After the privations of winter, spring is a real boon for most lawns - the increased sunlight, and the sudden increase in heat gives cold- and warm-season grasses a new lease on life, and the lack of icy frosts encourages dormant plants of all kinds to burst back into life; growing thick and green where they were previously stunted and weak.

That doesn't mean you can just leave your lawn to grow though. Tempting as it might be to sit back and watch your garden spring to life, there are all sorts of important jobs that need to be taken care of if you want to enjoy a thick and well-developed lawn come summer. Some of these tasks will be all too familiar to the passionate gardener: moss removal, weed killing, and even mowing are perennial tasks but there are some more specific jobs that need to be carried out in spring too, including overseeding, which needs to be carried out early so that new shoots have time to establish themselves before summer.

The particulars of certain fundamental tasks, such as mowing, are also significantly altered by the season, and the order that you tackle these tasks is important too. Topdress before you aerate and you’ll miss the opportunity to really nourish your lawn’s roots, leaving you with a sub-standard lawn that won’t respond as well as it might to the treatment.

Rather than present you with a smattering of different jobs, or a brief checklist that skimps on the fine detail, we’ve put together a detailed spring lawn care guide, designed to help you nourish and invigorate your lawn by presenting all of the required tasks in a logical order, and explaining the specific alterations that need to be made to get the most out of the season. 

Removing Moss

One particularly common post-winter problem is the growth of spongy, green moss all over your lawn. This might not seem like a severe issue, but it’s worth remembering that, come the first scorching rays of summer sun, those thick crops of moss are going to wither and brown; leaving you with a patchy, balding lawn.

In our winter lawn care guide, we recommended attempting to keep on top of moss growth by routinely scarifying during, but there’s no guarantee that this will have eliminated the problem; like most unwanted invaders, moss grows fast, and wet winters can encourage the kind of rapid proliferation that has to be dealt with in spring, when moisture levels drop and you can actually get on top of things.

The best ways to tackle winter moss is to add a diluted, water-soluble moss killer to your watering can, and pour it over the affected area. Once the offending plant matter has blackened, you can then scarify your whole lawn. For small lawns, this can be done with a rake, or a scarifier ; simply work your way across the lawn, pulling up any. You’ll have to use quite a lot of pressure if you’re using a rake, as the moss will still have to be tugged out of the ground. If that’s an issue, you may well find that a dedicated scarifier, which uses hooked blades to slice and tease moss from between grass blades, is a much more efficient option.

For larger lawns, scarification is best done with a towed lawn tractor attachment, like this example from SCH which can be attached to most lawn tractors, and will allow you to rake up large amounts of moss without missing any small patches . If you have a large lawn, it might also be worth considering a more efficient way of spreading moss killer too, as hand watering can be a very time consuming process. One popular option is to buy a granulated moss killer, and use a reliable and robust towed garden spreaders to spread it evenly across the space you’re treating. This will ensure that you get all of the moss, and don’t leave anything lurking in the corners. If you’re very keen to use a liquid moss killer, you can also use a sprayer to get even and complete coverage - it’s really just a matter of preference, and we find that both methods generally work equally well.  

Note: Don’t leave your dead moss on the lawn. It might seem tempting, and you might even be able to talk yourself into believing that the moss will decompose naturally, but the truth is that leaving dead moss to rot can stop sunlight from reaching patches of grass, and leave you with an ugly lawn for the better part of the spring/summer period. You’ll also be passing up on the opportunity to free up the space wasted by moss on your lawn, which means that you won’t be able to seed new grass to take its place.

Weed Treatment

While you’re pouring moss killer over your lawn, you might also want to consider using a selective weedkiller too.

The long, dark months of winter can often stunt grass growth, while still providing enough sunlight for hardier weeds to flourish which means that, as we move into spring, you might notice a sudden proliferation of unwanted plant life taking root amongst the more desirable swatches grass. One of the best ways to remedy this is to spread a selective weedkiller over the whole lawn, effectively stamping out the problem in one fell swoop, and allowing your whole lawn to spring back and fill in the gaps while the weather’s still perfectly suited to encouraging fresh growth.

Even application is the key to efficient weed killing. Because they are so quick to bounce back, you want to make sure you eliminate each and every imposter, rather than killing most of them, but leaving small pockets of hardier, shade-loving weeds behind that can then spread across your lawn as we move into summer. Problems with leaving pockets of untreated weeds are exacerbated when you start feeding your lawn too, as most lawn feeds also provide common weeds with the nutrients they need to flourish. As such, we would always recommend that you use a good pushed spreader to to evenly distribute weed killing granules, or a dedicated sprayer to properly disperse liquid weedkillers across the whole lawn.

And when it comes to picking a weedkiller, we’d recommend an all-purpose variety, containing either mecoprop-P, or 2,4-D plus mecoprop-P,  depending on which weeds are most prominent in your lawn. For a full guide to identifying the weeds plaguing your grass, we’d strongly recommend this article on the RHS website.

Aeration

Autumn notwithstanding, early spring is probably the single best time of year to aerate lawns, particularly if they are made up of predominantly cold-season grasses.

By opening up the structure of your soil, aeration allows oxygen, water and other valuable nutrients to penetrate the surface layer, and reach your lawn’s roots - laying the foundations for really strong growth later in the year. Aeration also reduces compaction; promoting proper drainage and ensuring that your grass benefits from the top dressing and feeding treatments mentioned in later sections of this guide, which is why it’s important to start as soon as things start to wake up after winter.

