PUBLISHED IN THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Autumn is here, and harvest is well underway. It is time for fall yard maintenance tasks that yield healthy spring gardens and landscapes. Many “putting the garden to bed” chores come easily to mind: adjusting irrigation, removing debris, refreshing mulches, applying compost and protecting frost-sensitive plants. In addition to these quick-to-mind tasks, it is important to turn our efforts to turf too. While turf maintenance is frequently thought of as a spring and summer job, fall is the best time to aerate and fertilize lawns.
Hollow tine core aeration addresses thatch problems as well as soil compaction. To check if you need to aerate, push a screwdriver into your turf after the sprinklers have run. If you can’t get the screwdriver into the soil, investigate further. Push a pointed shovel into the lawn three times to form a triangle in the grass. Then, gently lift the created wedge out of the ground. If you spot a thick layer of plant matter with little soil mixed in, you may have thatch. If you see soil with few roots, you may be up against compaction. Tuck the triangle back into the ground and aerate, if needed. Perforating turf areas with small holes allows air, water and nutrients to get to where they are needed. Leave soil cores on your lawn, and rake in one-quarter of an inch of compost.
The next turf task is fertilizing. If you only fertilize once per year, do it in fall after average daily temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for three or more consecutive days and after your final mowing of the year. First, make that mowing a good one— be sure your mower blade is sharp and set to three inches, and take off no more than one third of the grass blade. Then, leave clippings on the lawn, and apply your favorite fast-release fertilizer.
Follow label directions, and apply the correct amount for your lawn size and fertilizer selection. Too much can “burn” your lawn. To discover the proper amount of fertilizer to apply, determine the size of your lawn in square feet by multiplying its length by its width. Then, figure out how much nitrogen is in your fertilizer by multiplying the first number on the bag as a percent by the weight of the bag. Finally, apply enough fertilizer to provide one-half of a pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
For example, it takes 6.25 pounds of fertilizer from a 50 pound bag containing 16% nitrogen to deliver 1 pound of nitrogen to 1,000 square feet of lawn. Divide that by two to get one-half of a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. After you fertilize, provide just enough water to the lawn to move nutrients into the soil without washing them away.
By waiting for cool weather to fertilize, you are promoting healthy lawn roots without encouraging shoot growth. This will give you a quick green up in spring that the whole neighborhood will enjoy.
Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have plant questions? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com. For information on drought, visit www.livingwithdrought.com.