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Iowa Lawn Prep In October

Iowa Lawn Prep In October

Even though much of the month of October can be one of the best times for grass growth and recovery, it’s tempting to put away our thoughts, practices and equipment used to care for our lawns by the middle to end of September. The reason for this active period of growth is that the lawn grasses adapted to this area (e.g., Kentucky bluegrass, the fine fescues and perennial ryegrass) are best adapted to the cooler and usually moist conditions of spring and fall.

1. Mowing. So long as our grasses continue to grow, we should be continuing to mow as needed. With cooler temperatures and shorter days, mowing intervals usually become longer the later we go into the month. A common question at this time of year is “Should I cut my lawn shorter the last mowing of the year?” One reason to consider somewhat shorter mowing heights in the fall is the decreased (usually) incidence of snow mold come the following spring. Longer matted grass potentially creates more favorable habitat for the snow mold fungus to live and grow over winter. We see the results of that fungal growth the next spring when, as the snow melts and retreats from the lawn surface, the lawn appears covered with grayish or pinkish colored patches indicating the presence of snow mold.

However, reducing the height of a lawn should not be something reserved for only the last mowing. For example, if the lawn has been kept at about 2.5 – 3.0 inches during the growing season and the desire is to reduce that to two inches, then begin the process of gradually lowering that mowing height two to three mowings prior to your very last cutting. That will help the grass adjust to a lower height of cut more gradually instead of being scalped just before going into colder conditions; a more stressful condition for turfgrass. If the grass is still actively growing during October, you may need to mow somewhat more frequently in order to reach and then maintain the lower mowing height.

2. October is the month when leaves drop from our deciduous (leaf losing) trees. The spectacular fall colors of early October give way to leafless trees ready to face the winter months ahead. So, what to do with all of those leaves? A small amount (usually less than a couple of inches) of fall leaves can be left on the lawn surface and ground up with a rotary mower. Be sure to go over them several times such that the remaining leaf particles can more easily sift down into the lawn and soil surfaces. The lawn should look like it was raked when you are done.

3. Early October is an excellent time to apply herbicides to perennial broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, creeping Charlie, clover, and plantain. See Picture 3. Where only a few weeds are present, hand removal can be just as effective as an herbicide. On the other hand, weed control products are now widely available in ready-to-use application containers. Hence, we can spot treat the specific weeds while introducing minimal amounts of herbicide to the environment. Where weeds are more numerous and scattered throughout the lawn, a broadcast application of an herbicide product can also be done. These can be applied either as a granular or liquid product. The products used should be weed control products only and not combined with a lawn fertilizer as this would not be a good time to be applying fertilizer. Always follow product label directions exactly – it’s the law. Be sure the weeds (and lawn grasses) are actively growing at the time of application as the product’s effectiveness will be much better than if weeds are growing under water stress. If necessary, water the area to be treated a day or two the planned application to help ensure their active growth.

4. It hardly seems necessary or even appropriate to be talking about watering a lawn given the amount of rainfall and flooding issues experienced over the last few weeks. Nonetheless, should October turn dry and remain warm, lawn grasses will likely benefit from an additional watering or two before shutting down for the winter. In general, it’s a good practice to not have lawn grasses go into winter conditions severely stressed due to lack of water. We don’t need to follow the one inch per week at this time of year due to the cooler temperatures and shorter days. Both of those conditions slow the loss of water from the lawn and hence any watering required can be done at longer intervals. In other words, that same one inch of water per week, (including rainfall), during the summer months might be sufficient for two or even three weeks this time of year depending on weather conditions.

5. Finally, new suggestions for applying nitrogen fertilizers to Iowa lawns no longer include a late October to early November application. In short, new research here at in Iowa questions the usefulness of that nitrogen application due to the inefficiency with which it’s taken up by the grass plant. Hence, the preferred late season fertilizer application time for Iowa lawns is around Labor Day to the middle of September. Nitrogen absorption is much better at that time of year and it ensures adequate nitrogen nutrition for the grass plant going into a very active period of growth. For more information on this topic see the article in the August 1, Yard and Garden Newsletter.

Continuing through the fall with few important lawn care practices can help ensure a healthy lawn going into the winter months and a healthier lawn to begin the growing season next spring. Good Luck!



Winter lawn care tips for a better spring

Winter Lawn Care Tips for a Better Spring

The winter is when you spend the least amount of time thinking of your lawn. Unless you live in an area that is relatively warm all year long, chances are you have put the lawn mower away and are ready for a few months of relaxation before you have to start the lawn maintenance routine again.

