Taking steps now will bring nicer lawn next year

The green color of renewed turf growth is returning just as many lawnmowers are taking their final victory laps around the lawn for the 2016 season. But before the gardener settles down for that long winter’s nap, now is the time for a couple of late-season chores to improve the change of success in 2016.

Cool-season turfgrass species such as our bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass benefit from a fall application of fertilizer, which should ideally take place early to mid-September and again in mid to late November.

This late fall application, otherwise known as a “winterizing” fertilizer, helps promote good root health because little foliar growth is occurring. Winterizing fertilizers contain Nitrogen but also can contain higher amounts of potassium to aid with plant hardiness.

Fall nitrogen promotes good root development, enhances storage of energy reserves and extends color retention in cool-season lawns. Most of the benefits from late fall nitrogen will be seen next spring and summer with earlier green-up, improved turf density and improved tolerance to spring diseases, such as red thread and pink patch, and reduced weeds.

Spring applications, which are so highly promoted via the media, tend to stimulate top growth and provide ample opportunity for the gardener to spend the spring chasing a lawnmower to keep up with the rank top growth.

Another activity often promoted as a spring turf maintenance activity that should be considered at this time is broadleaf weed control.

Fall is an excellent opportunity to attack hard-to-control perennial broadleaf weeds such as clover, dandelions, ground ivy and wild violets.

Because these weeds are perennial, they will be bolstering their reserves in their root systems and crowns that are needed to get them through the winter and growing again next spring. Thus, the dominant direction for the flow of photosynthate and other nutrients in these plants is toward the root systems and crowns.

If application timing coincides with this flow, our herbicides will more readily reach the critical parts of the plants that need to be killed to rid lawns of these pesky weeds.

For lawns dominated by some of the more problematic weeds (i.e. clover, ground ivy and wild violets) using a combination of four active ingredients might be needed. Those are triclopyr, sulfentrazone, 2,4-D and dicamba (e.g., T Zone SE).

To improve activity of these products, it is recommended to wait until after one or two frosts have occurred but before temperatures drop and remain below 50 degrees for most days.

After what you feel will be the last cutting of the lawn but before pulling the lawnmower in the shed, throwing your arms in the air and rejoicing that the mowing season is over like a NASCAR driver making donuts in the winner’s circle, please remember that now is a good time to do or have done some very basic service to that mower so it will be ready when you call on it next spring.

Think about washing the machine thoroughly, including a thorough cleaning of the underside of the mower deck (please make sure the spark plugs are grounded). This cleaning process will be facilitated by removing the blades for inspection and sharpening. New oil, gas and air filters should be considered if appropriate. Changing motor oil in a timely way will be one of the best insurance policies that you can buy.

Gasoline has a fairly limited lifespan and could cause problems if left in the tank untreated over the winter. Consider draining the tank (use fuel for other purposes) and then running the engine out of gas, leaving the tank empty over the winter and starting with fresh gasoline in the spring. You could also fill the tank with fresh gas that is treated with a gasoline stabilizer that will chemically preserve the gas in the tank.

Be sure to run the mower for a couple of minutes to move the treated gas through the carburetor and fuel lines. Let your owner’s manual be your guide.

Finally, look closely for any wear or fatigue in the mower deck and all the wheels and casters and lubricate wheel bearings and throttle cables. It is by attention to the small things (that can be addressed now) that will help assure the mower starts and functions as needed after a couple of quick pulls or a turn of the key and avoids frustration during the rush of spring chores.

Roy Ballard is an agriculture and natural resources educator with the Hancock County office of Purdue Extension (extension.purdue.edu/ hancock). Contact him at 317-462-1113 or rballard@purdue.edu.