As snow melts off lawns, follow these best practices for healthy spring growth

I have to believe there will be lots of lawn showing by the time this column appears. Right now snow is melting fast, finally. What a winter. Say what you want about snow being the poor man’s fertilizer — we had too much of it.

So, here are some lawn do’s and don’ts this week. At the top of that list is to stay off yours. The soil under your lawn is saturated and walking on it will compact it. This damages the fungal network that supports it and destroys soil structure. If you wander around just a bit, yours will probably be OK, but constant compaction will eventually lead to problems, not to mention creating a pathway in your lawn.

This means, of course, that those with vole damage should wait before attempting to clean up and reseed the tracks. In case you don’t know to what I am referring, during the winter voles travel across lawns and often eat the grass at the floor of their tunnels. Your entire lawn can be damaged, but it is really nothing to worry about. Reseeding and natural growth from surrounding grass not disturbed will repair things within the month.

Next, yardeners are again reminded that the siren call of big piles of lawn fertilizer — and weed and feed lawn products — placed at the entrance to stores every spring and advertised throughout, should not be heeded. Your lawn most probably does not need feeding.

[Listen to Jeff Lowenfels’ “Teaming With Microbes” podcast]

To determine if you need to supplement your lawn with food, wait for the lawn to dry out and then just water it. I know it seems counterintuitive to wait for the lawn to dry and then water it, but humor me here. Wait a few weeks while it greens up, which it will totally without that fertilizer.

If after a few weeks the lawn doesn’t look suitably green, look for an organic microbe food, such as granulated molasses or soy meal, both of which come in 50-pound bags, to feed the microbes in your lawn. Better yet, spread around compost. They, in turn, will supply nutrients to your grass plants.


Undoubtedly, given the winds we had this winter, there will be lots of debris on area lawns, everything from branches to twigs with an occasional newspaper that didn’t make the front porch. The biggest stuff has to be picked up, but most of it should be run over with a mower. Do not bag the gleanings, but rather let them serve as microbe food and feed the lawn.

Let’s see. What have I left out as we approach lawn season? Sharpen or replace mower blades so you don’t end up with brown tips on the grasses. And, tune up your machine; it will pollute less. Consider a push reel mower.

Oh, yeah. Dandelions. They often green up first. Weed and feed products are a no-no for a number of reasons, but they also don’t work unless the soil temperature is much higher than we will see in May. My method of control is to mow the flowers down just as they appear.

As for the use of Roundup or other glyphosate products to hit individual weeds, this, too, is a no-no. The stuff disrupts a key biological process necessary to keep plants alive. Unfortunately, bacteria engage in the same processes and are killed by the stuff. These are part of the soil food web system that produces plant useable nutrients. Then you have to step in and feed the plants.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Check out for info on summer camp, Japanese orchid techniques, joining Community Supported Agriculture and so much more. Did I mention that you should join?

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.

Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), stock (10L), larkspur (20C). These numbers represent the days to germinate. C means grow cool and L means seeds need light.

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Garden beds: Pull back mulches, but save so you can put them back after the soil warms. Consider applying compost or organic microbe food to their surfaces. No tilling as it is verboten.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.