Fall is a busy time for most homeowners. With so much to do getting the house ready for winter or cleaning up the garden, lawn care is often neglected. However, a lawn is a living organism that needs to be taken care of all year round—even when the mowing season is over. Learn how winterizing your lawn can ensure a vibrant yard next season, and how easy it can be.
Breathe some life into your lawn. Lawn areas subjected to heavy foot or vehicle traffic may have compacted soil. Soil compaction also occurs with the buildup of thatch. (Thatch is the decaying material that accumulates between the blades of grass.) Compacted soil prevents water, oxygen, and fertilizer from reaching the roots of the plant, and until the soil is aerated, there’s little hope of improving the appearance of the lawn.
The easiest way to aerate your lawn is to rent a machine for this purpose or consider buying the new self-propelled DR® Lawn Aerator. The best aerators are those that have hollow metal tubes that remove small-diameter, 2- to 3-inch-long plugs of soil from the lawn. (Avoid using devices that just punch holes into the ground without removing a soil core; while they may aid water retention, they actually increase soil compaction.) It’s recommended that 15 to 20 aerification holes be pulled per square foot. The holes created in the lawn by soil aeration enable water and air to have easy access to the root zone, along with any fertilizer that you’ll be spreading. Also, as the soil naturally expands to fill the holes over the next few weeks, it loosens, reducing compaction. The plugs should be left on top of the ground to provide a valuable top dressing of fertilizer, although they should be broken up by raking or mowing. Fall is the preferred time to aerate, as soil moisture allows easier penetration and aeration stimulates root growth, which is critical at this time of year.
Removing excessive thatch is just the beginning. As mentioned above, thatch is a tightly woven layer of living and dead organic matter that occurs between the green matter and the soil surface. Thatch is created when the decaying stems, leaves, and roots of grass accumulate faster than they break down. Excessive thatch (more than 1/2 inch) can lead to reduced water and fertilizer infiltration into the soil, which will lead to the overall decline in the quality of your lawn. (Contrary to popular belief, as long as a lawn is mowed on a regular basis, grass clippings do not contribute to thatch buildup. In fact, grass clippings contain nitrogen and provide valuable nutrients to the lawn, and should be left to decompose after each mowing.)
There are several ways to remove thatch, including the use of vertical mowers and power rakes, which thin the grass and pull the thatch to the surface for removal. However, unless the cause of thatch accumulation is addressed, the buildup will most likely occur again. The best method for thatch control is core aeration, as described earlier. The small soil cores that are deposited on the soil surface during aerification provide a top dressing that is full of microorganisms that will break down the thatch. Core aerification is one of the simplest, least destructive methods for removing thatch, and one of the easiest ways to create a healthy lawn. If you have a large enough lawn to merit a tow-behind method, a tow-behind de-thatcher is an easy way to get rid of years worth of dead thatch.
Mow often enough so you don’t remove more than one-third of the leaf surface in any one cutting. In the heat of the summer it’s easy to damage your lawn by mowing too short. This weakens your grass and makes it susceptible to weed invasion, disease, and drought. The fact is, it’s also easy to damage your lawn by mowing too short during the cold weather of fall.
As the days get shorter and the temperatures begin to fall, raise the cutting height on your mower about one half inch above your normal summer cutting height. This will stimulate the roots of your grass and cause a gradual growth spurt. Mow your lawn at least a few times at this height. Then, for the final mowing of the year, lower the cutting height of your mower to one half inch below your summer cutting height. A lower height going into winter will avoid damage from rodents and disease that are attracted to long, matted grass. The grass will also dry out faster in the spring and green up quickly. Don’t forget the most important rule about mowing your lawn, regardless of the time of year: Mow often enough so you don’t remove more than one third of the leaf surface in any one cutting.
Do it only if you have to. Be sure to rake any large piles of grass clippings off your lawn with the last mowing. However, if you’ve been mowing regularly, the clippings can remain on the lawn as mulch to provide valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to the lawn.
If you have large, mature trees that lose their leaves in the fall, it’s important to remove the leaves from your lawn before winter takes hold. A heavy layer of leaves left on the lawn throughout the winter prevents sunlight and air from reaching the grass, eventually smothering your lawn. An even better alternative to raking up the leaves is to put a DR ® Leaf and Lawn Vacuum to work. We offer both walk-behind models and models with up to 16.96 foot pounds of torque you can tow behind your lawn mower or tractor. The leaf mulch created by a Leaf and Lawn Vacuum is a great soil enhancer, and you can add it directly to your soil to increase organic matter, encourage good soil structure and increase biological activity. Plus, with an optional built-in high-speed chipper you can make fast work of clippings, small saplings, and branches up to 2 inches in diameter. There’s no easier way to clean up your yard.
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