Putting a green lawn to bed in autumn can be frustrating if it will just come back patchy and brown in the spring. Damage tends to occur during winter dormancy, but this damage can often be traced back to maintenance mistakes in the fall. The following tips can help you avoid some common autumn lawn care mishaps.
1. Fertilize Cautiously
Fall fertilization is considered a common pre-winter maintenance step, but it isn't always necessary. Only cool-season grasses, which tend to come out of dormancy once temperatures cool in autumn, actually benefit from a fall fertilizer application. Fertilizing warm-season lawns may just lead to increased weed growth since the grass is entering a dormant period that requires no additional nutrients.
2. Lower Height Gradually
Another common fall maintenance tip is to mow the lawn an inch or two lower than one does in the summer. This is a good tip since the goal is to prevent severe winter burn and the matting of grass leaves once they are under a layer of snow or frozen over. The issue is doing it all at once, as this can shock the lawn and kill the grass. Instead, begin lowering the lawn mower blade gradually before the final mow of the year. For example, if you plan to mow the lawn an inch shorter, then lower it in half-inch increments for a couple of weeks so the lawn can adjust to the deeper cuts.
3. Don't Leave Debris
Falling leaves, dropped evergreen needles, and an array of dead twigs and branches typically rain down on the lawn in autumn. Raking it up is about more than just aesthetics, though. Debris left on the lawn can smother the grass over winter, or it may harbor fungal, bacterial, or viral pathogens that will kill lawn grass. Make a point of raking up the debris before any snow falls so you don't have this problem.
4. Loosen the Soil
It's not uncommon for cold and winter winds to actually desiccate grass so that it burns and dies. This is especially common with cool-season grasses, which may not be completely dormant in winter. Although there's usually no need to water in winter, you do need to ensure the natural moisture from rain and snow melt can make its way into the soil. Have the soil aerated in the fall so it is loose enough for healthy lawn growth.
Contact a lawn maintenance service if you need more help with preparing your lawn for winter.
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