Archive for the ‘Cultural Practices’ Category

Late fall lawn tips: mowing and raking

You know the lawns, the ones that stay buried in leaves from October until Memorial Day or the perfectly clean ones where not a single leaf can be found by Thanksgiving.  Although these two kinds of lawns are at opposite ends of the autumn leaf removal spectrum, the point is made.  You should do something about those leaves before the snow flies.  Heavy leaf cover acts like mulch and remember we mulch to keep weeds and seeds from germinating in our landscape.   The deeper the leaf cover and the larger the piles, the more likely this lawn will thin out or end up as bare ground come late spring.    The best solution to lots of leaves is a late season cleanup in November, well after foliage season has passed.  While obtaining a perfectly clean lawn is not necessary, a good raking or professional cleanup will go a long way toward protecting your lawn come winter.  This way, next spring when things starting growing, your lawn can join the green up and not be inhibited or damaged from heavy leaf cover left over from the prior year.

Fall leaf removal is important to your lawn.

Fall leaf removal is important to your lawn.

Another important item on the fall checklist is the final mowing.  I get this question asked a lot, “How short do I mow my lawn and when should the final cut be?”  Generally, the final cut should be in November in our geographic area.  The final mowing should range right around 1.5”, depending upon grade, because an uneven lawn may be severely scalped if cut this low. So be sure to just mow short without kicking up soil!  A short cut can help minimize snow mold, winter kill, ice damage, and even mouse damage.  This is the only time of year I recommend a short cut! A lawn that is left long (over 3”) is in jeopardy and greater peril for damage from the aforementioned issues.  Add to that excessive leaf cover and your lawn can soon turn into a parking area versus a green space to enjoy.  The moral of today’s blog post is to cut your lawn short and keep it clean before the snow flies for a happier and greener lawn next spring!  

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Autumn lawn care is great

There is no better time of year with autumn’s crisp blue days and cool nights to help your lawn make significant gains to prepare for winter…and to start spring strong. Warm soil and reduced weed competition means all sorts of good things when it comes to fall seeding and repairs.  My previous blog post explained the benefits of core aeration and over seeding, but there is much more that can be done to prepare your grass for winter and next spring. 

Fall is the best time to help prepare your lawn for winter and next spring.

Fall is the best time to help prepare your lawn for winter and next spring.

Before we talk about what to do now, we must quickly look back to the past summer’s humidity and extensive rain not to mention residual issues from the heat and drought of 2012. .  These weather factors caused widespread insect activity, disease issues, thinning, and in some cases damage to the point of necessary repairs, from small to large.  Ongoing insect damage in the form of chinch bugs are currently brown patches that may continue growing in size!  Grubs are getting large enough now to also cause browning and will continue to eat grass roots right into November.  If you were unaware of these past issues, you are now informed and educated so the rest of this fall can be productive as it pertains to your lawn.  So what now?

Even if your lawn did not experience any of the problems I described above, autumn is the ideal time to help your lawn store energy in the root system by proper fertilizing.  The key here is not to apply too much or too little fertilizer.  Not putting down enough fertilizer on your lawn will not hurt, but the results won’t be there; although you may have fun in the process.  Putting down too much material can cause an excessive flush of growth and predispose your lawn to ice or cold damage come wintertime. Balance is always an important rule of thumb regarding lawn treatments, but exceptions and variations do exist.  For instance, a lawn which has minimal care all season can receive lots of “critical care” in a short period of time versus a lawn which has been on a regular program may see lower rates or different product usage.  While lawns may appear to be alike, they each have personalities unique to their own surroundings such as trees, sunlight, buildings, fences, and exposure to wind.  The care your grass receives should be taking these variables into account with the arrival of fall and foliage season here in New England.

Hardening your lawn off as the nighttime temperatures drop is important and includes dropping your mowing height in October, ending up around 1.5” on most grass types as the final cut in November.  A short cut helps reduce winter, ice, and snow mold damage in your lawn.  Even greater benefits can be gained with proper fall lawn fertilizer treatments such as potassium and zero phosphate products to encourage healthy roots full of carbohydrates.  Like a big Italian spaghetti dinner, your lawn can feast and go into the winter with reserves so your chances of recovery and an early spring green up are enhanced.  There is lots of time to help your lawn this autumn, so don’t let September and October pass without taking advantage of the opportunity to leverage your lawn into an even greater asset in 2014.

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My lawn has white and brown patches this spring

 

I bet your lawn does look strange this spring, the result of unusually dry and sunny conditions.  I have seen grass dormant and just not growing because it has not had enough moisture. I have seen snow mold patches just sitting amongst healthy turf.  I have seen stressed out turf with sun scald blended in with drought stress from excessively nice weather.  I have seen rock walls heating up the soil and causing brown dormancy typical of late June or July.  What is going on?  I bet you wish this spring was more “normal” but instead, your usually plush green spring carpet is sitting idle or has patchy oddities mixed in.

When in doubt, go back to the basics of proper watering and mowing, even if it is mid-May.  Even if the weather is cool, sunny dry weather will cause just as much harm and unseen stress to grass as a July day at the beach.  Picture fresh new leaves emerging and they are delicate, like a house plant being brought out onto the porch after winter.  Days of sunny, dry weather and wind cause an excessive drying effect and stress load on the lawn.  Your lawn has just starting coming out of dormancy and is looking for an abundant supply of water, but none is to be found.  The bright sunny days and warming soil stimulate new leaf blades but the water is not in enough supply and any new growth becomes stressed.  This type of problem will manifest itself with slowed growth, light browning, or a fast shock of sun scald where patches of grass appear with white tips or half wilted leaf blades.  I have included a picture taken recently to illustrate what this spring’s weather has done to a normally healthy, vibrant lawn.

Sunny dry weather can cause all kinds of lawn problems

Short mowing, below 2”, places unreasonable and terrible stress on a lawn already setup to turn brown, even in May, yes – even in spring!  You must mow at 3” whenever possible to promote deeper rooting and a better food manufacturing area, otherwise known as grass blades, to enhance long-term density.  Watering in a cool, dry spring is very important – especially on sandy soils. 

Now is the time to wait for rain and hope that the dreams of green come true and the summer of 2012 was just a one-time nightmare.  Stay tuned because no one knows what 2013 will bring; good or bad. 

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