Fall is here, and that means it’s time to make sure your lawn is ready to weather the winter and emerge again next spring, beautiful and green. Winter is a dormant time for your lawn, and taking a just a few extra steps now will help ensure your grass and plants get the rest they need to be healthier and more lush in the spring. Here’s what you can do now to have a great-looking lawn when the warm weather returns:
- Mow the lawn, and this time, cut it short – about one to one-and-a-quarter inches high. Shorter grass means the air can reach the soil, which is important both for healthy roots and to prevent the growth of molds and fungi. If your grass is tall – say, three inches or so – cut it incrementally at about a third of its height at a time, leaving a few days in between to prevent stressing your plants by cutting them too short too quickly.
- Aerate to help loosen soil that’s become compacted so nutrients can penetrate and create a strong, healthy root system. Choose a day when the soil is moist but not sopping wet to make it easier for the tines to pierce the soil. Run the aerator over your lawn a couple of times for good measure.
- Top dress with well-decomposed compost to provide natural nutrients to grass that will slowly sink in over the winter. Make sure compost is dry and cool before applying, signs it’s “fully cooked” and won’t burn your lawn. In fact, now is also a great time to make a compost pile: Make a bin using wire fencing and then fill it with leaves as you rake. Add your grass clippings as well and then top it with some garden soil to get it started. Turn it now and then with a pitchfork and watch the compost form.
- Speaking of raking, rake periodically during the season to avoid having a huge job at the end of Fall when all the leaves are off the trees – and on your lawn. Raking not only makes your yard look better, but it also prevents grass from being smothered and removes potential shelters for overwintering insects.
- Next, use a rotary spreader to apply fertilizer and other amendments as needed. Buy a test kit first to see which nutrients may be lacking in your lawn and choose your amendments and fertilizer accordingly.
- Overseed using the rotary spreader (open and close the container while the spreader is moving to prevent clumps of seeds from falling in one area). You can also rent a power seeder. Run the spreader or seeder over the ground in overlapping rows in a crisscross pattern to avoid a striped growth pattern.
- Gently mix the seeds into the compost on the soil surface using the backside of your rake head and then water lightly two to three times day until the seeds begin to sprout, then water more heavily once a day. Once the grass reaches three inches, mow it in stages until it reaches one to one-and-a-quarter inches.
- Finally, trim dead branches from trees and shrubs and consider pruning as needed. Be sure to read about your plants’ pruning needs first – some prefer to be clipped back in the spring.
Now that your lawn is ready for winter, take a few moments to thoroughly clean your lawn tools, applying a light coat of oil to prevent rust. If your tools have wooden handles, consider applying an oil designed for use on wood to prevent handles from shrinking or breaking, and your tools will be ready and waiting when you need them again in the spring.