Taking an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management


Missouri Environment & Garden


Lee Miller
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-5623

The First Garden to Clear is Your Lawn

Lee Miller
University of Missouri
(573) 882-5623

Published: March 18, 2019

dead leaves on a lawn

Stacked wet leaves left over winter may be suffocating out areas in your lawn now.

While spring blooms haven't arrived quite yet in much of Missouri, preparations for the largest spring green up at your home should be occurring now. In many cases, the largest "garden" of a home is the lawn, and preparing this garden bed first should be on your spring docket. This is particularly true if your landscape is a mixture of lawn and trees.

A vibrant forest floor is notoriously devoid of short vegetation. While shade from tree limbs and foliage during the season understandably makes keeping healthy plants underneath difficult, perhaps a lesser known issue resides in leaf litter. Leaving some leaf litter in the fall to overwinter probably doesn't cause too much damage to sleeping turfgrass underneath, but leaving it on in the spring when the grass is attempting to wake up is an effective grass killer.

This is especially true after this particularly wet winter and early spring. Stacks of wet leaves may be suffocating out areas of your lawn, and will develop into open pockets for weeds to infest. Leaving a houseplant covered in a wet paper bag for days wouldn't be wise, and your backyard may be experiencing this same feeling at the moment. In the current spring scenario, simply mulching up the leaves with a mower (which might be recommended in fall) will probably not be effective in clearing wet leaf litter. If the fallen leaves are wet and stuck, rake them with verve to make sure they are off the lawn and into the bag or compost pile.

Now, perhaps even more importantly than in the fall, is a crucial time to rake up the leaf litter from the turfgrass canopy and get those little green leaf blades out into the sun. Besides, why let the enjoyment of jumping in a big pile of leaves only be felt in the fall?

A few other tips for lawn maintenance are below.

  • Sharpen your mower blade! Part of your spring cleaning should include a hard look at mower maintenance (oil, belts, etc.). The mower blade should be sharpened every year, however, and if too worn replaced with a new one.
  • Spring is a great time to conduct a soil test to assess the current status of your fertilization needs. In most cases, fertilization of turfgrass will center on nitrogen which is required every year. For other nutrients, a soil test is the only way to know what the soil isn't providing. A soil test may save time, money and lessen the possibility of overfertilization and pollution from unnecessary nutrient application. For more information, see http://soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/turfsoil.aspx.
  • Plan on a fertilizer application in the next few weeks. Cool season turfgrasses like tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass will be using the mild temperatures in spring to put out growth in leaves and more importantly roots. Giving them a shot of nitrogen (0.5 lb – 1 lb nitrogen/1,000 sq ft) will help them do this. Use the lesser rate in an established lawn that will have some plant available nitrogen release from organic matter. For more information on how to fertilize your lawn, refer to the fertilizer calculator found here - http://agebb.missouri.edu/fertcalc/.
  • For other management scheduling, please see the MU Lawn Maintenance Calendar for Cool Season Grasses at https://extension2.missouri.edu/g6705 or for zoysiagrass at https://extension2.missouri.edu/G6706#Maintaining.

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REVISED: February 21, 2017