Thursday, August 24, 2000

Fall Yard and Garden Tips
(ARA) - It doesn't look like it, and we all hate to admit it, but the end of summer is near. Although the annuals are bursting with color, the tomatoes and zucchini are producing prolific harvests, and the lawn looks great, fall is just around the corner.

Just as everything growing has a season, so do the related tasks in your yard. It's time to consider how you're going to wrap things up for the season. Fall watering and fertilization help plants go into dormancy in good health and prepare them for a quick start when the weather warms next spring. Following are some tips your yard and garden will appreciate as they prepare to snuggle in for the winter.

First, give your lawn, shrubs and trees a good drink of water as they enter dormancy. It will prepare them for the freezing weather ahead. Healthy, well-watered roots are essential to giving plants the ability to transfer sugars and starches from their leaves to their roots. Storing energy in the roots during fall helps plants get a healthy start next spring.

Second, don't think of this as the end of the growing season but as the first step of the 2001 season.

Soil Test

Fall is an excellent time to test the soil of your lawn and garden for an accurate assessment of its condition. Test kits are available at your local nursery or through the county/university extension. These inexpensive kits test for soil acidity or alkalinity, as well as for the major plant nutrients.

If you don't want to do it yourself, contact your local county extension horticulture agent. Results from county extensions, which are analyzed by a university, also include fertilizer recommendations.


Filling In Thin Spots

Fall is the best time of year to fill in thin patches of lawn. Loosen the soil with a rake or shovel, spread the grass seed, and lightly rake, making sure it has good contact with the soil. Apply a thin layer of mulch and keep the area moist until the seedlings are well established.

Continue Mowing

Healthy grass grows well into the fall. Some cool-season grasses will continue to grow into November. Keep mowing as long as your lawn is growing. And remember the one-third rule: Only remove one-third of the leaf blade in a single cutting. A finished height of 2 to 3 inches is generally recommended.

So Many Leaves to Rake

It's a necessary chore and prevents leaves from smothering your lawn during the winter. A layer of wet leaves deprives grass of oxygen and makes it more prone to disease. Either mulch mow the leaves, leaving a thin layer of organic leaf litter on the lawn, or remove the leaves for mulching at another location.


Thatch isn't necessarily a bad thing. Up to about inch of thatch is good. It helps retain moisture and keeps turf cool. If there's a buildup of more than 1 inch of thatch, it can prevent moisture, nutrients and air from reaching the soil. Excess thatch also encourages insects and provides an area for moles and voles to tunnel into under the snow. Natural organic fertilizers also encourage the decomposition of the thatch layer over time.

Performing this low-tech test will determine the amount of thatch on your lawn and whether it needs to be addressed. Use a narrow stick, wire or screwdriver to poke through the thatch layer until it reaches the soil. Mark the depth of the thatch on the stick with your thumb. Measure it against a ruler and voila! You now have a rough estimate of the thatch depth.

Dormant Fertilization

Homeowners in the snow-belt can get an early start on spring lawn care with dormant fertilization. By applying a slow-release, natural organic fertilizer, like Milorganite, in fall, homeowners can achieve:

Research results show that nitrogen continues to be released when soil temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Because nitrogen is the primary nutrient responsible for turfgrass green-up, early release of this nutrient gives your lawn a nice, green color earlier in spring.

For best results, homeowners with cool-season, northern grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass, should apply one 40-pound bag of Milorganite per 2,500 square feet of lawn in fall after the last mowing and prior to a permanent snow cover. Plan on the same application rate next year in late spring (mid to late May) and late summer (late August to early September).

Stop fertilizing warm-season grasses at least one month before the average date of the first killing frost. Fertilize centipede and Bahiagrass only in the spring and summer.

When dormant feeding, avoid using fertilizers with water-soluble nitrogen. This fast-release, water-soluble nitrogen can reactivate lawn growth if there's a warm spell. Tender growth generally won't survive the next blast of winter.

Milorganite's slow-release formula provides steady, uniform growth, without burning lawns. Milorganite can be easily applied to lawns with any drop- or rotary-spreader. Information for calibrating common spreaders is available on Milorganite bags.

Let Dormant Grass Lie

After the grass is dormant, minimize or completely avoid traffic on the lawn, especially when the grass is still green and covered with frost. Since it's dormant, it doesn't have the ability to recover, even though it may still be green.

So Much Snow

Huge piles of snow may be great for kids building forts, but it poses a concern for lawns: snow mold. By spreading snow over a larger area, you reduce the chances of snow mold becoming a problem.

When removing ice treated with an ice-melter from driveways and walks, spread it over a large area. If you concentrate this salty material just along the edge of the drive or walk, these areas may show signs of salt damage next spring.


Remove Debris

Remove dead annuals and other debris from gardens. This eliminates hiding places where insects and disease spores can over-winter. If the plant material is clean, compost it. If it shows signs of disease or insects, discard it.

Fall Tilling

Tilling the garden in late fall helps control some insects, such as corn earworms, corn borers, cucumber beetles, squash bugs and vine borers. It disturbs their warm winter homes and exposes them to the harsh reality of winter. It also will encourage any organic material left on the garden to decompose.


Spring and Summer Perennials

Autumn is a good time of year to plant and divide spring- and summer-blooming perennials. This gives plants time to establish root systems prior to dormancy without the stress of summer's heat. In general, perennials planted in fall outperform those planted in spring. Mix a handful of Milorganite with the soil when planting perennials. If you have any questions regarding a particular species, contact your local nursery or extension agent.

Planting, Fertilizing Trees and Shrubs

This is a good time of year to plant most trees and shrubs, if it is done before the end of October. Mulch and water the newly planted trees and shrubs regularly to help them become established before winter dormancy.

When you're transplanting shrubs from containers, fertilize them using pound (1 cups) of Milorganite per foot of shrub height and loosely mix it with the soil at the bottom of each hole. In spring, 2 pounds (6 cups) of Milorganite should be spread under each plant and lightly raked into the soil.

When transplanting container-grown trees, fertilize them with pound (1 cups) of Milorganite per foot of tree height and loosely mix it with the soil at the bottom of each hole. In spring, spread an equal amount of Milorganite slightly past the drip line and lightly work it into the soil.

Annual fertilization of established deciduous trees is generally adequate. Wait until they signal their dormancy by dropping leaves. This indicates that no new growth will be stimulated to risk being damaged by the impending cold. Plants will continue to take up nutrients and develop root systems until soil temperatures dip below 40 degrees F.


Remove dead branches from shrubs and trees to eliminate places where insects and disease spores can winter. Pruning live tissue from trees and shrubs should cease in fall, as it encourages new growth that is vulnerable to cold. Contact your local nursery staff or university/county horticultural agents for recommendations on pruning live tissue from trees and shrubs. And to answer that question about tree-wound paint: It's no longer recommended. It can slow the healing process and may actually promote decay.

Tree, Shrub Protection

Wrap plants with protective tape well above the anticipated level of snow to prevent varmint damage both under the snow cover and at the snow's surface. Plants that are near roads and are susceptible to salt spray should be covered with burlap. This will help prevent desiccation, or burning, of plant tissue during the winter.

Courtesy of Article Resource Association,, e-mail: ###

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