Photo of children playing, for a story on proper lawn care

No matter the recent weather in your area, now’s the time to start thinking about your yard so it looks its best this summer.

Start off by assessing your lawn mowerstring trimmerleaf blower, and other gear. “Retailers discount old inventory, particularly string trimmers, to make way for new models,” says Courtney Pennicooke, a CR market analyst who oversees outdoor power equipment.

And even if you can’t snag a deal, shopping now ensures that you’ll get the broadest selection of this year’s stock.

Here’s how to get your property ready for greener days.

1. Check Your Mower and String Trimmer

Start your gas mower and string trimmer to make sure they’re running well. If you properly winterized the equipment, the machines should be ready to get to work.

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If you didn’t winterize the gear, don’t start the mower or trimmer—circulating stale fuel could create problems, and then you’d have to drain the lines. Instead, remove the gasoline from each tank using a turkey baster dedicated to this task. Then fill tanks with fresh fuel and stabilizer. Now you can test your tools.

If any problems occur, take the equipment to the service center now; you’ll get your gear back sooner and before you really need to use it.

2. Test Your Soil

More than 100 land-grant schools in the U.S. have an extension service that will perform soil testing for a small fee. You can find the closest office to your house on the United States Department of Agriculture Extension Service website

The results you receive will tell you about the nutrients in your soil and the soil’s pH balance. Handling this early will will help you make informed decisions about fertilizing and treating pH.

If your soil has low pH, meaning it’s acidic, you can spread lime now. If you have high alkaline soil, add elemental sulfur. Either way, you’ll benefit from spring rains, which will help the soil absorb what you’ve laid down. But you’ll want to tackle this task now—sending in samples and waiting for results can take several weeks. 

3. Clear Leaves and Debris

While it’s generally fine to leave the leaves where they are in the fall, large dense swaths of yard debris can block the sun from reaching your lawn, making it difficult for grass to sprout at all. If you didn’t use a leaf blower last fall, do some cleanup now.

Use the collected leaves for compost. Better still, mulch the fallen leaves with the mulching kit or attachment for your mower or tractor. The churned-up clippings will feed your lawn and reduce the amount of fertilizing.

4. Apply Fertilizer

Bags of fertilizer display three numbers separated by hyphens. The numbers refer to the ratio among nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), in that order. Again, your soil test will let you know what nutrients your soil is lacking.

For grasses planted and intended for cooler, northern climates, put down at least one application of fertilizer in spring (if you need fertilizer). Bagged fertilizer is best distributed with a spreader, either a push model or a snap-on version that attaches to your riding mower.


5. Repair Walkways and Edging

Winter can be brutal on pavers, walkways, and driveways. Aside from damage done by your snow blower or a plow, frost heave—the natural freeze-and-thaw cycle—can split concrete and knock stones out of whack. To keep out water and help keep a problem from worsening, seal any new gaps in concrete with concrete-crack filler.

Secure loose pavers or patio stones temporarily. If the damage is extensive, consider having a landscape contractor dig up and reset the stones, making sure to start 6 inches below the soil line to minimize shifts from future frost heave. Tackling this project now, while pros are less busy, may cost a bit less than booking a repair at the height of the season.