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YardMD: Fall is best time for a lawn-care reality check

Oct. 3, 2013
 
It's fall. What are you doing with your lawn? What you do now will affect the health of your lawn in the spring.
It's fall. What are you doing with your lawn? What you do now will affect the health of your lawn in the spring. / Getty Images

YARD MD

7 p.m. Tuesdays: Chat in real time with YardMD columnist Rob Zimmer. This Tuesday, learn about some great fall shrubs.
On Twitter: Follow YardMD on Twitter for the latest news, specials and unusual plants and garden items. If Rob spots something hot, you will be the first to know. Find him at: @YardMD
On Facebook: Enjoy and become part of the YardMD community of passionate gardeners at www.facebook.com/yardmd.

TIPS: BATTLING CRABGRASS AND QUACKGRASS

A special note on two problem weeds that are among the most difficult for gardeners to control. Crabgrass and quackgrass.
• Both crabgrass and quackgrass are best controlled when a lawn is maintained correctly and the turf is thick and lush enough to discourage these plants from sprouting. The easiest way to accomplish this is to maintain a proper mowing height of 3 to 4 inches during the entire growing season. Mowing too short allows these weeds into your lawn.
• Crabgrass and quackgrass are not the same plant and are treated in completely different ways.
• Crabgrass is an annual weed that is best controlled in spring before its seeds germinate.
• Application of a pre-emergent crabgrass killer is the best option for controlling this annual weed. Don’t waste your money on fall crabgrass control products.
• Quackgrass is more troublesome and a greater challenge for property owners. This is because any readily available weedkiller or chemical used on quackgrass also will kill your lawn.
• Keep a full lush lawn, maintain proper mowing height and quack grass will be left no place to move in.
• The best option for quackgrass control is to spot treat areas infested with a total vegetation killer. You may also try organic product such as vinegar and olive oil or corn gluten but these must be applied often and heavily to reach the roots of the plant.

More

This is the final installment of a four-part series on fall gardening. For earlier columns, see postcrescent.com/yardmd.

It’s fall in Wisconsin and that means it’s one of the best times of the year to take care of your lawn.

Many gardeners and property owners are not aware that autumn is a crucial time for routine lawn care maintenance, weed control and other activities.

I receive many questions from panicked property owners in spring and summer wondering how to handle problem weeds and pests that, truthfully, at that time of year, are not going to be easy.

Often when weeds are at their full glory, the only option is to apply doses of penetrating weed killers. These can harm not only your other garden plants but beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife present in your garden during these peak activity times.

Preventive medicine, which can include careful application of the correct amount, and the correct concentration, of the correct products during the correct time of year will solve or reduce the majority of lawn problems.

By taking care of many routine lawn-care maintenance activities now, during fall, you can avoid the headache of some of the most common lawn care problems come spring and summer.

Fall is a great time for many lawn and turf-related jobs including aeration, seeding or reseeding, laying sod, broadleaf weed control, fertilizing and treating for insect pests such as Japanese beetle larva. Many of these activities can be done between Labor Day and Halloween. Some should be completed earlier for the best impact.

Most gardeners tend to panic during spring and summer when broadleaf weeds and grass-devouring grubs begin to impact their turf. Rather than treating and timing their attack strategically during the proper time of year, many expect quick results, on the spot, when really there’s not much that will work once the problem presents itself. Once you have crabgrass and quack grass sprouting, for example, there’s not much you can do to treat it.

By getting into a consistent and regular maintenance program, drastic, money-wasting, “panic attack” lawn care measures will not be necessary during the peak lawn use season. This is something that many property owners neglect, causing them to waste precious money and time, and often apply excessive amounts of unnecessary chemicals and weedkillers to their lawns.

Weed control

The best weed control of all is establishing a lush, thick, healthy turf that simply does not allow weeds to gain a foothold. Until that can be accomplished, you may wish to treat for broadleaf weeds during fall. Broadleaf weeds include dandelion, chicory and plaintain.

It's hard for many property owners to get into the habit of thinking of fall as the prime time for controlling many broadleaf weeds. The temptation to treat during spring and summer, when many of these weeds present themselves, is great.

Applying a broadleaf weed control now, during the cool weather of fall, will greatly reduce the number of weeds present in your lawn in spring, meaning less stress, and fewer unnecessary, concentrated applications of weed killer, or worse, during spring and summer.

Fertilizing

An important note about fertilizing before you make the decision to do so this fall.

Studies in Winnebago County have shown that the majority of homeowners tend to overfertilize their yards and gardens.

This means that it’s likely that most homeowners are fertilizing when it’s not even necessary to do so, causing direct harm to our area waterways. It’s a trend that likely repeats itself through most other counties in our area as well.

“Soil samples from homeowners in Winnebago County reveal a habit of overfertilization in lawns, gardens and flowerbeds,” said Nick Schneider, Winnebago County agricultural agent.

While nutrient needs vary by plant, interpretation of phosphorus and potassium show dramatic overfertilization in many yards.

“The most prominent risk of overfertilization is phosphorus reaching surface waters, thereby increasing algae blooms,” Schneider said.

Get a soil test done through your local county extension office to determine whether or not fertilization is even necessary for the different areas of your lawn.

Don’t be one of those homeowners who simply fertilize for the sake of fertilizing.

Lawn aeration

Lawn aeration is the practice of using an aerator to puncture holes through the turf into the soil below to prevent or remedy situations where soil has become compacted.

Often symptoms of compacted soil do not present themselves until summer. This can be in the form of yellowing areas in the lawn, or spots that hold water for excessively long periods of time following summer storms.

If your lawn experiences heavy use during the summer months, or you notice symptoms of compacted soil, fall lawn aeration is one of your best options.

Lawn aerators are readily available at hardware stores, easy to operate and quickly get the job done. Aerating simply involves puncturing through the turf and roots and removing small cores of soil to allow air to penetrate into this layer.

Many lawn care companies also provide this service.

— Rob Zimmer:920-993-1000, ext. 7154, yardmd@postcrescent.com

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