Fall Lawn Care 101: Prepare your Showcase Lawn for the Winter Months Ahead
Mid-October in Wisconsin typically marks the end of the extended Indian summer weather, and the colder days and nights are a reminder to prepare our prized lawns for the winter months to come. With proper, diligent maintenance schedules, healthy lawns are equipped to handle the extreme conditions and multiple freeze/ thaw cycles that are common to the Midwest and awaken from the winter dormancy in good condition. Now is the time to perform final inspections for any necessary turf repairs and address any additional maintenance requirements the grass may need to ensure its strength during the winter sleep.
During the temperature shift, the colorful leaves seem to drop almost overnight, casting a magical blanket of color over the still vibrantly green lawn. Many homeowners mistakenly think lawns need less care because its growth may slow during the shorter days and colder temperature, but the opposite is actually true; the grass is busy absorbing energy and needed nutrients in preparation for dormancy. Extra attention now will be doubly rewarded in the spring.
Raking the Leaves
Whether it is treated as a fun family activity or considered an unwelcome chore, raking the leaves off the lawn is a necessary step in fall lawn care. It is important not to wait until the last leaf has fallen, but to start the process once there is an appreciable collection, particularly with larger properties. When leaves become wet from rainfall and morning dew, they can suffocate the grass from their impenetrable mat and may breed fungal diseases.
Regular Mowing and Watering
Continue to water and mow the lawn as needed throughout the fall, well into the first frost. As the season winds down, the setting on the mower should be adjusted to the lowest setting for the last two mowing sessions to allow for more of the valuable sunlight to be able to reach the crown of the grass. Yet, it is always important to maintain the rule of never cutting off more than a third of the grass blades at a time, which may mean that the mower height will have to gradually be adjusted lower for the final few cuttings.
Fall may be the most important time to fertilize lawns because the grass leaves grow more slowly as the weather cools. Fall fertilizer application will deliver all the important nutrients necessary for the grass to grow deep roots now and reserve nutrients necessary for a healthy spring start. Fall is also the perfect time to fix any bare spots in the lawn, ideally using a mixture of grass seed, fertilizer and organic mulch.
Aerating the lawn ensures that oxygen, water and nutrients will easily reach the grass roots by loosening up the soil. Core aeration will open up air channels and correct problems caused by compacted soil and thick thatch layers; it is a good idea to perform aeration prior to fertilization. Aeration also significantly improves drainage in the soil, which will be a help during the freeze/ thaw cycles of winter.
Weed and Insect Control
Many of the weeds that take over lawns in the summer months are fortifying themselves now, trying to absorb the same energy and nutrients as grass to prepare for winter dormancy. Applying herbicides now will ensure that they will not be returning in the spring.