Summer has come and gone and fall is here. It is now time to make sure your lawn is ready for the winter. There are chances that the summer has made your lawn looking thin and patchy due to diseases, insects, drought and weeds. With the tips below you can ensure your lawn will survive the winter and quickly grow green and lush in the spring.
By fertilize damaged areas of the lawn you can make them recover quickly. Using a two-step application in the fall can hugely improve the chances of getting a lush and green lawn in the spring.
The first application of fertilizer should be made at the start of the fall, late August to late September. This application will make the grass able to recover from any damage that has occurred during the summer. The Nitrogen and potash (potassium) in the fertilizer will increase the growth and help repairing and harden the grass for the winter.
The second application of fertilizer should be applied in October. Be aware, to get the timing correct is vital. If the fertilizer is applied too early it will make the grass grow too much in the fall and make it more vulnerable to injury during the winter months. On the other hand, if the fertilizer is applied too late it will have no benefit for the turf or grass.
The grass has stopped growing shoots during October, but the roots still grows. The reason we fertilize during the last months of the fall is to make sure the grass has a greater chance of surviving the winter and get faster green during the early spring months.
When you apply fertilizer during the fall aim for about 0.5kg of nitrogen per 100m² (1.1lbs per 1080ft²). By applying fertilizer during late fall you may delay the fertilization until May or even June next year.
Reasons and benefits for fertilizing during the fall
- The roots are still growing and take up and store the nitrogen to next spring.
- Make the grass roots to grow deeper in the fall, which enhances the grass with deeper and healthier roots for the spring and summer. The stored nitrogen will be ready to be used when the spring comes and the growth resumes.
- Fertilizing increases the chlorophyll content in the grass which again increase the photosynthesis and sugars in the plant. Since the plant has stopped growing it will store these sugars which enhance the recovery in the spring.
- Sugars in the plant will cause the plant to take longer to freeze. An example to clarify what this means is that a bottle of Coca Cola will use longer to freeze than a bottle of water in the freezer. This cause the grass to freeze at a lower temperature.
Seeding injured areas of the lawn
Some areas might be damaged or injured beyond repair with just fertilizer. These areas should be seeded again in the fall, ideally during August or September.
Distribute the areas with the desired type of seeds. Remember to distribute the seeds in different directions to ensure the seeds come in contact with the soil. A good idea is to aerate the lawn before spreading the seeds. I will explain this below.
Another good tip is to use different type of grass for the different areas of your lawn. The perennial ryegrass is a type that is a good all-rounder and can work most places. The fine fescue is best for shaded areas, while the tall fescue is very tolerant for drought.
When you have finished overseeding the troublesome areas you should water frequently to ensure optimal growing conditions.
Aerating and dethatching the lawn
Thatch is the layer above the soil that is comprised of leaves, stems and roots – both living and dead. A layer of thatch is actually good for the health of the grass, but if it typically gets thicker than ½” to ¾” it will start to cause problems. A too thick layer of thatch will commonly cause these problems:
- Prevents water, fertilizer and insects to reach the soil.
- Blocking sunlight from reaching the lower grass blades and shoots.
- Grass more prone to diseases due to excess moisture around the blades and shoots.
- The grass roots will start to grow in the thatch layer and will be elevated above the soil.
Especially the last point will be a problem for the grass health during the winter months. The thatch layer doesn’t have as good insulating properties as the soil layer and the roots are therefore more prone to damage.
To prevent the thatch layer getting too thick you should dethatch and/or core aerate your lawn. The best time to do this is just before you apply the first round of fertilizer and overseeding, which would be late August to late September. This will get the grass enough time to establish roots deep into the soil again.
Dethatching, or sometimes called verticutting, is done by a machine that will rip up the thatch vertically. The debris is then raked up and disposed of.
The other way is to core aerate the lawn. Core aerating cuts into the soil and brings up fresh soil which contain microorganisms that will help break down the thatch.
Removing the fallen tree leave in the fall is important. The leaves will prevent sun light reaching the grass and the grass will eventually die. Alternatively, you can use a lawn mower with mulching capability to cut up the leaves into fine pieces. The fine pieces of leaves can be left on the lawn to decompose.
Cutting the grass
Generally you should raise the cutting height slightly during the fall. The longer the grass blades the deeper the roots will grow. Longer grass blades will also provide insulation for the crown, which is the point where roots transition into blades. Remember to not let the grass get too long either. If the grass blades are too long when the winter comes, it can increase the chance of what is called snow mold.