Don’t put your garden tools in the garage just yet. There’s still time for a few more garden projects. If you have a lawn, preparing it for winter should be at the top of the list.
Re-seed & repair. Early fall is a good time to re-seed your lawn or to repair bare spots. (This can be done in the early spring as well.) The warm days and bountiful rain ensure root growth and grass has plenty of time to mature before the ground freezes. But it’s best to do it before the middle of September, or the new grass may be damaged this winter.
Re-seeding your entire lawn is a much bigger chore than repairing bare spots, but the process is the same. Dig up 4-5 inches of soil in the area to be reseeded or repaired, and remove any weeds, rocks and other debris.
Buy good quality grass seed. Don’t go for the cheap stuff at the local job lot—they often have inferior seeds or use varieties of seeds that aren’t appropriate for our growing region. Choose a high-quality variety that’s appropriate for the level of sun or shade in your yard.
Scatter seed in the bared area and rake it into the soil. Keeping the newly-seeded area watered is critical to grass root development and growth. Water it right after you seed, and if it doesn’t rain, water it thoroughly in the morning and evening for three weeks. Covering the area with straw helps the soil retain moisture, but it’s not a must—especially if there’s a chance that the straw isn’t clean and carries weed seeds.
After two or three weeks, you’ll notice that the seeds have germinated and the grass is growing. Don’t mow the grass until it’s at least three inches tall.
Water. If you’ve had a rainy early fall like we have here in Rhode Island, it’s not necessary to water an established lawn anymore. Too much water encourages grass growth, which can be damaged when it freezes.
Whether you have an automatic irrigation system or you simply water using a hose and sprinkler, start reducing the weekly number of waterings now. Cut back now to two times a week and stop watering completely by mid-October.
Fertilize. If you haven’t fertilized your lawn since June or July, early fall is a great time for fertilizing with an organic fertilizer. Most local nurseries carry organic fertilizer, but if you can’t find any and must buy a chemically processed fertilizer, choose one that’s “slow-release.”
Organic and slow-release fertilizers release nutrients over a number of weeks, instead of dumping a big load of nutrients on your lawn all at once. It’s better to give grass nutrients over a period of many weeks, because anything that isn’t used right away will simply be washed from the soil.
Core Aeration. It’s a good idea to aerate your lawn every other year. It doesn’t have to be done in the fall; it can also be done in the spring.
Rent a core aeration machine—its blades dig into the soil and pull out “cores” of soil, grass, roots, and thatch. The holes it leaves behind allow water, fertilizer and air to circulate in the soil, enhancing growing conditions. Lawn aeration is especially helpful for yards with compacted soil.
Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Extension in Urban Illinois. Parts of this article were first published in the Kent County Daily Times.