Can you believe that fall is here? It’s time to trade in swimming suits and sandals for sweaters and boots. The days will shorten and our minds will drift from outdoors projects to back to school and the approaching holidays. Still, before we wander too far down that road, we need to stop and think about the outside of our homes. Can’t you hear your lawn, trees, and shrubs screaming, “Don’t forget me! There are a few jobs that need to be done to prepare me for the long, cold winter!” That’s what this article is about: Putting our yard to bed.
You may be thinking, “Hey, I’m a girl, why do I need to know this?” The answer is two-fold. First, it is every Christian’s responsibility to be a good steward of what God has given them. If God has blessed you with a lawn, He expects you to maintain it and take care of it.
Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,” this includes yard work. A well-maintained yard can be a way of saying, “Thank you God for what you’ve given me.” It can also be an inviting witness to those around us. They will see that we are grateful for what we have and that we want to maintain it to the best of our ability. Thus, learning to care for our lawns is an act of worship.
The other reason you need to learn this is simple: Knowledge is power. When you know what needs done and how to do it, you can make intelligent decisions about whether to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. If you decide to hire someone, you may decide to take your knowledge and purchase the materials yourself and hire a teenager to do the work. This would save you a lot of money compared to hiring a professional, and it’s easy to buy the materials. Just go to your local garden center and ask someone to lift the bags into the car for you. (I’ve done this many times—they are always glad to help). Whether you do the work yourself, enlist someone in your family to do it for you (you know, a honey-do list), or hire someone, the important thing is you know what needs done and you arrange to have the tasks completed.
The next question you may have is “Why do I need to take care of my yard in the fall? Isn’t everything getting ready to go dormant for the winter?”
That’s what I used to think! Then I did some research and learned that the most important time to do yard maintenance is in the fall. Although you can’t see it, during the winter your lawn is very busy below the surface. While everything looks dead, there is a lot going on underground. During the colder months, root systems are being established and your ground is preparing itself for new life in the spring. The more work you do now, the healthier your lawn will be in the spring. So where do we start?
The first thing you need to remember is that you need to continue cutting your grass through the fall. It is also important to rake your leaves? Why? Leaves block sunlight, which your lawn desperately needs as it stores food for the dormant winter season. So the next time your kids ask, “Why do we have to rake the leaves?,” you’ll have answer to give them.
Another thing that many experts recommend is aerating your lawn. Aerating loosens up the compacted soils. This allows your lawn to more easily absorb nutrients, air, and water into the roots of the grass. Our family learned about aerating a few years ago when someone gave us an aerator that you attach to you riding mower. If you don’t have an aerator, you may want to borrow or rent one, because it isn’t something you’ll use very often. For those of you will smaller yards, you can avoid using an aerator by simply stabbing a pitchfork into the ground and wiggling it every few feet. It is best to aerate your lawn just before you fertilize it.
The next step is fertilizing your yard. This is very important. Let me be honest with you, for many years my family did not fertilize our yard and it looked very rough. It was one of those things my Dad said wasn’t important. Guess what! He was wrong.
Year after year, our lawn continued to look worse while our neighbors lawn looked lush and beautiful. Finally, my Mom decided to find out what we needed to do to improve our dying yard. The answer was simple. We needed to start fertilizing.
Fertilizer is food for the lawn. Like all living things, grass needs food or it will starve to death. When you fertilize your yard, you are giving it the necessary food. When we started feeding our lawn, we saw dramatic improvements. Not only did our lawn look better, but lawn maintenance became easier. Now we fertilize our lawn every spring and fall. However, in my research for this article I learned that if you are only going to fertilize once a year, it is best to do it in the fall. Why? Fertilizing allows your lawn to store the needed nutrients to stay healthy through the long dormant winter period and there will be nutrition waiting for it in the spring.
What kind of fertilizer should you use? There are many brands of fertilizer from which to choose. Personally, we use Jonathan Green fertilizer because it has given us excellent results. In the spring, we use a green-up product that contains high nitrogen content. Nitrogen helps our grass grow green and lush. In the fall, we go with a winter preparatory mix that helps strengthen the grass roots to help them survive the winter.
