DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Fall Lawn Care

Our lawns have had a difficult year. We had a wet, cold spring followed by a hot and dry summer, and while we had scattered rain in late summer, it was not enough to offset the brutal year.

But good lawn care can help alleviate the bad situation.

Here are a few preventative steps you can take:

  • While fall rains can help restock subsoil moisture, you may have to water if the problem doesn’t correct itself.

Controlling weeds also is essential. Usually, a lawn service can apply liquid fertilizer and herbicide to your lawn. Or you can do it yourself. (Herbicides should be applied as soon as Labor Day until late September.)

  • You also can aerate your lawn if the soil is compacted or if thatch is a problem.
  • Lawns require nitrogen to retain their rich, green color. Continue mowing the lawn so that the grass is no higher than 1.5 to 2 inches tall going into the winter.
  • Years ago, gardeners were told to cut their lawns real short to prevent snow mold. They actually did more damage by scalping their lawns. Generally, in places where snow accumulates, you can mow down to 1.5 inches.
  • Most cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass are best maintained at 2 to 3 inches high during the growing season. In October, you can reduce to the overwintering heights best for your lawn.
  • If the grass ceases to grow before all the deciduous foliage has fallen, use the mower as a leaf mulcher or vacuum to keep the leaves from packing down and smothering the grass.

It is getting late to reseed lawns that have bad spots. A good time to reseed would be in early spring after the snow has melted but the soil is still moist to aid germination.

Remember that sunny places are best-suited for Kentucky bluegrass varieties. Red fescue works in shady areas.

Rose care

Final winterizing for roses is usually done in late October after a deep, hard freeze. Cover the roses with plastic foam cones or bushel baskets for protection. Tying the cones loosely beforehand will ease the job. Cut the cones back about 6 to 12 inches and mound the plants with fresh black dirt.

These instructions apply to tender or tea roses. For shrub roses, winter protection is less of a problem. If the top should die, it will grow another in spring.

Many gardeners overwinter their tender roses and other tender perennials by covering with bags of leaves. Also, during the winter, keep tender plants covered with snow, the perfect winter blanket.

2 thoughts on “DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Fall Lawn Care”

  • Mike Jones September 28, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Darrell – my back yard has become very rough and I’m considering ways to smooth it out. It is fairly lush and 2/3 gets a fair amount of shade. What do you suggest? Is it better to do that in the fall or spring? Should the soil be moist or dry?

    1. Jeff Tiedeman September 29, 2015 at 10:52 am

      This is from the Prairie Gardener, Darrel Koehler: “I believe nightcrawlers, a large earthworm, are the culprits. The problem is worse during dry summers like this one we just enjoyed. As the worms dig down to water, they shove castings onto the soil surface. Rain would drive the worms upward and cause less problems. Actually, they do good in breaking up the thick clay soils For more info, check with your local extension service or a garden center that has a person familiar with turf problems.”


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