Caring for Your Lawn: A Guide to Fertilizing and Mulching
As the leaves begin to fall and your gardens die back this autumn, don’t think your outdoor work has ended. While fall is a great time to sit back and enjoy the cooler, crisper weather and the bounty of your autumn vegetable harvest, it’s also a time of urgency. Now is the time to think about making your lawn and landscape as lush and healthy as possible for next year. Fertilizing and mulching are both key steps you must take now in order to ensure a verdant lawn when the snow finally melts.
1. Jumpstart root growth.
Fertilizing is one of the most important things to do within your fall lawn care tasks, as the cooler weather provides optimal growing conditions for cool-season grasses. You can generally apply fertilizer twice before the snow falls, once in early September and once about eight weeks later. If you have warm season grasses, you only need to apply fertilizer once.
2. Be opportunistic with your leaf litter.
Don’t waste time bagging and discarding leaves. Instead of raking for hours on end, use your lawn mower to chop fallen leaves. Your lawn mower can transform this litter into small, dime-sized pieces, which can be left on the lawn to decompose and fertilize your lawn naturally. However, if you don’t like the look of leaves or want to get rid of the leaves along your walkways, consider using them as mulch in your flower beds or vegetable gardens instead. All you need to do is attach a bag to your lawn mower to collect the chopped pieces as you mow.
3. Add some microbes.
It may seem like your lawn isn’t doing much as winter approaches and sets in, but it’s actually working overtime to improve its own health for next year. Microbes are the key to healthy soil, and fall is a great time to add them, as your soil will have time to rest before it is planted. You can purchase a mulch with active beneficial microbes, or simply add compost. The microbes naturally found in compost will help fertilize your lawn and keep it healthy and fertile in the years to come.
4. Time your mulching.
You might be tempted to get it done with right away, but waiting to mulch until after the first solid freeze has some benefits. A thick layer of mulch can prevent water from reaching plant roots, causing fungal issues or plant dehydration. Furthermore, the warm layer of mulch, which will stay cozy long after the rest of the ground has cooled, will become a habitat for rodents and insects. Wait until the ground freezes to mulch.
5. Avoid fertilizing trees and shrubs until it has cooled
While fertilizing these plants is a necessity, you need to be careful about your timing. These plants are more sensitive to fertilizer at this time of the year, as it will stimulate growth. Too much too late can confuse your plant, but too little (or none at all) and you miss an opportunity, as the soil is still warm and roots are still being developed. Fertilize in late September or early October for best results.
6. Apply mulch to trees and shrubs after a light freeze
Applying mulch to perennials, as well as trees and shrubs, is important for a number of reasons. It helps to keep soil temperatures steady and prevent soil heaving as a result of constant freeze and thaw cycles. However, you want to wait until there have been several light freezes to avoid suffocating your plants. Wait until late October or early November, depending on your area’s weather, to mulch any perennial plants.
7. Fertilize when plants are dormant
Don’t rush to fertilize your plants. Remember that some perennials prefer to be fertilized in the spring, and only apply fertilizer to woody plants after October. If you aren’t sure when your plants will enter dormancy, or when the best time to fertilize might be, make sure you contact your local nursery or cooperative extension to find out.
8. Consider natural fertilizers
You don’t have to opt for store bought fertilizers when you’re trying to provide an autumnal boost of nutrients. Add compost, newspapers, cardboard, excess grass clippings, or other organic matter. These materials can help slow down weed growth and moderate moisture, and will also eventually break down to feed the soil.