Taking stock of the late season garden certainly includes a look at the lawn. Turf-grass takes more of the garden area than any other crop but quality care is often lacking. Completing several tasks is important before the snow finally comes. If you do, you will have the greenest, healthiest lawn in the neighborhood next year. Although many of these tasks can be done throughout the year, doing then now frees up time in the spring when the gardening tasks are usually more pressing.
The first task is to provide the needed nutrients for the grass. Grass is a perennial plant with a very extensive root system. This enables the turf to extract many needed nutrients from the soil. The exception is nitrogen, which is the soil supplied element needed in the largest amount by the grass. This needs to be added on a regular basis to keep the grass growing well and to keep it healthy. Nitrogen is very mobile in the environment and changes forms frequently. Because it is leached away or is converted into a gaseous form, it must be added frequently.As expected nitrogen applied in the fall is not going to green up the lawn right now. What will happen is that the roots will absorb the nutrient and the grass will start to grow early in the season next year. Early growth will help prevent the germination of many annual weed seeds and slow the spread of many perennial weeds. This reduces the need for chemical weed treatments.
Although it does not seem very stylish, now is a great time to dig out some perennial weeds. Digging quackgrass or other creeping weeds will not control them but a sharp weed digger will easily remove dandelions, thistles or other simple perennials. Be certain to get deep enough to remove the crown and as much of the tap root as possible. Leaving the crown in place will let new shoots grow and allow the weeds to regenerate.
Clean up fallen leaves before winter because layers of leaves on the lawn keep sunlight from reaching the grass so the grass is smothered and dies out. This creates large areas where the grass is weakened or stressed and allows weeds to invade and makes the turf more prone to diseases.
If the lawn is compacted or has a heavy layer of thatch consider aerating the turf. One good time to aerate is just before a snow storm. The snow will cover the plugs and allow them to decompose and help break down the thatch layer. The soil needs to be moist but avoid trying to aerate muddy lawns.
Controversy over the proper mowing height is always a part of fall lawn care. One last mowing after the leaves are cleaned up is beneficial from a cosmetic standpoint. Closer mowing is often recommended to prevent some turf diseases but is not merited in our area because the diseases never cause serious problems unless the turf is excessively long. Likewise preventative fungicidal applications are not recommended unless your turf has a serious ongoing problem with diseases. Normally snow mold is the only disease that requires fall treatment but the disease is not serious enough to warrant fungicidal applications in our area on bluegrass lawns. Snowmold is a more serious problem with ryegrass and is a severe problem on bentgrass. Bentgrass is not normally used for home lawns but is used for golf course greens. Leave that problem to the local golf course superintendent.
Winterize the sprinkler system by turning off the water on the stop and waste valve. Run the clock through several cycles so each plunger opens and closes and expells water in the valves. If the manufacturer has other recommendations, follow them to winterize the valves and prevent any possible freeze damage. Clocks do not usually need special care so unless there are special instructions simply turn them to the inactive cycle for the winter. Mechanical clocks are best shut down to avoid excess wear on the components.
Properly designed sprinkler systems have automatic drains installed so they will drain instead of freezing and breaking the pipes. Professionals often purge the lines with compressed air to remove any water that remains if the drains are not functioning or if the pipes have settled. Make a tool to blow out your lines from a threaded valve stem and the appropriate pipe fitting. Connect this to the line by removing one of the heads. Blow out the lines using a compressor or even a tire pump. This is a quick and easy way to prevent damage that will require extensive repairs next spring.
Spend some time now to give the lawn the care it needs. The reward will be healthy, attractive turf with a minimum of effort next spring. Your turf will be the envy of the neighborhood and require less time and effort to keep it that way.