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Late-Season Lawn Tips, Step By Step

To upgrade a lawn with terrible soil beneath, we brought in a bulk delivery of compost last weekend.

To upgrade a lawn with terrible soil beneath, we brought in a bulk delivery of compost last weekend.

We used a landscape rake to spread the compost approximately one-quarter inch thick. With rain coming today, we'll overseed with a layer of perennial ryegrass — which germinates quickly.

We used a landscape rake to spread the compost approximately one-quarter inch thick. With rain coming today, we’ll overseed with a layer of perennial ryegrass — which germinates quickly.

While some folks in the southern tier of North America are readying their lawns by planting annual ryegrass seed for some winter green right about now, those of us in the North should be buttoning up the lawn for the longest season of the year.

Here are a few general tips, which will vary depending on where you live. Use the soil temperatures as your barometer on how long you can push the season.

MOWING — I have always recommended a final mowing that’s a bit lower than I keep the lawn during the rest of the season — but I don’t scalp the lawn. Two to two and a half inches is low enough. Grass that’s too tall is a haven for voles and field mice. It also mats down on itself and can be more prone to snow mold.

Observe the mowing “rule of thirds” on the final cut, just as you would the rest of the year. That means that you never want to remove more than a third of the plant at any one time, especially for the final cut. That would send the lawn into the winter overly stressed.

FERTILIZING — If your grass is done growing for the season, but still green, you can apply a “winterizer” fertilizer that has two or three percentage points of nitrogen and potassium by weight. Any amount in excess of that may just leach away.

You don’t want to be pushing out new growth if the soil under the lawn is close to freezing. That will definitely increase the likelihood of snow mold, which is a fungal disease. The new succulent grass plants will also be prone to freezing temperatures and ice damage.

This is a fine time to put down a thin layer of compost as a top-dressing. By thin, we mean a quarter inch or less.

SEEDING — Any seed applied right now should be perennial or annual ryegrass. Other species take too long to germinate and probably won’t come up during the time we have left in the season. Some folks put down seed now, figuring that what doesn’t germinate now will come up in the spring. That’s generally proven to be a waste of time and money.

WATERING — We’ve had plenty of rain up in New England, but if you live in an area that’s been dry this fall, you can and should keep watering deeply once a week right up until the ground freezes. Dig down six to eight inches and feel the soil. If it’s moist, it doesn’t need water. But if it’s dry, you can really help you lawn emerge healthy next spring by giving it a good drink now.

GRUBS — Grubs that hatched from eggs in September and October and digging their way deeper into the ground by now and, at least in the far north, we’re past our window where grub control products will work well. Be on guard to treat the grubs next spring as they emerge from the soil, usually sometime from late May to late June.

RAKING — Don’t procrastinate on this one. I’m in a bit of a panic myself. With several business trips next week, I’m concerned about the oak leaves that are still on the lawn. I hope they’re still light and dry when I finally have time to remove them next weekend.

Its terrible for the lawn to leave a heavy layer of leaves in place for the winter.

DETHATCHING AND AERATING — In the most northern states, it’s too late for these activities. In the middle of the country, you probably still have time to aerate and dethatch if necessary.

LIME APPLICATIONS — If the ground isn’t frozen, go ahead and apply limestone or gypsum if your soil test indicates you need to either raise the pH or increase the calcium-magnesium ratio. This great post by Craig Dick of Calcium Products Inc. and NatraTurf explained the differences.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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