As September turns to damp and rainy fall, it’s time for homeowners to prepare their lawns and gardens for the wet and soggy winter.
“One of the most important things to do is fall fertilization,” said Deb Eidsness about preparing a lawn for the winter. She is an ag consultant for Co-op Supply, which has locations in Arlington and Marysville. The fertilizer should have low or slow-release nitrogen and have phosphorus and potassium which will help with root development.
The fall is a good time to oversee the lawn and fill in the bare spots that form. Whenever there is a bare spot, something will grow and it’s usually something a homeowner doesn’t want, Eidsness said.
Because of the wet winters, the fall is normally a good time to apply lime to a lawn. Because the high amount of rainfall in the winter tends to make the soil more acidic, lime is needed to correct soil fertility to favor grass production, Eidsness said. If soil becomes too acidic, then more moss can grow.
As for preparing the garden for the winter, it’s important to get rid of the weeds before they go to seed. In addition, “plant a good cover crop to increase soil tilth and prevent unwanted weed growth,” Eidsness said. Good cover crops include crimson clover, buckwheat, fall rye or Austrian peas.
Though homeowners cannot do anything to prevent snow, wind and ice from affecting their properties, they can take various steps to prepare their lawns and gardens for whatever winter has in store.
Mulch leaves. Falling leaves are a telltale sign that winter is coming. In lieu of raking leaves as they begin to fall, homeowners can mulch them into their lawns. Scotts®, an industry leader in lawn care, notes that mulching leaves is a great way for homeowners to recycle a natural resource and enrich the soil of their lawns. While it might not be possible to mulch fallen leaves in late autumn when they begin to fall en masse, doing so in the early stages of fall should be possible so long as the lawn is not being suffocated. Scotts® recommends mulching the leaves to dime-size pieces to a point where half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer.
Rake leaves as they start to fall more heavily. Once leaves begin to fall more heavily, rake them up and add them to compost piles. The resource GardeningKnowHow.com notes composting leaves creates a dark, rich and organic matter that can add nutrients to garden soil and loosen compacted earth. Leaving leaves on the lawn once they start to fall in great numbers makes it hard for grass blades to breathe, and the leaves can block moisture from reaching the soil, which needs water to maintain strong roots. In addition, potentially harmful pathogens can breed on damp leaves left on a lawn, and such bacteria can cause significant damage to the turf over time.
Apply a winterizing fertilizer. Winterizing fertilizers can help lawns store food they need to survive through winter and also can help them bounce back strong in spring. Such fertilizers are typically formulated for cool-season grasses such as fescue and bluegrass and are often best applied after the final cut of fall. Warm-season grasses go dormant in winter, so homeowners whose lawns contain these types of grasses won’t want to apply a winterizing fertilizer. Homeowners who don’t know which type of grass they have or are concerned about when to apply a winterizing fertilizer should consult with a lawncare professional before fertilizing.
Remove annuals from the garden. Annuals won’t be coming back in spring, so it’s best to remove ones that are no longer producing from the garden before the arrival of winter. Doing so can prevent the onset of fungal diseases that may adversely affect the garden in spring.
Fall is the perfect time for homeowners who spend months making their lawns and gardens as lush as possible to take steps to prepare such areas for potentially harsh winter weather.