Fertilizing & Maintaining Your Lawn in the Spring with Mike Darcy

March 15, 2023

green lawn with stone path through it

A well-manicured front lawn will often create the first impression of a house and the garden within. Even driving through a neighborhood, the house with the well-tended lawn will stand out in a positive way from the others. The well-tended lawn did not just happen overnight and like most plants, a lawn needs to have conditions to its’ liking to perform its best. These “conditions” are not difficult and with some basic information, the well-tended lawn can become a reality.

Unlike most plants that are grown in the garden, a lawn is not an individual plant, like perhaps a rose bush or a fruit tree, but a lawn is made up of thousands of individual plants. These individual plants are all fighting to survive, and the following tips can be helpful in making this a reality.

man's hand holding soil with lawn and trowel out of focus in background

Soil Test

Soil test kits are readily available in garden centers and can provide vital information on what, if any, nutrients are deficient. It is difficult to know what nutrients might be needed, if it is not known what is lacking.


In the spring or early fall, if there are bare areas, it may be time to add some fresh seed. This is especially true with older lawns that may have been planted many years ago and need a replenishment. Check with the local garden center manager for the best type of seed. Generally, for the east side of the Cascades, Kentucky bluegrass could be part of the mix. For the western slope of the Cascades, a mix of several types of perennial rye along with some fescue would be appropriate.

man pushing broadcast spreader dispensing fertilizer on lawn


Proper fertilization is essential. On established lawns, nitrogen may be the only nutrient that is needed. This is another reason for having soil tested, because if the phosphorus and potassium levels are high, there is no need to add more. All fertilizer products will have three numbers on their label, the first is nitrogen, the second is phosphorus, and the third is potassium. Many soils in western Oregon and Washington have high levels of phosphorus and if this is the case, select a product with a zero as the second number. Nitrogen will be the nutrient needed most.


To get even spreading of a fertilizer product, a drop spreader or a hand spreader should be used. Throwing fertilizer on a lawn by hand is not a reliable method of application and if too much is applied, the grass may be burned. Always water after applying fertilizer.


A soil test would tell if lime is needed. Often, soils in western Oregon and Washington become too acidic and lime can help reduce this and help the overall vigor of the grass.. Early spring or fall are the best times for applying lime. Liming is usually not necessary east of the Cascades.


Mowing on a regular basis, perhaps weekly, or twice a week, in the spring and summer may be necessary. This will help keep the lawn looking its best. Never remove more than one third of the leaf blade. To bag the mowed clippings or to mulch them is optional. Many mowers have a mulching feature and adding this mulch is a benefit to the soil. Bagged clippings can be added to the compost pile provided that a weed and feed has not been used.

Dandelion weeds in tin bucket with trowel sitting on lawn


A healthy, thick, and vigorous lawn will prevent many weeds from germinating and growing. Nevertheless, some weeds are likely to appear. Dandelions, in particular, can seem to appear almost overnight. It is probably the most common and easily identified weed in the United States. If weeds are few, pulling or digging them out is a good option. Unfortunately, the dandelion is one of the most difficult to pull or dig out because it has a taproot that will often break and then regrow. There are weed control products that can be applied directly to a weed to kill it without killing the surrounding grass. Always read and follow label directions.

oscillating sprinkler watering green lawn


The climate and soils in the Pacific Northwest are so variable that it is difficult to predict when and how much a lawn will need to be watered. Certainly, if the grass blades are wilting, that would be an indication that irrigation is needed. Some locales may have restrictions on water usage for a lawn in the summer and if that is the case, try to have the lawn as healthy as possible throughout the spring so that it will be going into the summer in a strong and vigorous condition.


A lawn is meant to not only be visually attractive, but it is also meant to be enjoyed. Children love playing on a lawn, and so do adults. Whether it is the corn hole game, badminton, croquet, etc., a lawn can provide the setting.


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