Landscape Fertilizing and the Fall

6 September 2022

As the number of hours of daylight start to dwindle, the work needed in your landscape changes. You may not think that anything else needs to be fertilized, but here are a few things to consider.

Lawns

If you grow a cool-season lawn, like tall fescue or bluegrass, this is the time to give it a feeding. Summer heat depletes the soil of nitrogen, which is food for the plants, and these varieties put out a growth spurt with the more moderate temperatures.

First get rid of any weeds that you spot. Then in a couple of days, get out your spreader and apply a feeding of fertilizer. When you shop for bags of fertilizers, you will see three numbers. The first indicates the amount of nitrogen and the second is phosphorus, with the last as potassium. Unless you have had a soil test and know for sure that your soil needs either of the latter two elements, it is best to go with something like 30-0-0, or all nitrogen.

It will also state that the product is quick-release fertilizer. This may seem screwy, but here’s the reason. The grass will use all that it needs until it goes dormant with the cold. Then in the spring, it has food ready and the feeding will begin immediately.

Always follow the package directions about how much to spread. Using too much will actually harm the grass and you will see burn spots. Keep the granules off hard surfaces like walks or driveways by sweeping or blowing it back into the yard. Fertilizers left on those hard areas will wash into storm drains and will pollute waterways.

Give the lawn a light watering after applying the product. A heavy rain will just run the product off into your neighbor’s yard or into the gutter.

Veg Garden

After you have finished your last harvest and all the residue is removed, it is a good time to incorporate some organic matter into the soil so that you will be in good shape for your spring crops. Especially if you are using something like Zoo Poo (yes, it is a real product) or other type of manure. This will not only fortify the bed but will allow the organic matter to fully break down over the winter so that you don’t contaminate any food that you grow.

Bulbs

They are sold in the autumn, but are called spring bulbs, which is when they flower. These include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses. Plant them any time that the temperature is above 40 degrees, so the plants have a chance to get established. Many can handle a variety of soil types but the area should be well drained. Add organic matter like peat moss, well rotted manure, or compost and mix it into the soil. Be sure the additives are fully incorporated into the soil.

Use large, firm bulbs that have not begun to sprout. Rule of thumb is to go to a depth two or three times the size of the bulb. However, follow the package directions.

This is also a good time to divide or move bulbs you already have. This will allow the smaller bulbs a better chance for survival among the larger ones.

Trees

As you assess your landscape, you may decide it is time to replace a tree or shrub, or add some new ones to the yard. The earlier in the season you can plant the tree, the more time it will have to establish a strong root system and survive the winds of winter.

The most important thing is to select the right plant for the location, or the location for the plant. You will need to be sure of the mature height, spread, and shape to prevent interference with the house, overhead lines, or other obstacles.

Digging the hole wider than the root ball, but not deeper, will give it a chance to settle in comfortably. Too deep and it will not give the roots a good experience. The width should be two to five times the size of the root ball. After you put the tree in the hole, replace all the soil you removed. This loose dirt will allow the roots to quickly spread and form a good base for the plant. Don’t compress or stomp down the soil, but leave enough air space so that the water will naturally settle in and nourish the roots.

During the winter, the soil will not dry as quickly as in the summer. However, if it is a particularly dry winter, you may need to supplement. Soil will absorb water unless it it is frozen. Be sure that it is a slow watering that will soak deeply down to the bottom of the roots. Allow the ground to fully dry before another application.

Trees are generally not fertilized at the time of planting. You want the roots to seek out the nutrients in the soil around it to establish a wide and deep system that will keep your tree standing for decades.

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