Get your hands dirty and your yard ready for spring fun.
Spring has officially arrived—at least, according to the calendar it has.
Iowa has been plagued with the threat of severe weather, including downpours, hail storms, and tornadoes, and we haven’t even hit Iowa’s peak tornado season in May.
But with spring showers comes spring warmth. Days are getting longer, and before you know it, we’ll be soaking up all kinds of vitamin D—especially with the return of routine yard work.
If you’re ready to get your lawn in shape, these eight tips are for you.
Get Swept Away
Good for your yard and for your mental health, the basic task of raking lets you channel your inner zen master as you clear away winter’s remnants from your lawn. A quick rake goes a long way (and is a great job for any kids in your house, too).
Not feeling up to the physical strain of raking? Lawn sweepers do the same job with less stress on your body. They come in push and tow-behind varieties and are available from retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Family Handyman and Bob Vila both have good guides to help you decide what kind of sweeper you need—from those meant for leaves, lawn clippings, and pine needles to heavier-duty models that can handle rocks and other bulky debris.
Get to the Core of Things
We’re talking about lawn aeration, here. Give your grass a breath of fresh air by making small holes in the soil to allow air, water, and nutrients to seep into the roots. Most lawns don’t need aeration, but if yours has a lot of foot traffic, heavy soil, or excessive thatch, it’ll benefit from a spring coring.
If you’re near Grimes, head into Canoyer Garden Center—it’s a one-stop shop for all things aeration (plus, you can pick up a few new plants while you’re there). Canoyer also has locations in Lincoln, Ankeny, and Papillion.
The Home Depot says that core aerators are usually best for large yards, whereas spike aerators are made for smaller yards or yard sections.
Regardless of the type of aerator you purchase, you should go over your lawn in one direction, then go over it again in a perpendicular direction. Here’s a handy guide.
If you don’t want to fuss with new equipment, Tompkins Lawn Care Inc. is a good resource in Solon. In addition to aeration, they offer tree pruning, pollinator protection, and a variety of other seasonal services.
Patch Things Up
Don’t let bare spots ruin your summer lawn game. Sprinkling grass seed is a simple way to ensure a lush and lovely lawn all season long.
Start your DIY seeding by figuring out what kind of seed you need. Nature’s Seed breaks it down right here with a map of each growing climate and soil type in Iowa.
For example, if you’re located in the colder northern region of the state, a blend of Kentucky bluegrass, Tall Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass seeds is best. Dealing with noticeable patches? Opt for Perennial Ryegrass.
Fertilize Like a (Responsible) Boss
Give your lawn the nutrients it craves with a healthy dose of fertilizer—but wait until you’ve had to mow a few times. Waiting helps healthy roots get established first.
To DIY, start by finding out which fertilizer you need and when to start spreading it. Check out The Iowa Gardener’s Lawn Care Schedule, which can help you determine what your lawn needs based on how it looks.
If you have Kentucky bluegrass in your area, it’s best to fertilize sometime between June-August. For cold-season grass regions, aim to fertilize starting in early April.
If you’d rather leave it to the professionals, the folks at UltraLawn offer a variety of helpful services for the Cedar Rapids area, as well as several other communities, like Marion, Iowa City, Springdale, Atkins, and more.
No matter how your lawn gets fertilized, keep the fertilizer from spreading onto sidewalks and streets by sweeping or using a leaf blower around the edges of the grass. Toxic runoff into your area’s water system can be a big problem for everyone—and bits of fertilizer on sidewalks can be dangerous for pets, whose paws easily track it indoors (and into their mouths).
Get Your Prune On
Pull on your gardening gloves and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands by trimming your trees and shrubs.
While you might think pruning simply tidies up the yard, removing dead or damaged branches will actually encourage new growth, giving your outdoor space a clean, polished, and lush look. Of all the gardening-related activities, pruning is one of the easiest to manage on your own.
To DIY: Less is more. Start with branches or stems that are dead, dying, diseased, or broken. Prune “energy suckers” (long shoots growing out of the base of a tree) as close to the tree as possible. Water sprouts (shoots that grow straight up from the main branches) should be pruned to help prevent branches from overlapping.
When pruning branches that have buds on them, make the cut just after the bud—that’ll encourage more growth. When pruning older trees and shrubs with multiple stems (like lilacs), you can cut up to a third of the old stems to bring on new ones.
PRO TIP: To encourage new growth, always cut back to a bud or branch that’s growing out of the central stem or trunk, leaving about a half-inch between the bud or branch and your cut. Make your cuts on an angle that slants down and away from buds/branches.
Need pruners? The Strategist recommends the Felco F2 Classic Bypass Hand Pruners, but if you’re on a budget, the Corona 3180 Bypass Pruner will do nicely. And you can always grab a pair while you’re picking up some plants and a core aerator at Canoyer Garden Center.
Want to get more specific about pruning? Check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Keep it Clean
Don’t let those gutters get you down. Make sure your gutters are clean and free of debris before the spring rains set in.
For you Iowans who aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, you’ll need a few tools to get those gutters cleared out yourself.
The most important tool is a stable ladder placed on solid ground. Don’t overextend yourself when you’re on the ladder—it may seem like a hassle to move it continuously as you work, but you’ll prevent serious accidents by doing so. Safety is paramount when it comes to gutter cleaning, so wear protective goggles and gloves—ideally rubber ones. You can clear debris from the gutter with your gloved hands, or use a gutter scoop or trowel to get down into the nitty gritty.
Once you’ve removed the bulk of the debris, give your gutters a quick rinse with a hose. The Home Depot recommends using the spray setting, or you can use a power washer if you have one available.
PRO TIP: If you find a bird’s nest in your gutters, don’t touch or remove the nest. This is especially true in the middle of nesting season as you can accidentally hurt or kill the birds and their babies. Contact the Iowa Wildlife Center to safely remove the nest for you. To prevent birds from nesting in your gutters, put up gutter guards.
For gutter cleaning without the hassle, reach out to pros like Affordable Gutter Cleaning and Repair, based in Davenport and surrounding areas.
Sprinkle Some Love
Start by checking out the paths of your sprinkler jets, pruning back anything that’s grown out over the past year, or adjusting the spray pattern to avoid the vegetation. Even tree trunks don’t like being hit with repeated hard sprays of water. If you can’t change where the spray hits, try reducing the intensity of the jets.
Wipe off sprinkler heads, then check for leaks, low pressure, or any sprinkler heads that aren’t working, which you may need to replace.
If you’re dealing with low-pressure issues, The Spruce recommends checking both the backflow device and the water pipes to ensure everything is working properly.
Does all of this sound like too much trouble? Don’t sweat it. Iowa Irrigation is a Huxley area business that installs sprinklers for residential and commercial properties. Give them a call for advice if you run into issues. Because sometimes, it’s just easier to leave things to the professionals.
PRO TIP: Don’t turn your sprinkler systems on until overnight temperatures have warmed up. If it’s still freezing at night, leave your irrigation system off. Irrigation Solutions suggest checking nighttime temperatures on your weather app to determine the best day to turn your sprinklers on for spring.
Plan Like a Pro
Make a list of the plants and flowers you want to add to your yard. Get creative and have fun—this is your chance to make your yard truly shine.
The Iowa Gardener suggests planting cool weather annuals, like California poppy and larkspur, in April. Roses, pansies, and shrubs are great additions to your garden that can be planted around the same time.
In May, opt for planting perennial flowers, along with warm-season vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Green beans, squash, and cucumbers can be planted in June, along with any remaining perennial seeds you have.
Want to get more specific about your garden planning? Check out Farmer’s Almanac for a complete planting calendar for the Des Moines area.