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Spring Lawn Care Tips

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By Mark & Mary Smith

As the weather turns warm and the grass turns green, you may think that now is the time to fertilize your lawn. Don't do it! -- at least not immediately.

Ideally, you would have applied fertilizer and taken soil samples last September or early October. But if you need a second chance, it is possible to safely fertilize in the spring, if you follow these tips.

Do not apply fertilizer until after May 20. You will see grass shoot up in April and May during spring green-up. If you fertilize during these early months, you are really throwing gas on a fire. That is because early fertilization makes the grass grow too quickly, which stresses the grass plant into failure. It also makes grass susceptible to fungi attack, as the lush growth produced by the fertilizer is irresistible to brown patch, dollar spot and pythium.

Look at what's growing in your lawn before you think about fertilizing. Fertilizer is necessary for healthy grass but if the grass is not there it won't magically appear. If you don't have at least 70% good grass in your yard, you will end up fertilizing weeds. Misuse of fertilizer by the homeowner is a major source of nitrogen pollution in the Bay.

If you need to overseed, use a University of Maryland-recommended variety of turf type such as tall fescue. Two excellent pamphlets are available at the town office: "Agronomy Mimeo 77," about turf types, and "Agronomy Mimeo 90," titled "General Guidelines for Lawn Maintenance in Maryland."

The Smiths are residents of Riverdale Park; Mark is an agronomist.

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