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Spring can bring problems for Midwestern lawns

(Photo courtesy of Phillip Franchina)

(Photo courtesy of Phillip Franchina)

It’s spring and Midwesterners want to jump into action when it comes to their lawn and landscape.

The first step is walking the yard to get an idea of how things look. Throughout much of the region, this spring’s landscape likely will reflect the challenges of the last two years — some areas had drought and others had too much rainfall.

The lawn is the first to reveal landscape problems. As the grass begins to green up, thin spots or brown areas signal possible lawn trouble. Lawns in the upper Midwest — Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — also may reveal snow mold and other related diseases. The pinkish white spots occur when snow accumulates on lawns, keeping it wet and depriving it of light and air for months at a time.

“It depends on what the winter is like,” says Jamin Dejong, third-generation owner of highly rated Tender Lawn Care in Grand Rapids, Mich. Usually, snow mold isn’t treated because it’s a transient issue. Dejong suggests that if the snow mold lingers, have someone rake it out, reseed it and make sure the lawn has good air circulation.

Homeowners typically think they need to apply a heavy dose of fertilizer to green up the lawn, but that isn’t necessary. A light application of fertilizer is usually all that’s required to replenish nutrients the grass used during winter.

Crabgrass may not show up for weeks, but March and April is the time many lawn care companies apply a pre-emergent herbicide, a weed killer that keeps seeds from germinating. Commercial pre-emergent products can be applied earlier in the season in the lower Midwest and they’re effective for a longer period than what is available at home improvement stores, explains Andy Neher, owner of highly rated Lawn Pride in Indianapolis.

A pre-emergent, however, cannot be applied if the lawn needs to be overseeded because the chemicals don’t know the difference between the good seed (grass) and the bad seed (weeds).

And existing perennial weeds, such as dandelions, will not be killed by a pre-emergent. Lawn care companies use a post-emergent herbicide for these unwanted plants, which is applied in late spring or early summer. “The best defense is a thick lawn because it crowds out weeds,” Neher says.

Those interested in sustainable living might want to opt for “green” lawn care options. Products include natural fertilizers and corn gluten, a byproduct of processing, which is an effective pre-emergent. However, there aren’t really any effective post-emergent options, such as something that would kill dandelions without harming the lawn.

Usually, environmentally friendly products cost about twice as much as traditional options.

Editor’s note: Learn more about lawn maintenance and treatment with the Angie’s List Guide to Lawn Care

About the author:

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many  publications, including The American Gardener. Her latest book, “The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens,” is available through Cool Springs Press. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.


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