Do you want to turn the heads of your neighbors when they see your stunning lawn? If you want a healthy yard next summer, spring isn’t where things begin; it’s the fall.
Early fall is prime time to prep your yard for the next growing season – cooling temperatures slow aboveground growth, and moist soil encourages strong root development. There is plenty that you can do, such as removing spent stems, dead branches, and heavy leaf cover, to make sure that, when spring comes, your yard is ready to grow.
The first thing that you want to do is aerate your lawn. If rainfall pools on the grass, it’s time to aerate compressed soil so water and nutrients can reach the roots. A garden fork can do the job on a small yard, but, for larger lawns, you will want to consider using a walk-behind aerator that pulls out approximately 3-inch-deep soil plugs, which will break down naturally by spring.
Also, while you’re focusing on your lawn, you should think about feeding your grass too. Cutting back on fertilizer in the late summer prevents perennials from wasting energy on leaf production. But, grassroots keep growing until the ground gets down to around 40 degrees, so you will still want to continue feeding your lawn. Applying a high-phosphorus (12-25-12) mix to lawns in the fall will encourage root growth and allow turf to green earlier in the spring.
The last step to ensuring a healthy lawn in the spring is mowing a final time. It might seem basic, but it’s essential. The disease has a harder time with shorter grass, and fallen leaves blow across the lawn because they have nothing to latch on to. Don’t go too low though because grass makes most of its food in the upper blade. Trimming down to 1¼ inches for the last cut of the season is an ideal length.
Collecting leaves is also a tradition when fall comes. To make fallen leaves easier to transport, rake them onto a plastic tarp. You might want to also consider constructing a compost bin to put them in. Flipping the leaf pile every week with a garden fork to aerate will produce the “black gold” that can nourish lawns, flower beds and shrub borders next year.
Another thing to check off your list for the fall is to trim dead limbs. Lifeless branches can succumb to winter snow and winds, endangering you and your home. For large jobs, calling a professional is the best option. But, you can protect small ornamental trees from further damage by cutting cracked, loose and diseased limbs close to, but not flush with, the trunk, leaving the wounds exposed to heal.
In addition to limbs, you will want to cut back perennials–a little work now results in healthier spring beds. You want to evict tired annuals, as well as the snails and slugs, which breed in fall, that feed on them. Trim spent perennial foliage down to the ground so that energy is sent to the roots for next season. Every three years, divide crowded tuberous plants, like irises and daylilies, because more space means more flowers.
While this may or may not apply to you, the last thing you will want to do before winter is to dry out drip systems. Standing water can freeze and crack drip irrigation tubing. For simple systems, shut off the water, unscrew the tap-joint adapter, and, using a high-volume, low-pressure setting on a compressor, insert an air hose where the system normally attaches to the tap. By blowing the water out, you avoid having to uproot the entire system.