By Glenn DiNella
Although our last couple of winters in the Southeast have been relatively mild, you still should take some time this fall to prepare your turf to meet the old -- and often unpredictable -- man named winter.
One of the best things you can do for any turf is apply a preemergent weed control. This helps prevent winter weeds, such as dreaded annual bluegrass (Poa annua), from taking over your lawn. Applied in early fall, a preemergent lays down a barrier that keeps weed seeds from germinating, or causes them to wither and die soon after sprouting.
Take note: If you plan to overseed a fescue lawn (with more fescue seed) or overseed your warm-season turf, such as zoysia or Bermuda (with ryegrass seed), you need to overseed in early fall and wait a month or so before applying the preemergent. Remember: Preemergents are not panaceas -- they don’t control perennial weeds returning from dormant roots. So if you have perennial weeds, you need to keep spraying and pulling them to get control.
Another important chore this fall is to give your turf one last feeding. Peak growth for fescue is fall, so it feeds more heavily than warm-season turf that is preparing to go dormant.
Every bag of fertilizer contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in varying amounts. You can check the contents by three numbers in sequence such as 5-10-10. The numbers vary depending on the brand of fertilizer you purchase.
For warm-season turf you basically are looking for fertilizer with a low nitrogen number. Nitrogen gives grass that lush green color in summer, but excess nitrogen washes downstream and causes problems for wildlife. For winter your turf needs more phosphorous (P) to build stronger roots, and potassium (K) to strengthen resistance to cold and disease.
You also need to get out and rake those leaves off the lawn. If leaves build up and rain mats them down, this can promote mildew and other fungal diseases that can lead to an unhealthy lawn. If you don’t have an excessive amount of leaves, use a mulching mower to grind them up on the lawn and return them as organic matter to the soil. Otherwise consider raking them up and composting them.
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