How to Prep Your Northwestern Wisconsin Lawn for Spring

How to Prep Your Northwestern Wisconsin Lawn for Spring

#2 Rake and Wake Your Grass

Just as you like to hunker down on those dark winter days, so, too, do your grass and trees. “As soon as the snow fades, vigorously rake that grass to wake it up and begin to get it to grow,” says Walt Nelson, horticulture program leader for the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Monroe County, N.Y.Rake out areas of thatch — dried, dead grass that can be thick and deep. If you don’t, thatch will keep oxygen and sunlight from other plants and grass. Check for fungus and mold growth. Don’t worry if you run across “snow mold” — a pinkish or gray web over matted blades of grass, or possibly just a slimy brown mess. Despite its name, it’s rarely serious. Gently rake it out and it will dry. “You’d need 100 consecutive days of snow for snow mold to kill the grass,” says Tony Koski, extension turf specialist at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins.The grass may be a bit brown, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. There are two types of grasses. “Cool season grasses green up in early spring. Warm season grasses green up really slowly in spring,” Koski says.


A lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic, or neglect may need an application of grass seed to fill in those patches. Overseeding is the process of sowing seed over existing grass. Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer (starter fertilizer) when you overseed. Keep the new seed moist until it has sprouted and is actively growing. Five weeks after the grass germinates and sprouts, you can begin a normal fertilization routine using quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.

It is possible to apply seed only to the visible bare patches, but it is also quite common to overseed the entire lawn to ensure that the lawn remains thick and healthy. This can also be a way to introduce new varieties of grass seed into your lawn. For example, if you've recently lost some shade trees, overseeding with a sunny-grass mix can help your previously shady lawn continue to thrive.

Fall is the preferred time to do your overseeding, but if your grass is in dire need of help, you can do it in spring. Be prepared to contend with some crabgrass cropping up and feeding off the fertilizer.

The Spruce / David Karoki


2. Aerate the soil

Ideally, aerating should be done in winter, but if you haven’t done it yet, ‘do it NOW!’ urges Yeates. This is an essential spring lawn care step because ‘after winter, your soil is like to be highly compacted, a result of the rainfall and snow, the weight of debris on the surface, and the low levels of root growth during the cold months.’

Skip aerating and you risk drainage issues, water pooling ‘in any small troughs in an uneven lawn, drowning these areas while leaving the higher ground with very little moisture’, which will lead to weak grassroots. 

Aerating the lawn is very easy to do using aeration shoes, a lawn corer, or a good old pitchfork.

Top tip: For the best results, you should be looking to penetrate at least three inches deep and no more than three inches apart.

(Image credit: NinaMalyna / Getty)

Apply Post-Emergent Herbicides (Or Pull Spring Weeds)

Dandelions are cheerful yellow flowers that are also stubborn perennial growers, first making their appearance in the spring. To get rid of this weed, snap off their flower stems before they produce seeds. Or, if you are more ambitious, dig them out by the roots using a tool that will extract the entire root and keep it from resprouting. A variety of weed-popper tools are available that do a good job.

If you choose to spray a post-emergent herbicide for dandelions, get one formulated for broadleaf weeds. For organic green thumbs who do not use pesticides or herbicides on the lawn, you can harvest the dandelion greens by hand.

Other spring weeds to deal with include chickweed, white clover, wild violets, and others, though these usually make their appearance after the dandelions, in late spring and into summer.


Unless your lawn is badly overgrown with weeds, it is best to apply chemical herbicides by spot-spraying weeds rather than over-spraying the entire lawn. While it might seem like a chore, spot-treating becomes quite easy if you start early in the spring, even before the first mowing. As the season progresses, a few minutes of spot-spraying (or weed-pulling) after each mowing will keep your lawn looking great all season.

4. Evaluate your soil’s condition

This is a very important step if you don’t know what soil type you have. As Yeates stresses, ‘poor soil quality will inhibit grass growth. Your main concerns here are pH level and Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium levels (NPK). Your soil pH should ideally be between 6 and 7.5 and should have a high level of all three of the primary nutrients.’

Fortunately, testing your soil is actually pretty easy – ‘a simple soil test bought from your local nursery can quickly assess the situation. Add lime to increase pH, sulfur to decrease pH, and soil enhancer rich in the N, P, or K ingredient you are short on to remedy nutrient issues.’ If you prefer to buy online, we like how speedy Luster Leaf’s rapidtest test kit is for lawns, it comes with plant guidance depending on your soil’s pH also.



High traffic patches of lawn can become compacted and inhospitable to grass roots. In order to alleviate the compaction, manual or mechanical aeration is necessary. This process involves perforating the soil with small holes to give the roots room to spread and allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the soil.

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Check for any bare patches of ground and plant grass seeds. Planting grass in the spring requires a lot of watering and weeding during the hot summer months, so reseed in moderation. Also keep in mind that, once fall comes, you’ll most likely have to seed again.


#5 Don’t Forget the Mower and What-Nots

Winter is hard on other garden elements. Henriksen recommends making sure your irrigation system works properly, and checking to see if there’s damage to any outdoor lighting. Fix broken or damaged patio furniture and any wooden structures. Even clean off and refresh your deck once it’s warm enough that power-washing won’t create a deck ice rink.Don’t forget to tune up the lawn mower and string trimmer. Clean, sharpen, and oil your pruning shears so they’ll be ready when the temperatures start to rise.Prepping the yard won’t be just a single weekend event, but if you get the heavy lifting out of the way early, it won’t be long before you’re leaving your socks and boots behind, and feeling the warm, soft grass between your toes.Related: Don’t Like Yard Maintenance? Try These Ideas


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