In the summertime, one sees many St. Louis homeowners toiling on their lawns to make sure they are perfect. Autumn lawn chores are just as important – they prevent winter damage to your lawn, and help ensure a beautiful turf once winter thaws.
Don’t Put Your Lawnmower Away Yet
Continue mowing your lawn regularly throughout the fall, setting your mower’s blades at 3-1/2". Never remove more than 1/3 of grass’ standing growth because this inhibits photosynthesis, which is vital to the health of your lawn. Proper mowing techniques aid in the development of healthy root systems and help lawns resist weeds, disease, insects and thatch. At the end of autumn, stop mowing your lawn once the grass starts going dormant, which is easy to tell.
You can also keep your grass green and strong this fall by leaving grass clippings on your lawn to produce organic mulch. The shorter the clippings are, the quicker they decompose and nourish your grass.
Water, Water Everywhere
Autumns in St. Louis might not feature the scorching heat of our summers, but your lawn still needs plenty of water to stay healthy. This fall, water your lawn two or three times a week, preferably in the early morning to prevent diseases from forming, for 30 to 45 minutes per zone. This will result in approximately one inch of water per week, and ensure that the water is absorbed below the root area, as shallow watering promotes weed growth and prohibits deep roots from forming.
Autumn Aeration Gets the Air Moving
To keep your lawn healthy throughout this winter, aeration is important to any fall lawn care plan. Annual aeration allows air, nutrients and water to circulate within the soil to feed grass roots, and it also allows our hard clay soil to absorb nutrients.
The day before aerating your lawn, drench your grass with water for 30 to 45 minutes per area. The next day, walk back and forth across your lawn using a manual or mechanical aerator. After aerating, fertilize once with a slow-release turf grass formula and continue your regular watering schedule, but avoid mowing your lawn for a minimum of three weeks. If homeowners are unsure of how to aerate, they can consider hiring a professional lawn care company.
Fall is the Perfect Time for Seeding
Fall in St. Louis brings cooling temperatures, but the remnants of summer warmth are often with us throughout the season. One of these welcome guests is warm soil. Combined with the comfortable temperature, this makes fall the best time to seed your lawn. Seed germinates faster and warm soil, but doesn’t get burned by the excessive heat of summer. New seedlings establish themselves quickly in these ideal conditions, and are allowed a chance to prepare for winter.
Two general seeding techniques are appropriate for the St. Louis area, depending on the current condition of your lawn. Slice seeding is a method used for stressed lawns that need renovation, but eliminates the need to strip and till the existing turf. Slice seeders are available for rent at many local rental centers. The equipment slices the sod and precisely plants new seed into the earth, allowing the lawn to regenerate from within.
Another, more common and simple seeding technique is called overseeding, which typically is best performed after aeration. Overseeding makes use of a rotary or drop spreader, which are small and relatively inexpensive to purchase at home improvement centers and hardware stores. Hand held models are available for small areas, while larger, push units are ideal for larger lawns. Overseeding is appropriate for lawns in good general health, which simply need some sprucing up for strength and fullness.
Your choice of seed is just as important as the method of seeding you employ. A fescue blend is ideal for St. Louis, with new, stronger varieties being introduced each year. Many fescue blends are disease and drought resistant, and bounce back well from the stress of summer. Avoid fine bladed fescues because they are not resilient to humidity, traffic or disease.
Regardless of which seeding method is right for you, mow your lawn to a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches and bag all clippings prior to seeding. After seeding, lightly water the lawn three or four times daily to keep the seed moist. Apply 1 lb / 1000 square feet of quick release nitrogen fertilizer five weeks after germination, and repeat in another six weeks. When the grass reaches 3 inches tall, set your mower’s blades at 2 inches for the rest of the fall. When spring arrives, your lawn will be fresh and luxurious rather than worn out from a cold winter.
More Mulch for the Lawn & Trees, Please
Many homeowners think of mulching as a spring task, but fall mulching is in many ways more important. Applying a fresh blanket of mulch around trees and landscaping will insulate the soil and root systems from the winter cold. Once spring arrives, simply freshen up the mulch by turning it over with a rake, or add a thin layer of new mulch.
Recent studies have shown that the best type of mulch for your trees and shrubs is a premium blend, organic mulch. Organic mulch produces more microbial nitrogen, allowing trees and plants higher nutrient uptake, than non-composted mulch, which is typically made from tree bark, and actually takes nutrients away from your plants.
Before applying mulch to trees and shrubs, remove all weeds and grass from the areas to be covered. Rake two to four inches of mulch into a flattened doughnut shape over these areas, keeping the mulch at least six inches away from trunks. Form a “moat" around the base of the tree or plant to help catch water, and leave a small gap between the mulch and the edge of the surrounding lawn.
Aside from its functional uses, mulch can add color and beauty to your lawn this autumn. Mulch is available in numerous colors, ranging from golden tan to rich mahogany to nearly black, and even organically dyed varieties, which are less likely to bleed or bleach, and will not harm your lawn.
St. Louis is experiencing unseasonably warm weather right now, so take advantage of the situation and begin your autumn gardening tasks. Not only will your lawn look nice throughout fall, but you will have less work to do in the springtime.
Jeff Hansen is president of Hansen’s Tree Service, a full-service tree and lawn care company that performs diagnosis, treatment, pruning, tree removal, stump removal and lawn care. Hansen’s is fully accredited by TCIA and ISA, and serves residences and companies throughout the entire St. Louis metro area. With nine fully certified arborists on staff, Hansen’s educates the public on the values of proper tree and lawn care, its maintenance and the importance of environmental responsibility. For more information visit http://www.hansenstree.com