Because days are shorter and nights are colder, lawns are slowing their growth. Soon it will be time to put the mower away for winter.
By now, most gardeners are tired of caring for their yards and are looking forward to a vacation. There are some late-season chores, however, that you can do now that will make lawn care easier next spring.
Here is a list of what you should be doing to help winterize your lawn:
Because grass growth is slowing, there is less need to mow regularly. However, before firing up the mower for the last time this season, consider leaving the grass a little high. In our part of the country, we do not normally have to worry about grass being winter killed. Therefore, it is acceptable to keep the grass mowed at the normal 2 1/2-3 inches. However, if you do not have time or are just tired of mowing, there is nothing wrong with allowing the grass to grow higher and worrying about mowing it down next spring. But under no circumstances should the grass be mowed lower than 2 inches. This robs the plant of stored energy, opens the way for weeds to germinate and grow, and can allow soil erosion to occur on steep slowing lawns.
The next important practice is to fertilize. Even though I just said the grass is not growing, technically, the roots are still active. Fertilizer spread at this time will pay dividends next spring. Roots will gather and store the nutrients and use them for growth and development next spring. Fertilize now, and your lawn will be greener and thicker next season -- guaranteed. As for the type of fertilizer to use, anything will work. Typically, use a fertilizer that has a quick release nitrogen source. There is no real need to add phosphorous or potassium in great levels. Therefore, any high-nitrogen fertilizer or even straight nitrogen will work fine. Apply the recommended 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and water well.
Finally, now is the time to worry about weeds. There are winter annual weeds as well as summer perennial weeds that need to be controlled right now. Even though they may not seem like they are actively growing, dandelions, henbit, chickweed and other weeds are still alive. When spraying for these weeds, use Trimec and apply it when the temperature is above 55 degrees. As always, read and follow the label directions. Chemicals applied this time of year are taken directly to the roots, where they will kill the plant quickly.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.