There are many chores that need to be done in the fall before you put your garden to bed for the winter. But first and foremost, there are many things you can do to prepare your lawn.
Thatch is the layer of slowly decomposing grass stems, dead roots and debris that accumulates above the soil and below the grass blades. Thatch becomes a problem if it is thicker than a quarter-inch, because it stops nutrients and moisture from penetrating to the roots. Use a thatching rake to pull out some of the brown decomposing material.
Aerating is a process whereby small cores of soil are removed from the turf to breakdown hard soils and get in more oxygen, which is required by the roots.
If you have a sandy soil, you will not need to aerate as often as you do with clay soils. If it has been a very dry summer, aerate your lawn in the fall so the soil will be better able to absorb winter precipitation.
Aerating is done with a special machine (usually by lawn care companies), but you can also get aerating sandals or hand tools.
Over time your lawn becomes thinner, depending on the amount of sunlight and moisture it receives. Early to mid-fall is a great time to overseed your lawn as a way of thickening it up. The thicker the lawn is the fewer weeds you will have. Also, the thicker the lawn is, the less the sun will be directly hitting the soil and drying it out, thus, lower amounts of water needed.
Before overseeding, mow your lawn as short as you can and rake over the area with a stiff toothed rake to loosen up the soil. Spread the seed on top of the raked soil. Keep seed evenly moist. After two weeks you should be seeing the grass seed germinating.
The final application of fertilizer should be applied about one month before the ground freezes, usually just after the last time you mow your lawn for the season. To help strengthen the lawn’s root system for next spring, fertilize with an organic fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and higher in potassium (e.g. 4-3-9).
This is the ninth in a 10-week gardening column series, organized by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Communities in Bloom Committee. It is also the first part of two — see next week’s Local for tips from Joanne Young about how to prune, plant and other gardening tasks to consider for the fall.