Aeration is  a relatively simple process - you should always start by watering the lawn so that the soil is soft and pliable. Do this a couple of days in advance and you’ll find that you have no problem penetrating the surface with your chosen tool.  If you have a small garden, you’ll then need to take a specialised lawn aerator, and work your way up and down the lawn; punching holes every 6-8 inches so that air, water and essential nutrients can reach the majority of your lawn’s root network.

For larger lawns, a towed or hand-pushed aerator might be more suitable. Good aeration depends on the consistent and even removal of soil, and trying to achieve this by hand is very difficult when you have a lot of space to cover.

A core aerator is the most desirable type to use too. Although simply punching holes straight into the soil does help, removing soil plugs allows a lot more air to access the soil, and vastly increases the surface area available for the absorption of new nutrients.

If you’re not sure whether or not you need to aerate your lawn, you can test for compaction by pouring water on a small patch. If pools form quickly, or it takes a while for the water to seep n, you should definitely consider aerating. If you’d prefer a more scientific method, you can also use a post hole digger or similar tool to extract a vertical strip of lawn, and then examine the exposed cross-section. If grass roots are struggling to penetrate beyond the first couple of inches, that’s another sure-fire sign that aeration is needed.

Top Dressing & De-Thatching

A lot of people think that top dressing should be reserved for levelling off a lawn, protecting grass before winter frosts or correcting an imbalanced soil profile but the truth is that top dressing can also help to break down thatch and improve drainage, which is the reason we’ve recommended that you undertake this task in spring.

Removing thatch helps to encourage a vigorous lawn by helping key nutrients to infiltrate your soil, and nourish the roots of your grass. It also allows lawn feed, discussed later in this article, to work effectively, and improves your lawn’s ability to respond to seasonal showers, which is a big plus.

To top dress, and start the process of breaking down thatch, you just need to scatter an even layer of sand or grit over a freshly-aerated lawn, and then allow your preparation to settle. We have a very comprehensive [guide to top-dressing on our blog], which provides specific guidance, and recommends different preparations depending on your desired result. We’d recommend skipping to the Top Dressing to Improve Drainage section and then following the instructions given.

After the topdressing preparation has had time to work its magic, you can then go over your grass with a dedicated dethatching tool - either towed or pushed, to remove what’s left of the layer of dead grass.

Overseeding

A lot of the tasks that we’ve mentioned above result in bare patches being left on your lawn, and spring is absolutely the best time to try and eliminate this issue too. The increased sunlight and abundance of rainfall conspire to create the perfect growing conditions for new grass plants, and seeding after you’ve successfully treated and aerated your lawn means that you’re maximising new grass’s exposure to all of these important elements.

Overseeding is, as you might imagine a relatively simple and straightforward process. There’s no need to dig or till the soil. Instead, you just need to break up the soil a little with a rake or trowel, and then scatter a high-quality seed over your freshly de-thatched lawn. You should also then water the lawn regularly for a week or two, to ensure that new life can quickly take root.

Generally speaking, seed should be spread at a rate of about 25g per square metre, and unless you are only treating a few specific bald patches, you should try to spread it evenly across your lawn using some kind of spreader, to ensure that you don’t accidently neglect a specific area. There is no danger to overseeding and no negative consequence to scattering seed over a thriving part of your lawn; the new plants will simply never take root because of the increased competition for sunlight and nutrients.

When picking a seed, it’s best to match the grass that you already have, or at least try to keep to the same seasonal temperament so that you don’t find your grass growing at different rates in different areas, depending on the weather.

Feeding

To properly fuel growth, you may also want to consider feeding your lawn - this helps any new grass added during the overseeding process mentioned above to take root, and it can also help your pre-existing lawn to really surge into life too; causing it to burst upwards, and giving it a more healthy and vibrant colour.

It’s not just about making your lawn more luscious either - fertilising your lawn will make your grass thicker, which, as well as looking nice, has the added advantage of crowding out any weeds that try to take root as we move into summer, meaning that you are much more likely to be able to enjoy a uniform lawn, free from pesky invaders.

To feed your lawn, simply apply a good, nitrogen-rich spring or summer fertiliser to the desired area, following the manufacturer's guidelines exactly. These fertilisers encourage leafy growth specifically, and are ideal for use in the March - April period. If you are covering a medium to large size lawn with feed, we would always recommend using a spreader, either backpack or towed, to make the task more efficient.

Mowing

Obviously spring is also the ideal time to resume regular mowing of your lawn - the increased sunlight and nutritional work mentioned above will encourage sudden spurts of growth, and it’s very important that you keep on top of this or you’ll end up with a straggly, unkempt lawn as we move into summer.

You do need to be very careful about the height at which you mow though. You don’t want to shave more than a third off your grass as anything more stringent can really stress the grass, and cutting below the crown is a definite no-no, as it can stunt growth for the entirety of the season.

Grass is still very much in recovery after winter too, which makes it very vulnerable to wear and tear. As such, we’d always recommend a light touch when mowing between March and June. Little and often is preferable, and we always recommend using the lightest possible mower for the work. There are a good selection of high-quality mowers on the relevant page of our website, if you don’t already have one, and don’t forget to take a look at our lawn striping guide if you want your spring lawn to really stand out.