With summer now over, and the last flowers and vegetables fast disappearing, it is time to consider winter care for both lawn and garden.
When you notice that your grass is growing very slowly, it is time to put on a winter fertilizer that will encourage the growth of strong roots. Exactly when you do this will be influenced by your geographic location. Do not use a regular fertilizer that encourages lovely green sprouts, but rather a high potassium fertilizer. If you have any doubts about time or fertilizer, discuss this with your local nursery.
Give your lawn a final mowing, weeding, and raking. If you have a lot of drifting leaves, you may need to do several rakings. It is important that your lawn is clear of debris, when the first snow falls. Leaves are a great addition to the compost pile, and can also serve as a mulch for flower beds.
Consider seeding any areas of the lawn that are patchy, and dropping a few seeds to replace any weeds you pull. Mulch over the area, and put it to rest.
This is a good time to consider aerating your lawn, to ensure that lots of oxygen gets to the roots of the grass. If you have a large lawn, renting an aerator is your best option.. Commercial aerators are best because they remove tiny plugs of soil, through which air can enter. They then drop these plugs to feed the remaining grass. If you have a small lawn, and are feeling creative, you can make your own aerator. It may not be as perfect as the commercial models, but one did the job on my parents lawn for many years.
How To Make Your Own Aerator
You will need a smooth tough board, about 18" by 8", some rope, about 100 tough three inch screws, a drill, and an adult body. You can also use nails, but they come loose faster.
Start by drilling two holes at both ends of the board. Thread a piece of rope through both ends of the board, sort of like a child's swing. The ropes should be long enough to reach from the ground to your shoulders. If you like, you can make the rope a little longer and tie it around your neck like a yoke.
Now, drive the nails through the board, spacing them about 1 1/2 inch from each other, and you're ready to aerate.
Hold both ends of the rope, and starting at one end of the lawn, place the board. Step on it to drive in the nails, withdraw it, and move on. A great job for a cool autumn day.
There are also 'sandal' aerators. These strap on over your shoes and you then pace the lawn. I've never used these but I doubt that they would cover the ground as fast as the home-made version.
Start with the areas of annual plantings. This includes the vegetable garden and the annual flower beds.
Clear these areas completely. That means remove plants, roots, leaves, and dead flowers. Any diseased plants should be burned or put in plastic bags for the trash. Any rotting plants left may harbor diseases that will reappear next year. Rotting vegetation also provides winter shelter for unwanted insects.
You do not want to do any pruning until everything is dormant, but you do want to cleanly cut away any broken branches, so that winter winds do not cause further damage.
Protect any fragile perennials by heaping soil up about a foot around their base. You can wrap larger bushes and small trees with burlap. Hold it in place with thin rope.
If you live in an area where mice and deer feed on tender bark, wrap your young trees with hardware cloth. It's like window screening.
Turn the soil in your vegetable garden and annual flower beds, digging in any compost that you have available. Rake smooth. If you soil needs lime, now is a good time to spread it.
It is also a good time to have your soil tested. The cost varies considerably, but it is well worth a few dollars to learn how good or poor your soil is, and what you need to add to improve it. To ensure that you have a representative sampling, make sure your soil is well turned and all compost etc. is integrated.
When all your open beds are clean and smooth, put on a top dressing of mulch. This can be pine needles, chopped leaves, rough compost, or straw. If none of these are available, mulch can be purchased from your nursery. Mulching helps keep the soil moist, controls weeds, and helps your garden look attractive over the bleak months of winter. In the spring, simply dig the mulch into the soil for added nutrition.
Now that you have put your land to rest, you can spend the next few months planning for next years bigger and better vegetables, greener lawn, and more beautiful flowers.