Just as the gardening season is winding down and cooler temperatures have set in, there are still some tasks in the yard, to prepare it for the winter to come. Caring for your lawn in the fall is one of these important jobs that must be done to maintain the health of the grass over the many months that it sits under the snow.
The first job on the list is to rake any and all leaves off of the lawn frequently. Leaves left to rot and then freeze on the grass can smother it over the winter. Depending on the number and size of trees in your yard and neighborhood, this can be an ongoing task throughout the fall but it will be well-worth the effort to have a healthy lawn return to life in the spring.
After the leaves have been raked off, it is time to rake the thatch out. Thatch is the dead turfgrass tissue just below the surface, made of dead plant material that gets matted and can choke the grass over time. Raking firmly and deeply will loosen matted thatch from the soil, pulling up chunks of dead, tangled roots and stems. To rake this deeply, it is a good idea to use a metal-pronged rake and a very firm hand. You can also use tools made for the job: a thatch rake has prongs made to pull up thatch and a power rake works quickly to pull thatch, due to its small engine.
After the leaves and thatch have been removed, it will be easier to determine the level of soil compaction in your lawn. Compaction happens over time, when root mass and soil become too dense and tightly packed, causing improper air circulation and runoff. You can tell if your lawn is compacted if you see water just skate off the top of the lawn, when you water it. To battle compaction, there are a few methods. You can introduce more earthworms to the soil, who build tunnels and are nature’s aerators. You can buy a soil conditioner, which has beneficial bacteria that loosen the soil. Another option is to manually aerate the soil, by renting a core aerator – which removes small plugs of soil- or lawn aerator shoes, which have metal spikes on the bottom, and puncture the soil as you walk. If that does not seem feasible, try loosening things up with an old stand-by: the pitchfork.
Finally, you may want to fertilize your lawn for the fall. Lawns usually endure quite a bit over the summer: hot temperatures and lots of foot traffic can take their toll. Give your grasses a boost of nutrients before winter by adding a good fertilizer, filled with all the essential minerals, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as calcium, iron and copper. Fertilizing can also prevent any weeds from taking hold by giving grass a growth-spurt that will crowd weeds out. Jonathan Green is an organic fertilizer program that helps lawns to succeed. Apply fertilizer in September, as temperatures cool to give the grass a boost of root growth before things freeze over.
By keeping your lawn clear, fed and full of air, you are doing everything you need to ensure that a happy healthy lawn returns in the spring.