My advice to you would be to contact your local nursery and ask them what fertilizer mixture is best for your locations and conditions. Different parts of the country need different fertilizers, but your local nursery or garden center will know what your area needs and they will be able to recommend what will be best for your yard. Then just follow the directions on the bag, pull out the spreader, and give your lawn the nutrition that it needs. Again, if you are unable to push the spreader, I recommend hiring a young person to do it. The work isn’t complicated, and this will be less expensive for you than hiring a professional.
One last thought about fertilizers: Did you know that fall is the best time to use a weed and feed type product? I did not. However, I have learned that it is best to apply this type of fertilizer in the fall so that the weeds and dandelions are killed before they germinate and take root in the spring. It’s like stopping them in their tracks before they get started. You may want to mention this at the garden center when you are buying the fertilizer. I’m sure they will be able to help you find a fertilizer that will help you accomplish this task.
Another thing that will dramatically help your lawn is having your soil tested. Although there will be a fee for testing your soil, you will only need to have it tested one time. The reason you need to test your soil is to find out your soil’s acidity. If your soil has too much acid, you will need to put lime on your lawn. Spreading lime pellets helps neutralize the acid in the soil, killing moss. This is important because moss overtakes a lawn, killing grass and leaving bald spots. The lime destroys the moss.
Actually, spreading the lime on your yard is very simple. You buy the lime at a garden center and spread it with the same spreader you used for your fertilizer. To find out how much lime you need and when is the best time to spread it in your area, consult your local nursery or your county Department of Agriculture. Again, you will only need to test your soil and find out what you need once, and then you’ll know what to do every year. Personally, we had our soil tested and found that we did need to lime our yard. The task was very easy and the benefits were exceptional.
Finally, fall is a great time to reseed your lawn if your grass is thinning or there are bare spots. It is inexpensive to do, and the results are amazing. It is important to reseed with the proper grass seed for your area, so again, contact your local nursery to find the proper seed for your area and conditions.
One more hint about reseeding. DO NOT OVERSEED. Overseeding can cause the seed to choke itself out, wasting your time and money. When you spread the seed make sure to follow the directions on the bag. There are usually 2 sets of directions, a set for new planting, and a set for reseeding. It takes 3 times as much grass seed to grow a new lawn, so make sure you follow the directions for reseeding.
Like I said before, our yard was a mess until we learned to maintain it. Now we take proper care of it, remove all the leaves, fertilize to give the grass nutrition and lime to reduce the soil acidity. From time to time, we even reseed if the summer has put a strain on the grass. The investment of our time and effort has paid off. We now have a beautiful, healthy lawn. If we can do it, so can you! All you need is knowledge, motivation, and a little hard work.
Don’t forget about your trees and shrubs. Your grass isn’t the only thing that needs a boost before it goes into the winter. Just like grass, trees, and shrubs are living things and they may need some attention.
Start by removing any leaves or debris that may have gathered around your trees and shrubs. Such things will deprive the soil of needed oxygen and water that the plants need to grow. So while you’re raking your yard, clean out around the trees and shrubs, too.
Another thing I do is feed my younger trees and shrubs with HOLLYTONE. This gives them an extra burst of food to survive the winter. It also helps as they strive to come to life again in the spring. When you do this, it is important to remember that you need to follow the instructions for FALL FEEDING. It only requires half as much food as SPRING FEEDING. Also, only evergreen plants need to be fed in the fall. All of the directions are available on the bag or at www.espoma.com. Personally, I feel my plants do better with a fall feeding.
Finally, if you have been watering your lawn or your shrubs—don’t stop. Plants need water until the ground hardens for the winter, so if you’ve been irrigating, keep up the good work!
I hope these tips help you better understand how to prepare your landscaping for winter. Here’s one last tip: learn to make lawn maintenance an enjoyable job. Years ago, I was talking to an older minister about yard work and he said, “The key is learning to enjoy the work. Make it a hobby.” Over the years, I have found that he’s right. When you choose to change your attitude about yard work and make it a pleasure rather than a chore, eventually, it just becomes a pleasure. Then you aren’t doing it because you must, but because you want to say “Thank you” to God for giving it to you in the first place.