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Lawn Care How-To
What is a winterizer application?
The term winterizer has been used to promote various fall lawn applications on Northern grasses for some 30
years. It has been used by many to sell all sorts of fertilizer blends for applications timed from early late August through late November. Since Cornell University says that the winterizer application is the 3rd most important fertilizing of the year, it is time to define what a winterizer is, what should be used, and when to apply it.
Late Fall Winterizer for Lawns – Why, When and How
A winterizer is a late fall fertilizer application designed to help lawns store more food for winter survival, and to encourage thick and rapid growth and rooting in the spring. A lawn winterizer is NOT meant to encourage fall growth of grass. That is what the early fall fertilizing is supposed to do, and that fertilizing, usually done in September up till early October, is the considered the most important fertilizer of the year for northern grasses.
The best time to apply a winterizer is after the grass stops growing in the fall, while it is still green on top and active below the surface. In most parts of the North, this will be sometime in mid-to-late November, or even early December. So when you put away your mower for the year, that’s when you should apply your winterizer.
In the past, the belief was that winterizers should be low in nitrogen and high in potassium and phosphorus, but recent research has disproved this, and shown that the opposite is true: the ideal winterizer will be mostly nitrogen fertilizer. The label should show most of the nitrogen as a quick-releasing water soluble nitrogen (WSN) as opposed to slow-releasing water insoluble nitrogen (WIN).
Two Important Factors for an Effective Winterizer Application:
Use Less. If you are using a store-bought granular lawn fertilizer apply at 1/3 to 1/2 the normal fertilizing amount to avoid un-absorbed nitrogen from leaching into the groundwater. For example, if the bag says it covers 5000 sf, you should be able to get 10-15,000 sf of coverage when used as a late fall winterizer. For those of you who understand fertilizer labels, apply .3 – .5 # N per 1000 sf. With liquid fertilizers you can go even lighter.
Source of Nitrogen. The most common fertilizers used for winterizers will contain water soluble nitrogen in the form of urea or ammonium sulfate. Check the product label. It can also contain small amounts of phosphorus and potassium. If you are looking for a true organic fertilizer that has mostly quick release nitrogen in it, you are very limited in your choices. Some forms of liquid fish are approximately 80% water soluble and make a great winterizer, if you don’t mind the odor.
Our All-In-One for Lawns is an excellent product for your winterizer application. The main ingredient is our 16-4-8 Bio-Enhanced Fertilizer, in addition to soil conditioners, dethatching enzymes, and a beneficial root fungus called mycorhizae.
Strengthen your lawn this fall with a winterizer and watch it come back stronger and greener than ever in the spring!
After the snow melts, you may find that your lawn is riddled with circles or patches of dead-looking grass. It may be gray, tan, white, or even pink. It could be that the grass is dead due to extremely severe winter conditions, or late fall damage by grubs or crane fly larvae, but it is most likely that you have snow mold.
Snow mold is a lawn diseases that is usually related to winter conditions and snow cover, either too little or too much. It is encouraged when grass is left too long over the winter, and when nutrients and trace elements are lacking. Thatch conditions are also going to promote snow mold. If you over-fertilize in the fall, or time it wrong, you can cause too much tender late fall growth and this encourages snow mold too.
Some grasses are more susceptible to snow mold, but all grass types can get it. A properly mowed and watered, deep-rooted lawn, growing in a bio-active and nutritionally balanced soil is your best defense against snow mold.
There are two types of snow mold: gray snow mold, or the more severe pink snow mold. Both of these diseases will appear as circular dead patches, often 3 -12 inches in diameter. Sometimes it is so severe that the patches all join together and cover most of the lawn. Upon closer inspection you might see fuzzy webbing or strands (mycelium) on top of the grass blades or at the very edges of the damaged spot.
Gray snow mold damage is less severe than that of pink snow mold. The damage is primarily to the leaf blades of the grass only. Once lawns start to green up in the spring and temperatures are staying in the mid 40s and above day and night, further damage to the lawn usually ceases. The mycelium will quickly dry out and and will be hard to find. The lawn will usually recover if it is healthy and deeply rooted.
TREATMENT FOR GRAY SNOW MOLD
The best thing you can do for gray snow mold, aside from improving your soil aeration and bioactivity (we recommend using Aerify PLUS soil conditioner), is to lightly fluff up the dead grass with a rake. This will allow it to dry more completely and will also allow the sunlight to reach the soil and promote new grass growth. A light fertilizing after the rest of the grass starts to green up may help recovery too. Use our All-In-One for LAWNS if you have it, or any fast acting fertilizer. Again, go light at this time. In the fall, make sure you cut short at the end of the year and handle any thatch during the season.