There are a few things you can do during even the harshest winter that can ensure a beautiful, lush yard once spring rolls around again.

Fertilizing in the Winter

Late fall or early winter are the best times to fertilize cool season grasses. Since the majority of the lawns in North America are made from these grasses, like Bermuda and bluegrass, it is a good bet your yard has a typical cool season blend.

Before the first freeze, give your lawn a thorough fertilizing to replace all of the nutrients that can be lost from the soil during the hot summer months. Once the weather turns cold, the fertilizer will remain in the soil and feed your lawn’s roots all winter long.

When spring comes your lawn will be full of healthy, lush, green grass that has been feeding on good fertilizer nutrients underneath the snow.

Mowing Strategies

During the last month of the summer you should gradually lower the cutting base of your lawn mower each time you mow the lawn. Slowly cutting your grass shorter will allow it to winter well without shocking it by cutting it all off at once.

If you leave your lawn too tall during the winter months it will be prey to field mice and other burrowing animals that want a warm place to sleep. Mice can destroy large parts of your lawn by building nests. They create dead spots where they spend all of their time as well as pulling up large amounts of grass to build their structures.

Make sure your grass is as short as possible at the end of the season. Short grass also protects any new growth that may be more fragile near the end of the growing season.

Keep it Clean

It is easy for items to be left on the lawn during the long, cold winter when no one goes outside very often. Stray logs, toys, and even lawn furniture can be accidentally overlooked before the first snow comes.

Make sure that you clear the lawn of all objects after you mow it for the last time of the year. Do an occasional sweep of the lawn every couple of weeks during the winter, as well.

If an object is left on the grass during cold weather and snowfall it can create large dead spots because of the weight of the object. In the spring the grass in that area will be stunted and thinner than the rest of the yard.

Avoid Excessive Lawn Traffic

When the grass is brown and short it can be easy for people to forget that it shouldn’t be walked on. Try to prevent very much foot traffic on your winter lawn. Grass is relatively resilient, but it will have a difficult time recovering if a path becomes well worn across the lawn.

  • Keep your sidewalks cleared of ice and snow so that you and your guests won’t be tempted to cut across the yard very often.
  • Never allow anyone to park a truck or a car on your lawn. Even the smallest vehicle will leave impressions in the soil and kill off the grass that is underneath the tires. Using the lawn as a parking lot is the fastest way to kill the good grass and make room for crabgrass and other types of weeds.

Prepare in the Fall

There really is not much lawn care that needs to be done during the cold months of winter. If you properly prepare the lawn during the fall, it will be fine until the warm days of spring arrive once more.

  • Make sure you aerate, fertilize, and mow the lawn before the first freeze of the season.
  • Rake away any dead leaves that may have fallen and collected on your yard to avoid wet spots that can become mossy or moldy.
  • Keep the lawn cleared of debris and help everyone in the family respect the yard while it is dormant.

Once you have taken care of everything that needs to be done during the fall you will be ready to enjoy a nice cozy winter indoors with your family before lawn care season begins again in the spring.



Top 6 things to do to grow and maintain a healthy lawn

How you treat your lawn in the spring has everything to do with how well the grass flourishes come summertime. Many people think that lawns have the capacity to jump-start themselves in the spring and maintain their health all alone. As with all growing things, your immature lawn needs nutrients, sunlight and TLC. Here are six ways to get your lawn ready for the year.

  1. Clean up. There are several spring lawn care musts, and clearing fall and winter debris from the lawn is paramount for success. Rake deep to remove dead grass, leaves, mud and debris.
  2. Fertilizing. Hopefully you fertilized your lawn last fall. Spring is the time for light feeding to prevent weeds from getting a big start on the season. I prefer natural compost or using clippings from the mulch mower in my lawn care regimen.
  3. Break up compaction. The roots of your grass need to absorb water and nutrients directly. If the soil is compacted, rent an aerator or walk your lawn with a pitchfork.
  4. Amend your soil. A favorable soil pH is necessary for lawn health. Send a soil sample to a local university extension. Most amendments are made to correct for high soil acidity using a lime-based product.
  5. Remove weeds and crabgrass. The weeds in your lawn survived winter, so they’re hearty. Get them out now by the roots. If you decide on using pre-emergent herbicides, now’s the time to apply it. Pull out new sprouted weeds as they arrive.
  6. Overseed bald patches. Wait four weeks after using any pre-emergent herbicide to overseed. Whether it’s that bald spot under a tree or the section ripped out by heavy traffic, you should seed it anew with the same type of seed you originally sowed.