Milwaukee/NARI Offers Spring Lawn and Garden Tips: Solutions to Common Winter Landscape Problems

March 13, 2013

Hope springs eternal. The days are getting longer, the birds are back and singing, the sun is higher and warmer… and just look what old man winter has done to your landscaping! While your yard and garden may have been perfect last fall, odds are they may not look so hot after winter is through with them. But don’t be dismayed, the members of Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for 51 years, have just the right tips to help you get your lawn and garden going, just in time for spring.

“Spring may be right around the corner, but we must exercise a degree of patience while we endure the final weeks of winter,” said Erin Maurer of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, Inc., in Germantown, WI. “There are many projects that can be tackled that will help prepare us for the upcoming growing season while at the same time keep our spring fever in check.”

One of the most obvious off-season tasks to focus on is brainstorming, researching, planning, and designing your gardens for the upcoming season. “This can be done on your own or with the help of a professional landscaping firm,” said Maurer.

As winter comes to a close, we have a few more minutes of daylight each day and the temperatures become more bearable. Consider scratching the following tasks off of your to do list:

• Make sure gutters, downspouts, or inlet basins for sub-surface drainage systems are clear of debris before the normal heavy rains in spring. Not only is this critical to protect your home, but standing water and flash flood-like conditions can also harm plants and cause ruts in your yard, washing away valuable topsoil in the process.

• As the snow melts and reveals all the elements of your landscape, don’t forget to get outside and inspect the “hardscaping” features on your property too, such as trellises and decks. Make repairs now while we wait for more ideal gardening weather.

• If you are reusing certain supplies from previous years (like pots to grow seeds in), make sure to disinfect them. Pruning tools should also be disinfected.

• Clean, sharpen, and lubricate your garden tools such a digging shovels and pruning tools. Well-maintained equipment will last longer, make your work a lot easier and is better for your plants and soils. “Nice clean pruning cuts are essential to optimize plant healing and disease/insect resistance,” Maurer indicates.

If you have put down any winter mulches, covering boughs, or used rose cones, you must keep an eye on them as temperatures and the intensity of the sun increase. “Covering materials should be removed once the temperatures hover consistently around the freezing mark. However, we all know that ‘consistent’ plus ‘weather in Wisconsin’ don’t really go together,” said Maurer. “You may need to uncover and recover plants as we move into April, in order to prevent tender, vulnerable growth from sprouting too soon.” If tree wraps have been used, they should be unwrapped in March or as the weather begins to warm. Other winter protection that was set up to reduce damage by our furry friends is generally removed in late March or April, as well.

“If you plan on mulching this year, that is a project that can begin relatively early in spring. April would be a good estimate,” said Maurer. “Be mindful not to pile the mulch up too deep, two to three inches is about all that is needed.” While shredded bark is the most common mulch used, it can tend to form a crust that becomes impenetrable over time. “To be sure air and water can move though your mulch layer, I suggest roughing up your old layer of mulch before adding new,” she said.

“Here are some basic principles that apply to most lawns. However, every lawn is unique and may require specific attention,” said Benjamin Protzmann of La Rosa Landscape Company, Inc., in Cedarburg.

Early Spring
Inspect your lawn for damage caused from snow removal, animals, and rodents. “Rake any damaged lawn areas to remove damaged turf and remove debris such as branches and gravel from the turf,” he said. Apply a crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide blended with a slow release fertilizer to your lawn. The crabgrass pre-emergent will help prevent existing crabgrass seeds in your lawn from germinating and the slow release fertilizer will feed your lawn during early spring.

Also inspect your lawn for drainage related issues. “Spring is a great time to monitor how your property drains and to diagnose potential drainage problems,” Protzmann said. “The ground will likely be too moist to correct any drainage issues in spring, but at least you can identify the problem.” Spring is a great time to call in a professional to help you diagnose drainage problems and design drainage solutions to correct drainage problems on your property.

Late Spring
Late spring and early summer can be a great time to plant grass seed. “Most of our grass seeds germinate when the soil temperatures are in the 60-85 degree range. A common mistake is planting grass seed as soon as the weather gets warm in spring but most of our grass seeds will not germinate when planted in early spring because the soil temperatures are still too cold,” Protzmann said. If you did apply a crabgrass pre-emergent, you should wait approximately 90 days from the application date before planting grass seed, unless you are going to disturb the existing soil by roto-tilling before planting the grass seed.

“The best way to have a healthy lawn and prevent potential lawn diseases is to use proper cultural practices, which include mowing regularly at the proper height (approximately three inches) and feeding your lawn with properly timed applications of fertilizer,” Protzmann said.

For more information, visit the Council’s website at

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