Spring Lawn Prep & Garden Clean up Tips
Spring is upon us and with it comes outdoor cleanup of yards, lawns, and gardens, for the coming growing season. We asked award winning South Suburban Cook Master Gardener Help Desk for tips on getting started…here is what we learned:
When cleaning up yard debris from the previous season, think about and look at what you are removing:
- Broken branches should be pruned off. Be sure to disinfect pruning tools before and after pruning.
- Any diseased materials should be disposed of, not composted.
- In the fall we advised to leave hollow stems from herbaceous plants up through the winter, as native insects including solitary bees overwinter in the hollow stems. Do not remove these too early.
- Also, some native fritillaries overwinter as caterpillars on or near their host plants. Eastern black swallowtail butterflies overwinter as pupa inside a chrysalis, which camouflages well with the twig or branch it’s attached to; take care not to remove these treasures.
- Other beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lightning bugs overwinter in leaf tatter and in the moist earth; take care not to remove their habitat too early. Plus leaving healthy leaf tatter in place will help keep the soil from becoming too dry, and the decomposing leaves add nutrients to the soil.
When planning for your new gardens, take a critical look and review what worked last year and what didn’t and why. A Master Gardener slogan is, “Don’t fight the site!” For example:
- If your garden floods, use plants that will not just survive but thrive in that setting.
- Also how do you want to use your garden: Kitchen herbs? Attract butterflies? There are plants that will be on-point for your goals. If in doubt, ask a Master Gardener!
Looking at your winter lawn, now what?
As snows depart each spring, lawns often show damage that occurred during the winter. In particular, vole (mice) and snow mold (fungus disease) damage can be very destructive to lawns. Success or failure of a home lawn is closely tied into how well the soil and site was prepared prior to lawn establishment.
- Eliminating weed problems existing on the site is an important first step. Perennial weeds, such as quack grass or tall fescue, need to be controlled prior to lawn seeding or sodding.
- Before seeding or sodding, it's important to thoroughly work the soil. Amend poor soils, such as heavy clay, by adding organic matter. Sources include compost, rotted manure, peat, and quality topsoil. Sand is not suggested as a material to improve clay soils for home lawns.
- Soil preparation should be done when the soil is not too dry or wet as tillage will destroy soil structure and create problems with air and water-holding capacity and drainage after a rain event.
- Soil testing* is suggested prior to establishment and should be done during the planning process. Soil testing reveals the oil pH and amount of available nutrients such as phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). If major modifications are needed, it is easier to make these prior to establishing the lawn.
The University of Illinois Extension’s Lawntalk website has detailed information on lawn care, a calendar, grass selection, troubleshooting, and so much more. This can be found at: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/lawntalk/index.cfm.
*The Cook County Farm Bureau’s Soil Testing Program offers kits for sale. We partner with the South Suburban Cook County Master Gardener Help Desk to help with results interpretation and soil amendment.