Thinking turf in the early spring

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

As many of us are starting to settle down for a long weekend of bouncing basketballs, it’s likely that the bouncing temperatures over the next weeks will get at least some of us to venture out into the lawn to look around and make plans for grooming our landscape this year.


If you venture out to your lawn and you think you have a crabgrass problem, think again. You do not have crabgrass present in your lawn at this time of year. Two grasses can be commonly confused as crabgrass and they are tall fescue and quackgrass.

Tall fescue usually starts growing quicker in the spring than the traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawn mixture, and thus, gets some folks to think it must be crabgrass. Usually by May the small patches of tall fescue that might be in your bluegrass lawn start to blend back in as the bluegrass starts to grow. If you’re had enough of the tall fescue patches you can dig them out, spray them out with a non-selective herbicide, or use solarization (Secure clear plastic on the patch and leave in place for about a week to “burn out” the fescue.).

Quackgrass can also be confused with crabgrass for those that have crabgrass on the brain. To identify which grass or weed you actually have, please visit For tips on controlling quackgrass refer to the May 5, 2006, Landscape Alert issue.

Early spring fertilization

If you’re feeling the urge to go outside and apply some fertilizer to help that turf get growing, go back inside and lay down until that feeling goes away. It’s only mid-March, and in many areas of the lawn with northern exposure, it’s questionable whether the frost is even out of the ground yet. In most situations, the earliest the first fertilizer application should be applied would be in combination with a preemergence crabgrass herbicide application, which in most years is applied around April 15. If you applied a fall fertilizer application and do not need to apply a preemergence application in mid-April, you could probably easily wait until May to make your first fertilizer application of the year.

Get in line for maintenance

If I were to guess I would predict that the first “real” mowing of the year is probably at least three weeks away. You might want to take a shot at starting the mower this weekend in case you need some regular maintenance to get it purring. The lines at the local lawn mower repair shop are going to get long in a hurry. If nothing else, make sure to take your blade to get sharpened.  

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