Pink snow mold remains active much longer than gray snow mold. It can continue to grow until temperatures get into the low 60’s. You will find pink/salmon colored mycelium at the outer edges. You can see this easily in the morning when there is dew on the ground. Pink snow mold damages the blades as well as the crowns of the grass. When the crowns (where both the blades and the roots emanate from) are damaged, the grass may not recover.
Southern lawns can get pink snow mold, especially on golf course greens. All you need are temperatures in the low 30s and damp conditions.
As with the gray snow mold, you should lightly rake or fluff up the pink snow mold to allow air and sunlight to get to the soil. With this type you should be careful to not spread the disease by using the rake on the rest of the lawn. After you rake the pink snow mold you should clean your rake with some alcohol or an anti-bacterial soap.
Pink snow mold eventually stops on its own when temperatures are high enough. At that time it is a simple enough matter to simply spot seed the damaged areas.
TREATMENT FOR PINK SNOW MOLD
Liquid Kelp (seaweed) and Humic Acid (bio-active carbon) contain numerous trace elements and bio-stimulants that can help a lawn recover from snow mold quickly. Using one or the other or both will provide benefits to the soil as well as the grass. Spraying liquid forms of these will work much quicker than applying powdered forms. A late fall application may work as a preventative, too. Nature’s Magic is a 50/50 blend of these two amendments.
Compost Tea and Earthworm Castings Teas have been shown to help reduce most lawn diseases. A simple verison of how to make this tea to cover a large area of lawn would be to take a cup of compost or earthworm castings (you can usually find each in nurseries) and soak them for 24-36 hours in a five gallon bucket filled 2/3 or so with water. Stir often to get some air in the water or use an aerating device if you have one. Then simply strain and put the tea in a watering can or sprayer and soak the snow mold and the grass right around it.
Something else to try would be hydrogen peroxide– 1 cup in 2 gallons of water 2 or 3 times, perhaps 5 days apart. If it doesn’t kill the snow mold it should keep it from spreading. If you have any cedar-based Yard Guard, that has anti-fungal properties so you can spray that on the snow mold in the same way as the hydrogen peroxide.
That’s all for now! As always, feel free to email us with questions about our products at email@example.com .
Though a large part of the country is still frozen, there are some areas where weather has returned to normal. We are starting to receive a lot of emails about what to do for lawns and gardens when the weather breaks. We know that many you are anxious to get going, but, if at all possible, stay off the lawn until you can walk on it without sinking in. If you have been using Aerify PLUS your lawn should drain faster in the spring and green up a little sooner.
When your lawn is ready to go, here are some of the things you can do to help it out:
- Give the lawn a light raking to remove debris and lift up matted grass and (in the North) snow mold damage. Snow mold, a lawn disease, occurs on most Northern grasses, especially the creeping grass types. It is worse when there has been alternating snow cover and warm periods. Most snow mold will disappear by mid spring if you fluff it up a bit so air and sunlight can get to the soil.
- If you fertilized in the late fall, there is no reason to fertilize too early in the spring. The lawn should have plenty of food stored up for early spring growth. This growth helps thicken up the lawn and also helps crowd out incipient weeds and Crabgrass. We suggest that you make an early application of Aerify PLUS or Nature’s Magic in early spring when the grass is greening up and beginning to grow. They won’t force excessive growth but will stimulate fast and deep rooting and will provide trace elements and organics to the grass and soil. They will also help make all the major and minor nutrients in the soil more available to the grass.
- If you did not fertilize in the late fall and/or if the lawn is looking weak and thin, an application of All-In-One for LAWNS or our 16-4-8 Bio-Enhanced Lawn Fertilizer will stimulate both the above and below ground growth that you want to have in the spring.
- Seed bare and thin areas early. You want the grass thick before the weeds start sprouting. Use the correct seed type for your area and your particular lawn. The Aerify PLUS, and Nature’s Magic are also great for new seed and will cause beneficial root fungi (mycorrhizae) to generate.
- Apply Lime. Spring is a good time to apply Lime (Calcium) to your lawn. Lime fights soil acidity and soil microbes love the calcium. Our Liquid Lime Formula (calcium) is an easy way to apply calcium and it gives you faster results while avoiding moving heavy sacks of lime from the garden center to your car, to your garage or shed, and finally to your spreader where you often end up spilling on the grass.
