Fertilize late to help lawn throughout the winter
How late in the fall should I continue to water my lawn and should I fertilize it now?
Both good questions! As fall comes on and weather starts to cool, you want to start stretching out your waterings. Lots of people just let the sprinkler controller continue to operate, but if you think about it, that just doesn’t make sense. The schedule that worked during the blazing heat of July doesn’t work in the cooler weather of September and October.
The way I do it for my lawn is that I continue to use the controller, I just suspend the program between and then manually turn it on to run through my lawn zones. I don’t have a set schedule; I adapt it to what the weather’s doing. If we’re having warmer weather, I’ll run them more frequently, and if the weather’s cooler and rainy, less often. Instead of watering twice a week like I do during the summer, I’m watering once every five to 10 days. When I feel that the lawn needs water, I manually start the lawn sprinklers and let them run through.
The one for-sure watering I’ll do in the fall is right before I lose the irrigation water. I’ll give the lawn an extra deep soaking at that time, running the sprinklers through two or even three cycles.
Fertilizing in the fall has actually become a more important aspect of good lawn care, in my opinion. We’re also recommending a different fertilization than what’s been traditionally done. In the past, a winterizing fertilizer was lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium and applied anywhere from late September to mid-October. Well, there was some research that came out several years ago that recommended a very different approach. Instead of that traditional formula, a high-nitrogen, fast-release fertilizer was applied later in the fall.
Being the skeptic I am sometimes, I didn’t jump on that bandwagon right away. After all, that traditional fall winterizer has worked fine for many years, hasn’t it? Well, I decided to try this new way of late fall fertilization in my own yard seven or eight years ago and I’ve become a believer! The recommendation is to apply it after the lawn has stopped growing (easy to tell by what the lawn mower is picking up) but while it’s still green. Around here, that’s anytime from the end of October to the first part of December.
The thing to remember is you have to water that fertilizer in well after you put it down. Since most of us have ditch water, that means putting it on while you still have it available or end up dragging a hose attached to the house water. Don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drag any hoses, so I put the fertilizer on my lawn as late as I can before I lose the irrigation water. In my subdivision, that’s the very end of October. Now, there’s been one or two years where the weather’s been on the warm side and the grass still is growing a bit. I went ahead and put the fertilizer down anyway and it worked fine.
The last thing about this way of fertilizing is that you put the fertilizer down at twice the rate you normally would. Don’t worry, it won’t burn the lawn this time of year. Doing the fall fertilization this way is sometimes the only fertilizer I put on the lawn all year. My lawn greens up well and looks good all spring and summer without those flushes of fast growth I used to get after I fertilized in the spring. If the lawn is languishing a bit, I’ll put a light application of a slow release nitrogen fertilizer on in June.