Now, we're taking the mower in for its annual tune-up, blade sharpening and oil change. A mower is much like a vehicle — maintain it regularly and it will give you years of reliable use.
Tom Wolters of York County worries about his once-beautiful yard.
"My back yard looked beautiful until the harsh winter and heavy rainfall struck, combined with some ugly digging activities by our very active Belgian sheepdogs," he e-mails me.
"As far as I know, I have two options now: reseed or fertilize. Reseeding in early spring will hopefully result in a dense and healthy lawn in summer, which will prevent the invasion of crab grass and other annual grass weeds.
"Most early spring fertilizers contain pre-emergent herbicides. My lawn really requires this preventive program. I learned from previous experiences that when I do not apply his herbicide, my lawn will be covered with crab grass and other weeds in summer. I was told, however, that when applied, it's not easy to reseed until fall. I need to restore my yard as soon as possible."
He's right. Many weed killers prohibit you from seeding within a certain time frame because the chemicals kill good and bad seeds. If you can possibly wait, fall seeding on cool-season fescue lawn is preferred; spring seeding is recommended if you have severe bare sites that could allow soil erosion during summer.
Virginia Tech turf expert Mike Goatley says spring establishment of cool-season grasses presents challenges because the cooler soil temperatures delay seed germination and then the late-established grass bumps into heat, humidity and potential dry days.
"Another challenge will be summer weed pressure, especially crab grass, from seed that will begin to germinate in your area mid-March or so, maybe a little later this year, because soils are colder than normal," he says.
"There is little that can be done to chemically control crab grass that will not also control your desirable grass seed, so the best options is to target crab grass in a post-emergent treatment with a product that contains the active ingredient of quinclorac (you will see this name listed on the ingredients label)."
Once available only to professional lawn-care operators, quinclorac now comes in a homeowner's version marketed by Ortho under the trade name of Weed B Gon MAX Plus Crabgrass Control Ready-to-Use. It also contains standard broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D MCPP and dicamba. You need to follow the directions carefully for safe, effective weed control without damaging newly established turfgrass seedlings.
Mike also suggests some other spring lawn-care tips:
Test your soil. If you have not done a soil test in the past three years, do one so you know what your soil really needs. You waste money and time and potentially harm the environment when you apply nutrients that are really not necessary. Extension offices offer a soil-testing kit that costs you $10 when you mail it to Virginia Tech for analysis and a report.
Sow more seed. Tall fescue is usually seeded at a rate of six to eight pounds per 1,000 square feet. In spring, seed at the higher rate of eight pounds per 1,000 square feet because there is more mortality rate than seeding in the fall when the soil is warm for better seed germination.
Conserve nitrogen. Avoid aggressively using nitrogen on your lawn in the spring. Applying any more than one pound per 1,000 square feet will likely cause more problems than it solves in terms of turf performance.
Baby new turf. Pay close attention to new grass when the first hot days of summer arrive. New grass has very immature roots and can rapidly go from looking great to near death in a matter of hours. Keep the grass watered deeply and thoroughly when there is no rain; turf needs an inch of water per week.
You can get more turf and garden tips — and helpful pod casts — from Virginia Cooperative Extension at its new combined Web site — turfweeds.contentsrvr.net.
Things to doGrowing herbs. 10 a.m. Friday. Newport News master gardener Gloria Gibson discusses growing herbs during a meeting of the Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs at the Woman's Club of Newport News, 416 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., across from Riverside Hospital, Newport News. Free, visitors welcome.
Rose gardening. 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday. Discovered how to get the most out of roses during a workshop at Smithfield Gardens, Route 17, Suffolk. Free, register. 238-2511.
Specialty market. 8:30 a.m.-noon Saturday. The Williamsburg Farmers Market features 25 watermen, bakers and meat producers, as well as cut flowers, hydroponically grown vegetables, ethnic foods, cheeses and forced bulbs on Merchants Square, Williamsburg. The market opens for the regular season of Saturdays on April 3. www.williamsburgfarmersmarket.com; 259-3768.
Learn lawn care. 10-11 a.m. Saturday. Learn how to jump start your cool- and warm-season lawns for spring and summer during a workshop at Smithfield Gardens, Route 17, Suffolk. Free, register. 238-2511.
Horticultural Extravaganza. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The daylong event features more than 18 gardening topics in workshops at York High School, Route 17, York County. Sponsored by York extension office. $14, includes workshops and lunch. Register in advance. www.yorkcounty.gov/vce; 890-4940.
Daylilies. 2 p.m. Sunday. Daylily growers Stuart and Diane Kendig of York, Pa., discuss how to grow daylilies during a meeting of the Tidewater Daylily Society at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Free, garden admission applies for non-members. www.tidewaterdaylilysociety.com; 599-5272.
All about bulbs. March 17. Learn how to create a living flower arrangement with a layered container of summer bulbs 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. at Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester; $25. Take an on-site garden tour 1-3 p.m.; $10. Register. www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com; 804-693-3966.
Radio gardening. noon-1 p.m. March 17. Call in your gardening questions to York extension agent Jim Orband during Hear/Say on public radio 89.5. Call 800-940-2240.
Garden Symposium. April 10. See the lineup of gardening experts for the daylong gardening event at Christopher Newport University at gardening.cnu.edu. Keynote speakers include: bulb expert Brent Heath of Gloucester; Jim Orband, York extension agent; Sandy McDougle, perennials expert from Sandys Plants outside Richmond; and Felder Rushing, nationally known gardening author and speaker.
Get more Hampton Roads gardening and home tips from Kathy Van Mullekom at twitter.com/diggindirt and at Facebook.com/Kathy.vanmullekom. E-mail Kathy at email@example.com or call her at 247-4781; gardening and home news is also online at www.dailypress.com.