Winter prep for lawn and gardenAll you need is lime, lime. Lime is all you need…
Sing along folks to the tune of that old Beatles’ favorite for your one-stop lawn-care additive that will take your lawn through the winter, and have it growing and green next summer. It’s is as simple as that. No need for powerful toxic chemicals, no need for those little “CAUTION!” signs and no need to worry about how the things you are putting on your grass are harming the environment (your pets and you too), it’s just low-impact, hard-working common sense for the lawn. And it works!
Not only that, but an application of lime is good for the perennials as well, except for those that rely on the most acid of soils. When contrasted with lime, that quick jolt of nutrients that commercial fertilizers provide — whether or not the lawn actually needs it at the time — often do not last over the long run. On the other hand pelletized lime works with your soil to “sweeten it” or lower its natural acidity. That enables the plants that grow in it to take up more of the nutrients that are there whenever they need it. It also works in concert with that layer of compost applied to the flower beds each fall. So there’s no need to worry if some of it scatters into flower beds, like you would if you were applying any of the lawn fertilizer combos that contain herbicides. Scatter an extra handful or to around those plants that thrive in alkaline soils — lilacs and lavender for example.
When it comes to ensuring a green lawn avoid herbicides that restrict the lawn to a monoculture. By allowing a mix of lawn plants to flourish — grasses and clovers for example — you’ll find that your lawn will continue to stay green throughout the coming summer, even when the temperatures climb and the rain fails. I use about 40 pounds of pelletized lime per quarter acre of lawn/flower beds and apply it at least twice during the growing season. While I realize there are times when a good organic fertilizer may be called for, lime is all I’ve used for the grass for about 20 years now, and the results speak for themselves. Applying lime now is just one of the things you can do to ensure a healthy and green lawn next summer.
Mowing grass at about 3 to 3-and-a-half inches high is great for the growing season. But for your final mowing of the year, cut a bit shorter at about 2-and-a-half inches tall to help prevent disease. Be sure to keep fallen leaves from accumulating on the lawn, and yes it is OK to mow over them and allow the shreds to fall where they may. With a mulching lawn mower you can shred up lots of leaves that will slowly compost en situ over the winter, adding nutrients and organic matter to the lawn.
As long as you have not been fertilizing or over-fertilizing your lawn, there should be no thatch build-up, saving you at least one fall-cleanup chore. Fall is a good time to give the lawn a going-over and hand pull any weeds. If you discover a bare spot or two, be sure to reseed to avoid weedy patches which will show up in the spring. Watering shouldn’t be necessary because as temperatures dip and sunlight hours are reduced, grass will go dormant for the season. If you’ve taken care of these few chores, your lawn should sail through the winter months — no matter what Mother Nature throws its way.
After that final mowing, thoroughly rinse the underdeck of the mower. Grass left clinging to the undersides can promote rust. Sharpen the mower blade and you will be good to go come spring.
Clear perennial beds of leaves and trim plants, leaving about a third of the plant’s height in place to protect the crown. Bag and discard any diseased plant matter, but the rest can be added to the compost pile for soil additives later. Avoid pruning any woody shrubs, trees or plants now as it could encourage a growth spurt that would be damaged by freezes to come. However, do trim back any unusual growth that could break and damage the plant when snow or ice accumulates. If you have any doubts about the winter-hardiness of certain plants or shrubs, mulch thickly with straw or pine needles. Staking and surrounding the plant(s) with burlap, filling in the center with hay, pine needles or shredded leaves is another option. And don’t forget to continue to water beds and transplants as necessary until the ground freezes.
Fall is a great time to hit the end-of-the-season plant sales, especially since fall is also a good time to establish new ornamentals. Remember to use a root-stimulating solution when planting and continue to water as needed until the ground freezes. One more tip: Bury those handy plastic plant tags along with the plants so that just a tiny portion of the top of the tag is above ground. That way you can refer to what you have planted in any given spot by just pulling out the tag. If left above ground those tags often get brittle and break off.
Clean out the vegetable garden, bagging and discarding any diseased plants. Healthy plants can be added to the compost pile. Turn or cultivate the soil to bring to the top any insect eggs or larvae that could be hiding there. A cover crop such as winter rye will help prevent weeds from taking over and prevent erosion or loss of top soil over the winter. And it can be turned under in the spring to enrich the soil. Don’t forget an application of lime there also.
Mulch garlic thickly with hay or straw. Strawberries and raspberries also benefit from a layer of hay mulch now.
Get the last of the spring-flowering bulbs into the ground, avoiding any undrained places where water collects as this will rot bulbs. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs to a depth of at least three times their height. Cover bulbs in their planting hole with a layer of chicken wire, then some fine gravel and fill in with soil if digging squirrels or other pests are a problem. This is a good time to clean and oil garden hand tools before storing them for the winter.
With all that your work is done you can sit back and brew a cup of tea to enjoy. Your garden should be safe to slumber over the coming months, ready to hop into glorious bloom and color come spring.
Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s growing in the garden day-by-day.