Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
October, 2004
Regional Report

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Fertilizing your lawn in the fall promotes root growth and a thicker lawn.

Lawn Wisdom Begins Now

If you'd rather forget about your lawn this fall, don't feel guilty. You're in good company. However the small amount of time you invest in lawn care this season will pay back ample dividends next year.

Lawns are in the process of recovering from the heat and drought stresses of summer. Cool-season grasses are rejuvenating and beginning a new growth cycle. Root systems are invigorated and growing more actively, and this in turn will promote more growth and a thicker lawn.

Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescue, continue to grow in the fall and early winter. It is important to capitalize on this growing activity and help the plants build up carbohydrate reserves for winter endurance.

The moderating temperatures in the fall also allow you to reduce the frequency of watering. You may be able to cut back on both the frequency as well as the duration of each watering cycle, especially if your lawn is partially shaded or if your soil holds water well.

Benefits of Fall Fertilization
Some turfgrass authorities recommend that if you only have time to fertilize once a year, do it in the fall. They say spring applications encourage heavy growth at a time when grass grows strongly anyway. As a result, more disease problems can occur in spring, thatch buildup is greater, and more watering and mowing is necessary. An exception would be for lawns that were neglected the previous growing season; in this case the lawn would benefit from proper spring lawn fertilization. Use your judgment.

Make fall fertilizer applications as the temperatures cool down. I like to apply the first around September 1 (Labor Day), and then follow up with another around the last of October (Halloween). But adjust this schedule to suit yours. These fall applications will produce great results, helping with earlier spring green-up and reducing disease problems.

Types of Fertilizer
It is important to read the label and know what's in a lawn fertilizer. Pay attention to the type of nitrogen. Water-soluble nitrogen gives the fastest results and is lowest in cost, but it releases and leaches rapidly. Water-insoluble nitrogen generally costs more, but it supplies nitrogen longer.

Continue to Mow
You should continue to mow well into the fall, depending upon climatic conditions. But never mow your lawn too short. This will weaken the grass and result in more fall and winter desiccation.

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