Lawn Care Calendar

A Month-By-Month Care Schedule For Cool- And Warm-Season Grasses

by Tina Mast // January - February - March 2018

In our area of North Carolina, we can grow either cool-season or warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses – such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye, tall fescue, and creeping red fescue – grow well during the cool months, between September and May. If you are planting a cool-season lawn, I recommend planting fescue blend for best performance in our area. Fescues are also more shade-tolerant than bluegrass. Perennial rye is not reliable as a permanent lawn and is usually used to overseed dormant warm-season lawns for winter color. Warm-season grasses – such as bahia, Bermuda, carpetgrass, centipede, St. Augustine, and Zoysia – thrive in hot weather (80 – 95 degrees) and go dormant when the weather turns cool. 

Following is a lawn care schedule that will help this be the year of your best lawn ever.

Cool Season Grasses

– January: Do not fertilize this month. Avoid walking on frozen lawns. Handpull winter annual weeds such as henbit and chickweed or mow them down before they go to seed.
– February: Service your lawn mower. You can fertilize established lawns at this time. Scout for weeds. Apply pre-emergent when the daffodils and forsythia bloom (which may be the next month, depending on the weather).
– March: Fertilize this month, if necessary, according to your soil test results. If your lawn has good color and vigor, skip it and wait to apply in the fall (the best time to fertilize). Apply pre-emergent when the daffodils or forsythia bloom. You can overseed bare spots now, but the ideal time to seed or overseed is fall.
– April: Do not fertilize established lawns now. Mow frequently (no more than 1/3 the height of the lawn). Water early in the morning, if needed. On clay soils, apply 1 inch of water per rainless week. 
– May: Gradually raise mowing height to 21/2 to 31/2 inches as temperatures warm. Mow frequently. Post emergent herbicides formulated for your lawn may be used to control weeds. 
– June: Mow frequently. Fescue is less drought tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass. During dry spells, water fescue if needed, but at least every three weeks without rain. Kentucky bluegrass can go dormant and begin to grow again once favorable conditions return. 
– July: See May and June. If summer diseases such as brown patch or Pythium are present, be sure to collect clippings instead of leaving them on the grass. And if you are irrigating, do so before sunrise. If necessary, apply fungicides.
– August: Water dormant lawns every three weeks if it hasn’t rained (or you may have to reseed in the fall). Mow regularly, no more than 1/3 of grass height. Apply pre-emergent for winter annual or perennial weeds. Lawns that look wilted, even after watering, and/or have been torn up by birds or moles may have grub infestation. Cut and roll back several square foot sections of turf to check for white grubs. If more than seven are found in each, apply grub control. Dethatch or aerate Kentucky bluegrass if needed.
– September: Now is the time to install sod or establish, renovate, or overseed cool-season lawns. Water newly seeded areas regularly. Aerate your lawn now to alleviate compaction problems on clay soils. Now is the time to fertilize cool-season lawns. Soil tests are recommended every few years for proper fertilizing. Otherwise, use a 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 where 1/4 – 1/2 the nitrogen is “slowly available” or “water insoluble.” Continue to mow regularly as needed. Treat for grubs (see August).
– October: Apply pre-emergent herbicide once temperatures are consistently in the mid-70s. Keep lawn free of leaves which can smother it. Recycle leaves as mulch by shredding and composting. Install sod. Last chance to reseed or start a new lawn by seed. Mow as needed. Water new lawns with 1 inch of water per rainless week.
– November: Install sod as long as the soil isn’t frozen (unlikely this month). Keep new sod moist. Fertilize this month with a winterizer fertilizer. See September for more information. Watch for rust and dollar spot diseases. Keep lawns free of falling leaves. Water new lawns with 1 inch of water per rainless week.
– December: Run gas mowers dry to prevent gummy buildup over winter or add stablilizer to it, and run it for a few minutes. Drain and replace the oil. Recycle the used oil. Water new lawns with 1 inch of water per rainless week.


– January: Water dormant and overseeded lawns if it has been dry, unseasonably warm, and windy. Maintain lawns overseeded with rye at a height of 1 inch. Avoid walking on dormant lawns to prevent damage.
– February: See January. 
– March: Water dormant and overseeded lawns if it has been dry, warm, and windy. Brown patch disease attacks as lawns emerge from dormancy. Collect infested clippings. Avoid overfertilizing and overwatering to reduce disease. Apply pre-emergent herbicide late in the month.
– April: Now is the time to overseed bare spots, seed new lawns, or install sprigs/plugs (as long as day temps are consistently above 60 degrees). Water new lawns regularly. Wait until established lawns are green before fertilizing. Watch for brown patch, dollar spot, and deadspot diseases.
– May: Fertilize Bermuda and St. Augustine’s grasses with slow-release nitrogen. Water newly seeded or plugged lawns regularly for best establishment. Mow regularly.
– June: Dethatch your lawn if the thatch layer measures more than ½ inch. Last chance to renovate or install a warm-season lawn. Apply 1 inch of water per rainless week. Fertilize St. Augustine’s, centipede, carpet, Bermuda, and Zoysia grasses. Mow regularly. Watch for and, if necessary, treat for mole crickets.
–July: Apply 1 inch of water per rainless week. Fertilize St. Augustine’s and Bermuda grasses. Raise mower height a notch or two and mow regularly. Watch for and, if necessary, treat for mole crickets.
– August: Fertilize all (see June). Regularly mow, removing no more than 1/3 the height of the grass. Lawns that look wilted, even after watering, and/or have been torn up by birds, or moles may have grub infestation. Cut and roll back several square foot sections of turf to check for white grubs. If more than seven are found in each, apply grub control. Water only areas that need it.
– September: If desired, late in the month overseed with ryegrass for a green winter lawn. Bermuda tolerates overseeding best. Apply 1 inch of water per rainless week. Do not lime carpet or centipede grasses unless a soil test calls for it. Raise mower height ½ inch.
– October: Overseed with ryegrass early in the month. Apply pre-emergent herbicide. Water as needed to prevent stress. Keep lawns free of falling leaves which can smoother them. Recycle leaves by shredding and composting them.
– November: Keep lawns free of falling leaves. Lawns will be going dormant now. Dormant, overseeded Bermuda and Zoysia grasses can be fertilized and should be mowed between 1 and 2-1/2 inches high. Dormant lawns may need to be watered occasionally.
– December: Mow overseeded Bermudagrass before it gets taller than 1-1/2 inches. Handpull or spot treat winter weeds. Overseeded Bermudagrass can be fertilized this month. If you are not overseeding with ryegrass, see the mower care notes for cool-season grasses.

Tina Mast

Communications director at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh.