools and products I use.

Leave a Comment