- Alternatively, apply Sulfur. If you have had your soil tested and it shows excess Calcium with an alkaline pH above 7, you are more prone to lawn diseases like Pink Snow Mold, Summer Patch, Dollar Spot, and Take All Patch. Consider applying our Liquid Sulfur Formula to lower the pH in the root zone. (By the way, the ideal pH for lawns is about 6.5)
- Mowing. Make your first cut short – as low as you can mow without scalping the lawn- perhaps 1 – 1½ inches high. Do this only when the grass is just starting to grow, not if it is already growing vigorously. This short mowing cuts away some of the dead grass left over from the previous season if you left it too high. It also helps warm up the soil faster, stimulates growth, and allows more sunlight to reach the newly forming grass blades.
And remember, feel free to email us if you have any questions about lawn care or our products!
Here is all that you need to know: when the snow melts during a thaw and you can see bare spots or thin areas of lawn, simply sprinkle some grass seed fairly heavily right over the soil or thin grass areas, and that’s that. If the soil is a little bumpy due to dog or foot traffic when wet, you can step on it first to press it down and level. Over the next month or two the freezing and thawing of the soil along with the water penetration from snow and rain will work the seed into the soil. It will be deep enough to keep it moist and protected. This seed should sprout by mid-spring. It may not be quite as effective as conventional seeding, but it is fast, easy and worth a try, especially if you have some leftover seed sitting around that should be used before it is too old to germinate.
Make sure to hit the seeded areas early in the year with All-In-One for LAWNS. This will help the seed sprout faster and will add microbes and trace elements that are particularly good for fast root development.
Winter seeding should not be done on lawns with a thick thatch layer since that would prevent the seed from reaching the soil. Also, there might not be any point to winter-seed low areas or other situations where you are going to need a lot of soil to build it up. But if you have a dog that is muddying up the yard then winter seeding may be the only way to seed the lawn without blocking it off from the dog in the spring.
Most lawn care products are meant to be applied based on the square footage of area being treated. For example, our Aerify Plus liquid soil aerator label says to apply at 4 oz per 1000 sf. But do you actually know how many square feet of property you have to treat? One way to get the property size is to measure or pace out all the area you plan to treat. Or, if you happen to know the size of your lot, you can measure and then subtract the dimensions of structures (house, garage, driveway, etc.) and garden beds from your overall lot size and come up with the total amount of area you need to treat. But, before you do all that, why not see if we can get you the measurement through internet mapping.
Nature’s Lawn is happy to offer free lawn measurements, utilizing a specialized satellite program that allows us to fairly accurately measure the green space of your property. If you’re interested in this information, simply email us with your name and home address, and we will get back to you with your measurements as soon as possible.* If you have specific products in mind, we can also make a recommendation on how much product you will need to treat your property. (And none of your information will be saved or used for any purpose other than this exchange.)
We hope you’ll take us up on this free offer and arm yourself with a little more information about your lawn!
*Monday through Friday, not including holidays. We will do our best to get measurements for everyone who asks, but certain factors might make it impossible to measure your home specifically (the age of the home, how many trees are on the property, etc.). We will let you know if we run into difficulties.
LAWN SEASON BEGINS IN THE FALL
You’ve probably heard us say this more than once, but it bears repeating: Fall is one of the most important seasons for lawn care! While many homeowners think of fall as the end of the gardening year and begin to neglect their yards, lawn pros see the fall as the beginning of lawn season, and do what they can to improve the lawn and soil quality at this time.
In the fall, especially in the North, lawns have the opportunity to re-build, repair and thicken up after going through the stresses of summer. The lawn attempts to expand its root system at this time, digging in and getting to more of the soil nutrients. It also increases blade growth, making more carbohydrates (food) and some of this food is stored for spring and summer use.
In the fall, conditions are usually more favorable for seeding too. The weather should be cooler and moister, and there will be less weed and disease pressure to contend with.
So without further ado, here are some fall lawn care tips!
Be sure to do an early fall fertilizing. In our lawn service business, we save our heaviest fertilizing of the year for the early fall. This stimulates growth and helps the grass send out tillers and runners to fill in thin spots. It also helps the grass produce the food that it stores to help it through the winter, and which gets it off to a good start in the spring. Our All-In-One for LAWNS is the perfect fertilizer to use for this.
Focus on soil improvement. Clay and soil compaction can prevent your lawn from being healthy even when you are doing everything else right. With a porous, bio-active soil, the grass roots can become fuller and go deeper. When the soil has better structure, the naturally occurring soil nutrients, as well as the nutrients from your fertilizers, become more easily available to the grass and other plants in your yard. Our company uses a liquid soil conditioner called Aerify PLUS to help aerate and bio-activate soils, and to provide some readily available organic matter. (As a matter of disclosure, we developed and sell this product on-line). Other traditional methods of soil improvement we recommend are compost top-dressing, or calcium/lime (if soils test acidic).
