How to ready your lawn for winter is always a question. Cut it short or leave it long? Fertilize in the fall or wait for spring? Rake the leaves or leave them where they lie?
The rule in lawn mowing—similar to other pruning chores—is to never remove more than a quarter of the height of the grass in a single mowing. This holds true until fall. Grass goes into winter better if cut short. As you approach your last lawn mowing date, begin mowing your lawn shorter. Over a couple of weeks continue until the grass is only 1-inch high at the last mowing. That last lawn mowing date is a moving target, but these tips will help you hit the mark. During your spring lawn care, reverse the procedure.
Fall is the best time to fertilize your grass. Use a fertilizer with low nitrogen and higher phosphate and potassium. Since everything is slowing down for winter there is no need to give a heavy boost with nitrogen at this time of the year. (In summer, leave the clippings on the lawn when mowing; they will provide for 90 percent of the nitrogen your lawn needs. Clippings do not create thatch problems. It is over fertilization and irrigation that causes thatch.)
If you have trees with large leaves that mat easily, mow with a mulching lawn mower and then remove them. Use them as mulch in your beds and borders. They should be chopped to keep them from smothering the plants. Mulch applied in late fall will keep your beds frozen so that plants are not heaved out of the soil during winter’s warm spells.
Fine leaves from trees like linden and hybrid honey locust drop into the grass with no problems. Large, heavy leaves like walnut should be removed as quickly as possible or they will smoother out grass or any plants that they cover. Once walnut leaves are wet, raking them off the ground is like trying to separate layers of wet tissue paper.
Remember, evergreen trees need water until the soil freezes. Deciduous trees and shrubs require water until they drop their leaves.
Terri McAffee began gardening as a child. Currently she gardens in USDA Zone 5 Idaho and enjoys hosting her grandchildren in her “jungle.” She has been a gardening columnist for several publications, has led classes and given lectures, and she is an Advanced Master Gardener. Visit Terri’s website, www.greenknees.net.