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Treat your lawn right

Simple steps for lush spring growth in 2020

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The appearance of a full, healthy lawn in the spring is a delight to home owners. But you lay much of the groundwork for that beautiful green expanse in fall.

In summer, it can seem like the grass doubles in height almost overnight. By fall, it’s easy to assume the grass is no longer growing. That’s a mistake, says Jim Spencer, owner of Spencer’s Gardening Centre in Shelburne, N.S. “The grass grows very well here in the fall when it’s wetter and cooler.”

That makes fall fertilizer season. Grass roots store nutrients during winter to fuel a burst of growth in spring. “Don’t get very sophisticated with it,” says Spencer. “Everyone has a bag with miracle ways to grow. Whatever commercial sounds good people buy.” But just about any product, combined with an application of lime, will work.

Weeds also grow well in the fall. That makes the season a good time for applying weed killer, if you want to use it. The herbicides most suited to this time of year are called pre-emergents because they stop growth before the spring. Herbicides can come with health and environmental risks, and are restricted in many jurisdictions. Check your local by-laws and research the product before you buy.

That dusting of yellow, orange, and red leaves looks picturesque, but can prevent moisture and light from getting where your lawn needs it. Mowing with a mulching attachment helps break it up to some degree. Mowing with a bag attached to capture the leaves for the compost pile is better. But, as is often the case, the more laborious solution is the best: rake and let your grass breathe.

Don’t burn leaves as it adds more carbon to the air. Put them on the compost pile, let the city collect them, or dump them in the woods to help build soil there.

After the leaves, it’s time for aeration. Spending time on your lawn, and using lawn furniture can pack down the soil. That means less space for life-giving moisture, fertilizer, and oxygen. In summer’s heat, there’s a risk of your lawn drying out. “Because of where we live the snow lies on the lawn all winter, so we recommend it’s done every year,” says Erin Condly of Nutrilawn in Fredericton.

There are two kinds of aeration: spike and core. Core is the way to go, says Condly. Spike pushes in to the ground, making a hole, while plug removes the dirt entirely. This process is more important with heavy, clay soils. Sandy soil doesn’t benefit as much from aeration.

Learn your soil type with this simple test: Grab a handful of damp, but not soaking soil. Rub it between your palms. If it feels slick, it’s clay. If it feels gritty, it’s sand. The best soil is a mix of both.

Post-aeration is a good time for over-seeding if your lawn has bald or thin patches. Those little holes give the seeds somewhere to go. Otherwise, they may just sit on the top of the grass, benefiting no one but the birds.

“The more you introduce new seed the healthier and more resistant to weeds and bugs the lawn will be,” says Condly, adding that bare areas or animals digging in the grass are signs of insect infestation. Grub worms love Kentucky blue grass so adding fine fescue or rye to the lawn keeps it green.

This cool moist season is a good time to lay sod to expand your lawn or start a new one. The roots will dig in so the lawn can bloom in the spring.

Spencer says that fall maintenance is really not that different from what’s required the rest of the year. “Aerate, fertilize, lime, and cut the grass. The last mow should be shorter. Everyone cuts their lawn too short because it looks nice, but the blades produce the food and if you cut that too short they can’t produce.” Five to eight centimetres is a good height for grass.

There is one final step before winter takes hold that’s unique to the season: tidying up. Collect up all the balls, toys, trowels, and rakes before the snow buries them. You’re going to need them again before you know it.

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