Handle any thatch that might have formed over the summer. Thatch is not just old grass clippings sitting on top of the lawn. Real thatch is a tightly matted barrier that could not be raked off without tearing up the lawn. Read more about thatch in our recent post.
Over-seed your lawn. The early fall is the absolute best possible time to seed your lawn if you live in the north. There are many reasons to over-seed your lawn. Aside from thickening it up, you can introduce newer, more heat-, insect-, and disease-tolerant grass types. Get new grass seed established in the early fall and it will thicken further in the spring. You can seed any bare or thin areas now and up till early October.
If your lawn does not have a thatch barrier, a simple over-seed can be done this way: spread seed over the existing grass and water heavily to work the seed down to the soil. Then keep the soil damp for a few weeks. A lot of this seed will take hold, especially if you spray Aerify PLUS right after seeding.
Practice seasonally appropriate mowing. Keep the grass fairly high into the early fall (unless your lawn is mostly bentgrass, which needs to be cut shorter). This will help the grass root deeper, thicken up, and build up food reserves. Don’t start mowing short just because the weather turns cooler. Lawn season is not over yet!
When the lawn’s growth begins to slow down, that is your signal to begin mowing shorter. Gradually lower the mowing height so it is 1 ½ inch high or less before winter. Bentgrass lawns can be cut even shorter.
Last but not least: be sure to keep the leaves from matting up on the lawn! Too many leaves left on the lawn can cause the grass the die back or rot, so make sure you rake up leaves if they tend to form a thick layer over your lawn. Leaves make for excellent compost though, so if you don’t feel like bagging, try dumping them around your shrubs and trees, or in your gardens beds.
What is Thatch?
Most homeowners and many lawn “professionals” don’t really understand what thatch is. They think it is the clippings that are just sitting on top of the soil, slowly decomposing–but that is not thatch at all. Real thatch is a tightly matted layer of stems, roots, and fibrous material sitting on top of, and preventing your grass from rooting into, the soil. Poorly established sod lawns can turn to thatch very easily, but all grass types can develop thatch when cared for improperly.
Thatch is a disaster waiting to happen! If you have a thatch layer it is critical that you handle it as soon as possible, otherwise you will have a very shallow-rooted lawn that is growing into the thatch layer more so than the soil. Summer and winter damage is almost inevitable. And the thatch layer will be a haven for insects and disease.
Now that we are in the middle of summer, the problems that come about from thatch conditions are really beginning to show. The matted thatch, where most roots are, will dry out a lot faster than the soil below, causing grass to go dormant quickly. And if watered to lightly, it will hold water like a sponge on top of the soil, which promotes diseases and keeps the roots in the thatch layer.
Despite what you may have heard, you cannot eliminate true thatch by raking or other mechanical means. When you try to handle thatch this way, you simply end up tearing out the lawn. The best solution is to get it to decompose at ground-level naturally, through the action of beneficial thatch-digesting soil microbes.
An easy way to get this thatch-digesting activity going is by applying the enzymes and microbes contained in our Biological Dethatcher. In summer, when soils are warm, decomposition of thatch with this product will occur faster. Each application should reduce it by up to 3/8 inch. If you are using our All-In-One for LAWNS you are putting on a small amount of dethatching microbes with each application. This is enough to prevent thatch and will slowly get existing thatch to decompose, but it is not enough to handle a bad thatch situation quickly.
If you are unsure about whether you have thatch, just click on the link to our Biological Dethatcher page and you will find all the information you need to see if thatch is an issue on your lawn.
The most common mistake homeowners make when watering the grass is that they water often, but not very deeply. The result of this is that the roots stay near the surface where the water is, instead of going down deep into the soil. The grass becomes dependent on the frequent watering and if you don’t keep up with it, the roots dry out very quickly in the summer heat and drought.
The next most common mistake is watering the lawn deeply, but too often. When the ground is constantly saturated the waterlogged condition will cause thinning and stunting of roots, and rotting in the worst case. During a wet season with a lot of heavy rains, lawns can suffer like this, and the grass becomes weak and off-color, and often ridden with disease.
So how do you water your lawn? For deep and thick roots, you should water the lawn deeply, but infrequently. In heavier clay soils this could be perhaps once a week in the summer. Sandy soils can need twice a week watering.
High concentrations of iron are toxic to moss and weeds, and can kill them without the use of toxic chemicals. Be careful when you apply, however–getting the higher concentration of iron on your lawn can harm the grass, too.