The cooler months are coming and soon your lawn work will be complete for the season. To prepare your yard for the chilly weather and ensure the grass returns green and vibrant in the spring, you’ll want to plan a weekend of fall yard preparation.
We asked Eric Doersam, owner of the Grounds Guys in McHenry Illinois, how he prepares yards for the extreme temperature fluctuations found in the midwest and he helped us compile this list of tricks for you to try out this fall. Start your yard work before the snow falls and you’ll be happy with how your yard looks throughout the winter and into the spring.
Preparing grass for the winter
Aerate the soil
Over time compacted soil makes it difficult for water to access the roots of the grass. Aerating loosens the soil and allows nutrients to reach deep into the ground. This helps grass reproduce during months of dormancy and return lush and full in the spring.
Most landscaping companies can aerate your yard in just an hour with a machine that removes dirt plugs. You can also aerate the soil yourself with a pair of aeration shoes.
Fertilize your grass
After aerating, apply a slow release fertilizer to the lawn. Fertilization strengthens roots and provides a strong base that will thrive in the spring. Slow release fertilizers help with damage caused by hot summers, and prepares grass for cool weather.
Any kind of fertilizer that has a blend of 50 percent or more slow release nitrogen will be great to help thicken the lawn. A Triple 15 blend is great because of all the nutrients within, but if the lawn has recently been seeded or over seeded for the fall a 13-25-12 blend will help jumpstart new seed growth.
Overseed patchy areas of grass
Overseeding in the fall will thicken sparse areas. Lay seed after aerating and make sure that it is in direct contact with the soil to encourage germination. If your yard has holes or bald spots, Eric recommends filling with a mixture of top soils and seed mixture and cover with cover grow or crushed newspaper to lock the moisture in and promote growth. A good fertilization program throughout the year will eliminate bald spots in the fall since a consistent program will help the grass fill itself in.
Don’t forget the rest of the yard!
Most yards are comprised primarily of grass but cleaning up trees, bushes and flowers can help provide a clean look through the chilly months. If you experience heavy snowfall, selective pruning will prevent branch loss and breakage throughout the winter.
Fall Pruning Tips
“Bushes and trees can be pruned in the early fall to clean up and shape prior to winter, but really the best time to prune is just before the plant breaks dormancy after springs final frost,” says Eric. “When pruning in the fall, its important to not remove any more than 1/3 of the total height or width of the bush when it is moving to dormancy.”
“In the spring, always cut a quarter of an inch above and sloping away from a healthy bud so the pruning wound heals quickly. Look for and clip stems with brown and dry bark, or off-color since that indicates disease or winter injury and snip off spindly branches. Wherever there are two branches rubbing together, remove one.”
Most rose bushes are pruned in the spring. In the fall use a hand clipper to remove anything off the bush that is dead. Pack the bush with mulch or cover the roots in styrofoam to prevent freezing during the winter.
Dealing with Leaves
Eric recommends putting leaves to work as they fall in the early parts of the season. Running over them with a lawn mower will help make food for the grass. As leaf fall increases, leaves need to be removed from the yard. Too many leaves can smother the grass and prevent it from growing the following spring.
Don’t forget to check gutters and clean out any heavy piles of leaves. This helps ensure that the gutters can properly remove water from the slope of the roof, preventing expensive water damage later on.
Taking these small projects on now will help ensure your yard is healthy and happy in the spring – saving you time (and money) in the long run.
Fall is the time for planting bulbs! Plan your spring garden today by planting bulbs before the ground is frozen. Read our post on the Best Bulbs for Fall Planting to get a head start on planning.