Fall Lawn Care
by Rob Sproule
Few things are better than walking through a cool fall day, crunching leaves at your feet and crisp dry air at your nose. While our heads are wrapped around getting into the groove of a new school and work year, our yards still need us for a last “tuck-in” before winter sets in.
Aeration and Top-Dressing
If you don’t aerate in the spring, fall is the time to do it. If you have an old or unhealthy lawn, consider aerating twice a year in order to rejuvenate it. You can either hire a company (word of mouth from friends is the best way to find one; I suggest avoiding the pushy door-knockers) or you can simply roll up your sleeves, grab a rake, and go to town yourself.
After raking, top-dress patchy areas with a soil/ compost mix and sprinkle fresh seed. Adding extra seed every year will help your lawn looking lush and green, even if it’s just to thicken up the sparse areas. Don’t forget to water the seed in with a light mist as fall often doesn’t offer up much rain.
It’s natural to think of fertilizing the lawn in the spring. It’s a time of freshness, new growth, and all that good stuff. In the fall, as our yard pulls the blankets over itself and slowly settles in for winter sleep, it’s easy to forget to fertilize. In reality, fall fertilizing is the most important of the year.
In September, your lawn is pulling as many nutrients as it can into its roots in order to better survive the long winter ahead. Growth stops but the lawn stays active, and adding some nutrients for it to absorb will give you a healthier spring show.
Make sure to wait until the lawn has stopped actively growing. Adding the fertilizer while it’s growing will send the wrong message; it’s like having an espresso at 9pm. When a week has gone by and you look out the window and think, “cool, I won’t have to mow for another week,” it’s fall fertilizer time. This is usually the 3rd week of September or so.
You’ll have the choice between synthetic and organic fertilizer. Personally, I’m a big advocate of organics. A lot of people are turned off because the numbers on the bag are smaller, but what you don’t see is how much better it is for the soil, how it enhances beneficial microorganisms, and how good it is to keep synthetic chemicals out of your backyard ecosystem.
A word about organic fertilizers. Its become a nefariously common practice for big business to shoe-horn “organic” somewhere on the label in order to make their product look like it’s worth more than it is. If the fertilizer doesn’t have a label that says “OMRI” (Organic Materials Review Institute) or “Canadian Certified Organic” with a red maple leaf rising over a green field, don’t believe it’s organic.
Raking and bagging leaves is one of the most laborious parts of winterizing the yard. That gorgeous layer of yellow and orange will, under winter’s snowy weight, quickly turn into a soggy, oxygen depriving mat pressing down on the lawn, encouraging poor health and disease.
I have good news for you! It’s actually better for your lawn to skip all that work and mulch the leaves in with your mower, instead. A generous layer of mulched leaves both insulates and encourages beneficial micro-organism growth in the lawn.
If you have a lot of large trees, you may still need to do some raking. If you have more than an inch of mulched leaves after mowing, you run the risk of smothering the lawn with too much of good thing.