Homegrown: Fall watering

How late in the fall should I continue to water my lawn, and should I fertilize it now?

Thank you.

Both good questions! As fall comes on and the weather starts to cool, you want to start stretching out the time between waterings. This helps to encourage the lawn (and any trees and shrubs watered with the grass) to start slowing down and prepare for winter.

The one watering I always do in the fall is right before I lose irrigation water.

I give the lawn an extra deep soaking, running the sprinklers through two or even three cycles. It’s very important that the ground is moist when it freezes in late November or early December.

Fertilizing in the fall actually has become a more important aspect of good lawn care in my opinion. We’re recommending a different fertilization than what traditionally was used.

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.

Some research came out several years ago recommending 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 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 five or six 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 that you must water that fertilizer in well after you put it down. Since most of us use ditch water, it means putting the fertilizer on while you still that ditch water available or dragging around a hose attached to the house water.

I 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 has 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 normal rat. Don’t worry. It won’t burn the lawn this time of year.

Fall fertilization in this way is sometimes the only fertilizing I use 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 fertilizing in the spring.

If the lawn languishes a bit, I’ll put a light application of a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer on in June.


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