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Drought-damaged Lawns Require Proper Care

LINCOLN, Neb. — Blossoming trees and flowers signify the return of spring, but so does green grass.

Spring brings colorful plants back to life, including lawns throughout the state. As turf re-emerges from winter, Zac Reicher, University of Nebraska-Lincoln turfgrass management specialist, offers suggestions for how to help lawns recover from a dry year.

Reicher said that winter conditions were favorable for healthy spring lawns. Nebraska received enough snow to prevent the worst of winter drying but not enough to cause problems like snow mold. At the same time, last summer’s drought could cause some problems as turf resurfaces from the winter.

“If your lawn was not green and growing by the time winter got here, it is not going to magically reappear over the winter,” Reicher said.

With that in mind, Reicher recommends seeding as soon as possible – no later than mid-May – in dead lawns. Seeds will be competing with weeds during this time of year, and early planting will make them more competitive. Because of the undeveloped root system, it is also important to keep the seedlings well watered throughout the summer and apply fertilizer carefully.

“Since the seedlings will not develop a good root system until next fall, low rates of fertilizer applied frequently will be most effective,” Reicher said.

Pre-emergence herbicides can damage new seedlings and should be avoided. However, weed control is important so that weeds will not overtake the growing turf. Suggestions for products and application are available at turf.unl.edu.

For those lawns that survived the drought and winter, mowing early in the season will result in healthier grass as summer arrives. Because grass grows from its crown at the base of the plant, or essentially from the ground up, waiting too long to mow could cause the new green grass to be “scalped.”

“You’re getting rid of the dead, brown leaf material from winter, but as the green leaf material pushes itself up, you don’t want to mow too much off,” Reicher said.

More information on spring turf care is available at turf.unl.edu.

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