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Plant seeds of great lawn now

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The snow from one of the roughest winters in recent memory has finally melted.

Left behind is patchy, brown, struggling grass. Mold has carved bare spots in otherwise pristine lawns. Solitary sprigs of green grass seem to be crying out for sun, water and warmth.

Sod specialists have their work cut out for them.

Luckily, spring is the time to get your yard ready for the rest of the year. Some simple reseeding, the proper fertilizer and the right amount of irrigation will turn scraggly turf into a lush, green carpet.

“You want to keep up on things, and now is the time to do it,” said Josh Halstead, operations manager for Green With Envy. “It’s warming up outside, the grass is growing now, but it’s not just as fast as it will be in a month or so.”

With temperatures creeping consistently into the 50s, employees at Green With Envy have had an increasing amount of work on Johnson County lawns.

The Greenwood company has already started applying slow-release fertilizer, seeding struggling yards and working with homeowners to come up with unique landscaping ideas.

The past two years have been brutal on grass, and the company is ready for a busy spring season, said Jeff Williams, owner of Green With Envy.

Severe drought in 2012 taxed and killed off wide swaths of grass throughout Johnson County. Though last summer was more mild, this recent winter has again beat it up.

“The really awful drought was in 2012, but we’ve had three or four bad summers,” he said. “A lot of people held back on replanting to see what happened last summer, and with all the snow issues, there is a high amount of snow mold and salt damage. A lot of lawn repairs need to be made.”

One of the biggest jobs they have in repairing the lawns is reseeding. Green With Envy uses a slit-seeder to plant seeds directly into the soil of the lawn without overly disturbing existing healthy grass.

The method puts the seed immediately in contact with the soil, increasing the chances it will grow, Halstead said.

Common sense would seem that April is the ideal time to put down fertilizer on existing lawns.

But the ideal time to fertilize is actually in late summer or fall, said Cale Bigelow, associate professor of turfgrass science at Purdue University.

The fertilizer will provide grass with a base of nutrients to help it emerge from the winter stronger and more healthy, Bigelow said.

“If the lawn was well fertilized last fall, it might not need to happen again until mid-May or June,” he said.

Still, spring can also work for fertilizing, said Sarah Hanson, educator for Purdue Extension of Johnson County.

“You want to work on the health at that point. Right now, everyone is thinking about spring, and everything is waking up,” she said. “If you do it, don’t do as much.”

The best strategy is a light application of a slow-release fertilizer. That will give the grass nutrients as it needs it, but prevent it from burning and stressing the grass during dry periods this summer.

Lightly applying the nutrients will also save homeowners some time behind the mower, Hanson said.

“If you get all crazy on fertilizer in the spring, you’ll mow and mow and mow,” she said. “A little bit more spoon-feeding than just dumping it in.”

For established lawns, now is also the time to put down pre-emergent herbicide.

But you can’t put down weed control and seed at the same time, Halstead said. The chemical will prevent weeds from establishing, but also keep seeds from taking root.

“Until that grass comes up and you cut it three or four times, you can’t use any pre-emergent on it since it’ll kill the new grass that comes up,” he said. “You’ll waste all that grass seed money.”

Now is the time to put down the grass seed, Williams said. Doing so gives the grass about month to take root, while still leaving time to put down weed killer before crabgrass starts to germinate in late May.

Doing that work now will ensure strong grass that will survive a drought, Halstead said.

But he is also giving people tips on what to do as the summer sets in.

He recommends watering for longer periods of time, such as an hour or more, two or three times each week. The water will seep further into the soil, stretching the grass roots deeper.

Watering every day can leave the grass and underlying soil permanently moist, inviting fungus, molds and weeds to take root.

“Then, once we do have a drought, that root system is already established,” Halstead said. “It’ll have a better chance of getting through the summer into the fall.”

Another mistake people make is cutting the grass too short, Williams said. Clipping a lawn below 3 1/2 inches in length also opens up the grass to weeds.

“The thicker it is, the more it can shade and protect all of the stalks,” he said.

But the most important thing that homeowners can do is be patient, Bigelow said. With the abnormally cold winter and lingering below-average spring temperatures, the growing season will be behind schedule.

People might not be seeing the green sprouts of grass that they usually would. They just have to remember that it will eventually come.

“This winter will be but a terrible memory in about 45 days when all is green and the landscape is blooming,” Bigelow said.

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