Here’s an article from PostCresent.com by Rob Zimmer for Gannet Wisconsin Media on advice for preparing your yard for winter.
Even though your lawn may look great now with all of the rain and cool weather we have been having, keeping that fresh green look going strong next season requires proper fall care and maintenance now.
Fortunately, routine maintenance and care for your lawn, whether done yourself or with a lawn care professional, can prepare the lawn for winter and the coming spring.
“The last few years have been tough on Wisconsin lawns,” said Troy Reissmann, owner of Valley Organics lawn care, which services customers throughout east central and northeast Wisconsin. “We have gone from one of the worst droughts in state history to one of the coolest and wettest summers on record.”
Thin spots and compaction
Thin spots in the lawn are often the result of soil compaction, which in itself, is a leading cause of just about every major lawn problem found in our area, including weed infestation and discoloration.
Your best defense against weeds of all types is a full, lush lawn. This means keeping the mower setting high — 3 to 4 inches is ideal.
Often, homeowners scalp the lawn, reducing mower height to 1 to 2 inches. This is one of the leading causes of weed infestations, soil compaction and other lawn problems. Thin spots quickly form in a lawn mowed too short, and in those thin spots, weeds such as crab grass, dandelions, creeping Charlie, plaintain, thistles and others quickly move in.
“If you have thin or bare spots in your lawn, it is very likely they are not going to recover on their own,” Reissmann said. “Rejuvenate your lawn with a core aeration and lawn seeding. When you combine lawn aerating and seeding, you guarantee your bare areas will come back strong this fall and next year.”
Lawn aeration is simply a way to get more air into the soil to reduce soil compaction and strengthen root systems of your grasses. Fall is the best time of year to have core aeration performed on your lawn, especially if the signs of compacted soils are present. Overseeding these bare areas at the same time is preferred.
Reissmann recommends professional core aeration if your lawn is severely compacted. While there are boot or shoe type “aerators” available with spikes, these actually only compact the soil more since they are forcing the soil downward. Core aeration actually lifts the plugs out of the soil, allowing air to penetrate.
Overseeding, reseeding, fertilizing
Jef Vondrachek, Vondrachek Lawn Care, Oshkosh, said that fall is a good time to do overseeding and reseeding of lawns because of the cooler temperatures and additional moisture provided by rain and dew.
“This is the time to repair the lawn from the damage that it sustained over the summer or overseed to thicken up the lawn,” he said.
Fall fertilizing is best done after Labor Day for most lawns in our area, with a dormant feeding or winterizing feeding done in the middle or late part of October. Fertilizing right after aerating is ideal as the soil will be opened up to allow the fertilizer to get down to the roots more quickly.
Weed and feed products, while tempting, are not the best way to treat weeds or fertilize your lawn. For best results, use a recommended fertilizer for your lawn at the appropriate time of year, and treat specific weeds at the correct time of year to maximize results.
Before applying fertilizers of any type, have a soil test done to determine if any is even needed. Recent soil test studies in Winnebago County show that over 80% of lawns and gardens are overfertilized.
One of the toughest habits to get lawn enthusiasts and homeowners accustomed to is treating for broadleaf weeds in the fall. It is a natural instinct for homeowners to want to attack broadleaf weeds such as common plaintain, dandelion and others while the weeds are blooming, often during the heat of spring and summer. Unfortunately, that is usually poor timing and the only way at that time to kill them is to either spot treat or hand pull.
“If you spray in the spring, you certainly can kill the weeds that are growing, but more can still grow since the herbicide can only kill what’s growing at the time of the application,” Vondrachek said. “Fall is the best time to spray due to the fact that the weeds are trying to soak up nutrients and water to survive the winter, so they will readily accept the herbicide.”
“That is why we typically only spray once a year and that is in the fall,” he said. “We have about 125 customers in Manitowoc County that we spray each year and they all just receive one herbicide application a year and are happy with the results.”
Crabgrass and quack grass
Often, readers will ask about the best time of year to treat crabgrass. If crabgrass is present in your lawn, the absolute best time to treat specifically for this weed is early spring with a pre-emergent crabgrass killer. This should be applied before the seeds begin to germinate, normally about the time that forsythia shrubs begin to bloom.
Treating crabgrass that is actively growing is a wasted, fruitless effort. The best way to rid your lawn of this pesky weed is to maintain a thick, lush lawn using the practices above to prevent it from gaining a stronghold to begin with.
Hand-pulling during the growing season is your best defense. Since crabgrass is an annual weed, the new plants that form each year are growing from seed that was not treated with a pre-emergent in spring.
Quack grass is sometimes even tougher to control since, unlike crabgrass, it is a perennial weed and there is no selective herbicide that will just kill quack grass. Your best defense is to manually dig or pull established clumps and immediately overseed to build the thick, lush lawn that will eventually choke it out. Do not rototill infected areas. This is a common mistake. Each little piece of dormant rhizome in the soil will sprout and spread.
Remember, there is no quick fix for any lawn weed problem.