Fall Tips

Putting Your Lawn to Bed for the Winter

Fall is the time to start putting your lawn to bed for the winter. Summer has come and gone, and chances are, it has taken its toll on your lawn. Drought, disease, insects and weeds can leave your lawn looking thin and patchy. Here are some tips for getting your lawn back into shape, preparing it for survival during the winter and a quick green-up in the spring.

Fertilize your lawn to help heal the damage

Damaged areas in lawn will recover more quickly with two applications of fertilizer in the fall. The first application should be made in early fall (from mid-August to mid-September). This will help turf recover from damage that occurred during the growing season. Nitrogen and potash stimulate grass growth and repair, and harden off your grass for winter.

Overseed lawns that have extensive damage or loss.

Some damage is too extensive to be fixed with just an application of fertilizer. For those areas, uniformly distribute the desired seed mixture in two directions, making sure the seed is in contact with the soil. Seed-to-soil contact can be enhanced by core aerating before spreading seed.

Control thatch in the fall

Thatch harbours disease-causing organisms such as snow mould. In lawns with excess thatch, the growing point of the plant is elevated above the soil. The soil has insulating properties that the thatch does not. Lawns with an abundance of thatch are more prone to winter injury. The ideal time for thatch control is the same as for overseeding and the first application of fall fertilizer.

Remove fallen tree leaves before snowfall

If fallen leaves are not removed, the lawn will not get light and will eventually die. An alternative to leaf removal is pulverizing tree leaves with a mulching mower and letting them decompose on your lawn. Research has shown that a layer of tree leaves up to 15 cm deep can be mulched in a lawn without adversely affecting it. Mow dry leaves with a mulching mower with sharp mower blades.

Leave the lawn cut at the right height. Raise the mowing height slightly in the fall. Rooting depth is proportional to mowing height – the longer the leaves, the deeper the roots. Longer grass blades provide some insulation for the crown (growing point) of the grass plant. However, if the grass is too long going into the winter, it will become matted, which encourages winter diseases such as pink and grey snow mould.

Apply a late season fertilizer application

To insure good winter survival and early-spring green-up, make this fertilizer application when the turf has stopped growing but is still green, usually in mid- to late October. Timing is critical. Fertilizer applied too early will promote succulent growth in the fall that will make the lawn more susceptible to winter injury. Fertilizer applied too late will be of no benefit to the turf. If you make a late-fall fertilizer application, spring fertilization can be delayed until late May to early June.