The climate you live in largely affects when and how you should landscape, particularly when it comes to lawn maintenance. In the American Midwest, the climate reaches to either end of the weather spectrum: hot summers and frigid winters. For this reason, any lawn care schedule midwest homeowners follow can be challenging and a hardy species of grass is a necessity.
This guide will take you through the ideal schedule for lawn maintenance in your Midwestern lawn to hopefully take the guesswork out of achieving the lawn of your dreams.
Annual Lawn Care Schedule Midwest US: Spring, Summer & Fall
Spring Lawn Care Routine in the Midwest
Since your lawn mower has been stored away all winter, it likely needs a tune up.
If you’re handy, then this might be something that you can do yourself at home. Otherwise, you may need to take it to a small engine repair shop or a garden center to get your mower tuned up.
Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance
Spring lawn mower maintenance can include things like an oil change, checking the carburetor and spark plug, adding gas, and sharpening the blade.
Properly winterizing your mower can also go a long way to protecting the longevity of your machine.
Yard Work: Clean Up Your Lawn
As the weather warms up and the snow melts, one of the first steps will be to clear any leaves, branches, and other debris that may have been sitting underneath all that snow or that came down during the winter.
Leaves are excellent organic matter and can be composted or mulched and left on the grass to feed your turf.
Following garden cleanup, you may want to aerate your lawn if the turf has become compacted over the winter.
Aeration (optional, as needed)
Aerating ensures that soil is loose enough to allow for air and moisture to reach the roots as well as allowing the roots to grow deep into the ground.
As the soil warms to temperatures above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, grass begins to switch from Winter dormancy into a growth spurt. In the Springtime, that growth happens primarily above ground using the nutrients that was stored in the roots in the Fall.
How to Fertilize Your Lawn in Spring
White fertilizing should be done in the Spring, it is important not to do it too early when the grass is still dormant.
You can also rest assured knowing that the grass has that little backup of nutrients in its roots to get by.
I recommend a good, slow-release organic fetilizer like Milorganite, which won’t burn your lawn and will feed it throughout the spring. You can go pretty heavy with this stuff and it won’t hurt your lawn at all.
Pre-Emergent to Prevent Weeds
To get ahead of weed management, herbicides such as corn gluten can be applied to the lawn in early Spring to prevent weeds from germinating, around mid-April.
Lawn Repair – Apply New Grass Seed
If you realize as the snow melts that you need to lay seed or lay sod, then May is an acceptable time to do this for most homeowners.
Ideally, do this project in the Fall. That’s the best time due to the growth cycle of grass in midwestern climates. If it’s not possible to do so in the fall, Spring is ok, and this project will help you avoid or repair a patchy lawn.
If you are planting grass seed in the spring, do it as soon as the soil temperature allows. Wait too long and higher temperatures are not conducive to germination and root growth.
Your First Mow of the Season
Once grass gets to being more than three inches high, it is time for the first mowing.
Leave clippings on the lawn as they provide excellent nutrients, even if they may be a bit unsightly. Nicole Forsyth, a certified horticulturist and member of our expert panel, suggests that you “double cut the lawn so the clippings are small and break down easier if the lawn is longer.”
Around the same time, you can disperse the first application of a slow-release fertilizer. The subsequent application of fertilizer should be no less than six weeks later.
Summer Lawn Care Schedule in the Midwest
Summers in the midwest are different from other parts of the country, which means the lawn care schedule midwest homeowners follow will be different than many other homeowners across the country.
Grub and Pest Treatment
In the early part of the summer, around June, it is best to apply a treatment for lawn grubs.
Not only will grubs eat away at the roots of your hard-earned lawn, but they are also a delicacy for scavengers like raccoons and skunks who like to dig them up.
Beneficial nematodes are one treatment option that would be long-lasting as they are microscopic worms that live in the soil and feast on insects like grubs and their developed counterpart, the june bug.
Watering Your Lawn During the Summer
You’ll devote most of your time during the summer to mowing and watering your lawn.
Some species of grass are more resistant to drought and can go longer periods without watering, but as a general rule grass needs about one inch of water per week, including water from rainfall.
If you’d rather avoid watering your lawn as much as possible or if you are in a drought, it is okay to skip a week or two here and there even if you haven’t had much rainfall.
Grass will just turn brown as it goes dormant, but down the road when it gets adequate water again it will return to green (as long as it isn’t dead). The other thing you can do to water your lawn less is to choose species of grass that are more drought tolerant.
Mowing Your Lawn During the Summer
In the hotter months, your grass will grow more slowly. As a result, you will likely find that you need to mow it less often in July and August compared to June or September when temperatures are a bit cooler and grass is in its growth phase.
A good general guideline is to mow whenever the grass blade is longer than three inches.
Letting your grass grow a little longer can help to make it more drought resistant as the roots also grow deeper into the ground and can access more moisture as the top layers of soil begin to dry out. It’s what I recommend during those hot Midwestern summers.
Post-Emergent Weed Mitigation
Weed management at this stage is known as “post-emergent” and is more spot-focused instead of a more general treatment.
The best spot treatments include manual removal of weeds or a herbicide spray that you can direct right at the base of the weed to avoid damaging your lawn (some of the best lawn weed killers are safe to use on your whole lawn).
There are natural mixtures that you can make with ingredients you have at home, such as vinegar, that are also environmentally friendly.
Fall Lawn Care in the Midwest
While you may think Spring is the time to prepare your lawn for the summer, it is actually Fall that is the ideal season to do most work on your lawn.
As temperatures cool in the Fall, grass enters another growth spurt but this time it has an even bigger impact on the roots as the plant prepares for Winter. Your grass focuses on storing important nutrition in the roots for the following Spring.
The warmer soil temperatures and cooler air also makes fall the best time to plant new grass seed or overseed your lawn.
This knowledge is what informs the preparations that you should take during this period.
Aerate Your Lawn (best time of year for this)
Aerate your lawn in the fall.
Choose a day after a light rainfall when the soil is moist, but not wet. This will help to ensure that there is no compaction that might prevent oxygen and moisture from reaching the roots. The roots will thank you!
Fertilizing your lawn is crucial in the Fall and can be done twice. In late Summer or early Fall, as temperatures cool off, spread a “seed and feed” mixture of grass seed and fertilizer like this one.
This is known as “overseeding.” Fall is the most ideal time for this. The temperatures facilitate growth, just make sure you use a suitable grass seed for your yard.
Towards late Fall, around six weeks later, spread a high quality fall lawn fertilizer or a something from my list of the best weed and feeds for lawns – which feature products that are a mixture of herbicide and fertilizer. Fall is not only a growth spurt for grass, but weeds as well, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Thus, this step is crucial in preventing weeds the following Spring and gives weeds no chance to become established.
Fall Lawn Mowing Tips
You will likely find yourself mowing more frequently as temperatures cool in the fall.
As leaves fall, it is perfectly okay to mow the leaves up and leave them as mulch on your lawn. Alternatively, you can rake your leaves and compost them.
For the final lawn mowing, you’ll want to trim a little shorter – around two inches high – to prevent fungus growing between alternating periods of freezing and thawing when temperatures get mild.
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