Now is the time to think about your lawn’s long winter’s nap.
“Working on the lawn in the fall is like an investment that pays off in the spring,” said Mike Hogan, an associate professor at Ohio State University and extension educator at the OSU Extension service
“Some work now means less work in the spring,” Hogan said.
For a lot of homeowners, the tendency is to think more about lawn care in spring and summer, Hogan said.
“We’ve been hot and sweaty working outside and now that it’s September and October, we want to be done. But when it comes to lawns, fall is the best time for a lot of maintenance projects.”
Applying fertilizer, if necessary, is one of those projects, Hogan said.
“When we apply fertilizer in the fall, even late fall, it really helps with root development. You’re making an investment in those roots for spring. We can put it on anytime now through Thanksgiving, as long as plants aren’t dormant. And our lawn grasses are cool-season plants. They like to grow in March and October.”
But before applying fertilizer or other soil amendments, a soil test is very important, Hogan said.
“People ask, “How much fertilizer should I put on?” The only way to know is with a soil test.
“We offer a test here at the (Extension) office (2548 Carmack Road), and you can also order them online. It’s $11, and you only need to do it once every two or three years. At a cost of not much more than $3 a year, it really makes sense to do.”
Order soil tests online at franklin.osu.edu. To pick up a test at the Extension office, make an appointment online or by calling 614-866-6900.
Now is also a great time to reseed those bare spots in your lawn.
“If you need to do some reseeding, overseeding, fixing bare spots, do it in the fall,” Hogan said.
“We’ve had mini summer droughts the last few years, almost like clockwork,” he said.
Those droughts can kill patches of unirrigated grass, patches that sometimes aren’t noticed until a homeowner starts mowing in the spring.
“But seeding of lawn grasses in early fall tend to do much better than in the spring, especially later in the spring,” when rains and the moisture young plants need can be less reliable, Hogan said.
This is also a good time to dethatch and aerate lawns, he said.
“That’s not something we need to do every year, but occasionally, every few years, can be helpful.”
The aeration process, which removes small plugs from the lawn, creates artificial pathways for moisture and nutrients to get into root zones, he said.
Finally, if you want a healthy lawn in spring, don’t let fallen leaves sit on the grass all winter, Hogan said.
Whole leaves can kill or injure grass when left on the lawn for a long period of time, he said.
“We don’t want to leave leaves on top of plants that are growing, and our lawn grasses can actually be actively growing 11 and even 12 months a year,” he said.
“So we definitely want to take care of the leaves.”
But taking care of the leaves doesn’t necessarily mean removing them entirely, said Sara Ernst of Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District.
Ernst oversees getgrassy.org, a program to help inform homeowners about how to maintain lawns in an environmentally friendly manner. Visitors to the website who take a pledge to follow some simple, environmentally sound lawn-care practices, receive a free outdoor rain gauge and are entered to win Oakland Nursery gift certificates in a monthly drawing.
Mowing over top of leaf litter can chop up the leaves, turning them into valuable mulch that can benefit a lawn, Ernst said.
Leaves that can be mowed into dime-sized or smaller pieces won’t need to be raked and can provide nutrition to the lawn, she said.
“The small pieces (of leaves) break down very quickly,” Ernst said.
“By spring, you won’t see the pieces any more.
“I know a lot of properties have too many leaves, so bagging is still a solution,” Ernst said.
“But I think bagging and getting rid of leaf clippings is kind of an old-school approach to tidying lawns,” she said.
“I don’t know that it’s always the environmentally appropriate thing to do.”
If you do rake leaves to the curb for pickup, be mindful that the nutrients in the fallen leaves and other lawn debris such as grass clippings can contribute to pollution if they get into sewers and drains, Ernst said.
While you’re getting your lawn ready for winter, give a thought, too, to the equipment that helps maintain it.
Sonny Cantrell, owner of Hilliard Lawn and Garden, noted that many mower repair shops offer maintenance specials during the colder months. Getting a mower serviced during the late fall or winter will make sure it’s ready for spring, Cantrell said.
Those who wait until spring for service could be waiting a long time, Cantrell warned.
“You don’t want to go out when your grass is knee-high in the spring to find out your mower won’t start,” he said.
A lot of other folks will be finding out the same thing, he warned.
“Most of the shops are weeks behind in the spring,” he said.
At the very least, run your mower dry of fuel before putting it away for winter, Cantrell said.
Old fuel can damage a mower’s carburetor and other parts, and is one of the biggest causes of mower problems in the spring, he said.
Getgrassy.org offers these tips for environmentally friendly fall lawn prep
Leaf it on your lawn — Grass clippings and leaves return nutrients and organic matter to your lawn and soil, and prevent soil compaction caused by rain and foot traffic. Too many? Instead of bagging them, use excess leaf material in garden beds or add it to your compost bin for a good carbon source.
Get your lawn on — Now is good time for over-seeding thin lawns and filling in bare spots. The soil is still warm for good root development and seeds sprout quickly. Cut the grass as short as possible, and spread seed over a de-thatched or aerated lawn.
Fall is for fertilization — Fall is the best time to fertilize, because shorter days and cooler temperatures encourage root growth. The grass will use what fertilizer is available this fall, while the remaining nutrients are frozen in the soil to be used in the spring when the soil warms.