Prep Your Lawn for Winter
Writer: Julene Reese, 435-760-9302
Contact: Jerry Goodspeed, 801-392-8908
TIME TO TAKE BACK the Lawn
LOGAN — By the first of September, most lawns have either had an insect or disease problem, been invaded by weeds or had rough spots.
“Fall is the best time to whip the lawn back into shape and take control,” said Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. “Most lawns are predominantly cool season grasses and prefer temperatures in the 60s and 70s, rather than the 90s or 100s. Once fall arrives with cooler temperatures, lawns generally recover, grow a deeper root system and store nutrients and energy for the winter and upcoming spring.”
The first thing to do to help a lawn revive is to fertilize, he said. Choose a high nitrogen fertilizer (first number on the bag) from a local nursery or garden center. Some are sold as a “winterizing” fertilizer and others are simply labeled as “lawn” fertilizer.
“Nitrogen helps lawns produce both top and root growth, so places that have become thin or clumpy can fill in,” he said. “I use a slow-release fertilizer this time of year. It is more expensive, but provides a continual supply of nitrogen and other nutrients throughout the fall.”
Some lawns have dead areas, and now is the best time to reseed, he said. For large dead areas, prepare the seed bed by tilling it after applying a few inches of organic matter. Then reseed as if it was a new lawn. Once it is seeded, apply enough water to germinate the seed so it becomes established before winter begins. If the lawn is slightly thin, or to introduce a better variety of seed, fall is also a good time to over-seed. This can thicken up weak, thin areas. Grass gets old, and growth slows with age. Over-seeding introduces new grass seed that is younger, more vigorous and usually more resistant to disease.
To over-seed, Goodspeed said to first mow the lawn as short as possible. Next, either power rake or aerate the area so grass seed can come in contact with soil. Aerating or power-raking is critical to the success of germinating new seed. This is one of the few times power-raking is advised.
“Next, spread the seed,” said Goodspeed. “Most seed packages recommend a high over-seeding rate, which may seem thick, but should be followed, since the majority of the seed will die. Then water accordingly. Many people fail to water sufficiently, and the seed never gets established.”
Another fall turf activity is to kill broadleaf perennials, he said. Dig and pull by hand, or use a broadleaf weed killer sold in nurseries and garden centers.
If annual weeds such as crabgrass or spurge have overtaken the lawn, they can be ignored, since they will die as soon as the first frost hits. Remember to apply a pre-emergent the end of March or first of April to prevent further annual weed problems.
“As the weather cools, remember to cut back on the amount of water applied to the lawn,” Goodspeed concluded. “Lawns do not require as much water once day-time and evening temperatures drop. Too often, sprinklers stay set exactly as they were during hot summer months, which wastes water.”#####