Courtesy: Kevin Dooley via Flickr
Fall is generally thought of as the season that leads towards dormancy and death in the garden. However, it doesn’t have to necessarily be that way – fall can also be a season for some growth and preparation.
Why is Fall so Good for Lawns?
The reason fall is considered a prime growing season, particularly for grass, is the warm days and cool nights. Unlike winter and summer, where there are extended periods of cold and heat, the fluctuations in temperature actually encourage grass to grow. Thanks to this rise and fall over the course of the day, we get dew, which delivers water directly to the lawn and garden, and can be absorbed throughout the mornings.
Not everything dies off as the cool winter months approach. In fact, in the northern half of the United States, many of the native plants are hardy enough to continue growing through the fall, even into early winters if they are slow to arrive. So how can you push fall growth?
- Plant native species – As we stated, native plants that are accustomed to the hardiness zone you are in are more likely to thrive through fall and into winter. So avoid planting those where you sit at the bottom of their zones. For instance, in Illinois plant those that can thrive up through Canada, not those that grow in the lower United States but just barely fit into the Illinois climate.
- Another layer of mulch – Having fresh mulch in gardens can do more than just keep out weeds. A dark mulch will help to keep plants warm at night. It’s just like wearing a dark shirt – it absorbs and retains more heat than a light shirt does.
- Root out problems – Make sure to take the time to uproot troublesome plants and weeds, along with undesirable grasses. This leaves the turf plenty of time to develop before winter sets in. Most weeds don’t go dormant like grass does – leaving them in the lawn over the winter will only encourage them to develop.
- Get your seed on – A light overseeding in the late summer months will allow the new seed to germinate and grow roots before the cold winter months hit. Waiting until September or October may see some nights get too cold, and the ground to harden, keeping roots from spreading. In August and early September, the soil is still loose and ready for roots.
- Trim back the dead… – Removing dead and diseased foliage shouldn’t be left until winter. Trim that off immediately, and you may find that there is still some life left in the plants.
- … but leave seeds and berries standing – There no reason to lop off free bird food. Let seed and berry-bearing plants stand, to allow local wildlife some food as the summer crops die off.
Preparing your garden to continue into the fall will also buy you some time as fall rolls around. Instead of panicking because plants or your lawn are dying, this can leave you to concentrate on preparing your lawn to survive winter, and to come back better than ever when springtime rolls around.