We all love those long, summer days that turn into crisp fall mornings. As the seasons change, and the lawnmower begins to consider hibernation, it’s time to think about your lawn. In order to protect your barefoot-friendly summer haven, you need to put in some work to keep things green.
The care your lawn demands depends on a few basic things, such as climate and grass type. This article will help you get informed about how to understand what your lawn needs, and when it needs it. The preparation will pay off when spring brings that grass sprouting to life.
How to Winterize Your Lawn
This technique is less about the grass itself and more about the soil. Aeration is when you make holes in soil—breaking apart compacted soil and improving soil drainage for your lawn. Soil is a complex system that is very much alive. With an intricate balance of air pockets, nutrient deposits, and microorganisms, it’s a vital part of yard maintenance. Grass roots need room to grow, as well as enough water and nutrients cycling through the soil to keep the network of roots happy. As grass gets mowed, walked on, and otherwise compacted, the movement of these pieces can be stopped dead in their tracks. If it gets too compacted, your grass will be pretty dead, too.
In order to know how to take care of your soil, you need to know your soil. This basically distinguishes between clay and loam. Clay is hard, sticky, and usually a light-brown in color. When wet, it clings together and becomes pliable. Loam is a darker, softer soil that’s higher in sand and silt. This soil drains well and doesn’t clump up when wet. There’s much more to the science of soils, but that’s the basics you’ll need to identify how to aerate.
If your soil is high in clay, then compaction is a serious concern. In order to create air pockets to encourage root growth, you will want to consider aerating before the rains and cold weather. This soil would be best for something known as a core aerator; a device that plunges in and pulls out little plugs of soil and deposits them on top. This process creates open space, so water, nutrients, and other resources can accumulate. This will allow increased grow, creating a stronger root bed for next year’s lush yard.
If your soil is loam, then compaction may not be your biggest concern. There is another type of aerator, the spike aerator, that drives a spike or wedge into the ground. No misnomer here! It doesn’t remove the soil, but it does increase the open space for water and roots to grow. It’s a less dramatic version of the core aerator, for the soil that just needs a little room to breathe!
When push comes to shove, no lawn is ever perfect. There can be thin patches, bare patches, and even dirt patches. Now’s not the time to judge! Now is the time to improve those blemishes. If you live in the North, anyway.
Fall is the perfect time to overseed; to spread seed on top of your lawn. It’s the time right before the rains that help the seeds germinate, while it’s still warm enough to give things time to establish before winter comes. With the falling of the leaves, the sunlight reaching the grass increases and the weeds decrease. This creates the perfect climate for some quick spot assessments. You can use seed distributing machines to get an even coat of some gnarly patches, or simply grab a bag of seed and take a stroll.
This is only applied to the grasses that grow in the North. If you’re in a Southern state, hold on to the seed until spring comes. The grasses that can survive that Southern sun need lots of heat and rain to germinate properly.
While you’re at it, you may want to consider topdressing. This is the thin application of a soil mix that is applied, well, on top. Following an aeration session, this can deposit sand and nutrients into the pockets created. It can also protect the newly laid seeds, or the grass itself from getting damaged if you face severe winter winds. Be sure you know your soil or talk to a local expert when buying the mix, to make sure you’re matching the same profile. Creating a parfait of sand, clay, and loam can cause more damage than good.
Entire books are written on fertilizers, the application process, and how to do it right. The basic idea is based around the soil’s three limiting ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K). Without these, nothing green would grow.
If you live in a cooler region, it’s recommended to use a slow-release fertilizer with all three elements. Once about mid-September, and once two weeks before the frost. This will enter the aeration pockets and get watered down into the roots. Slowly, so slowly, the nutrients are used to establish the root growth over the winter. In the warmer regions, fertilize in the spring when you seed. It’s best to talk to your local experts about the type of mix that works in your region, as well as your specific grass.
The one important thing to remember with fertilizers is a little goes a long way, and it’s better to under fertilize than over fertilize. Excess fertilizer ends up in the streams, rivers, and oceans, causing a huge environmental impact. Make sure your spreader is calibrated appropriately to your grass’ needs.
Everything, including us, needs water. If you live someplace wet and rainy, your lawn is probably sufficiently watered. If you live someplace with snowy winters, you probably don’t have to worry about it, either. But those last hot summer days can be a real burden to the new growth and hard work. Not to mention there’s a myth that you shouldn’t water your grass during the winter.
During the summer, your lawn should be getting three soaks a week. Up before the sun, you should give it a nice 15-minute shower. You can be clever and have sprinklers or a timed system and sleep in, admittingly. As the leaves change, you can cut the watering down to twice a week. As the temperatures change and get colder, you can cut it down to once a week. For as long as you can see the grass, though, it will need to be watered. Unless it’s below freezing. Don’t freeze your grass! In a warmer climate, twice a week for 20 minutes will keep things alive and well.
When it comes to watering, always make sure you’re paying attention to the drainage of the soil. If you notice pooling or washing away of soil in places, consider aeration and topdressing. Even some water-retaining mulch-based topdressing can really help in some trouble areas.
It may sound like a lot of work when looking at it as a to-do list. When winter finally fades away and spring rolls around, it will be a delight to see your work flourishing. It will be even better when you’re spending your summer days in lush green pastures. A little work now can make your lawn the pride of your yard next year!