Fall is here! Much needed rest and recuperation from the hardships of gardening and landscaping in the Great Basin Desert is within reach. Soon gardeners will be curled up in front of fireplaces, paging through seed catalogs and day dreaming about what next year’s landscapes could look like.
To ensure those dreams come true, a few remaining tasks should be completed this year. Start adjusting landscape irrigation, removing debris, refreshing mulches, applying compost and protecting frost-sensitive plants. Also, tend to turf areas.
First, check lawns for thatch and compaction. Press a screwdriver into the turf after the sprinklers have run. If this is difficult, grab a pointed shovel. Push it into the lawn three times to form a triangle in the grass. Then, gently lift the wedge out of the lawn, and inspect it.
If a thick layer of plant matter with little soil is discovered, the turf may have a thatch problem. If soil with few roots is found, the lawn area may be compacted. Put the triangle back into the ground, and aerate if signs of thatch or compaction were seen.
Hollow-tine core aeration creates small holes in the lawn which let air, nutrients and water get to where they are needed. Aeration leaves soil cores all over the lawn. This is a good thing. Let them decompose where they are, feeding the soil. Also nurture the soil by raking in no more than one-quarter of an inch of quality compost.
If you do not use compost, apply nutrients with lawn fertilizer. For best results, fertilize only in spring and fall, not in summer. And, if only fertilizing once per year, do it in autumn. In fall, fertilize after average daily temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for three or more days in a row and after the last mowing of the year.
Make that mowing a proper one— sharpen your mower blade, set it to 3 inches and take off no more than one-third of the grass blade. Leave clippings on the lawn, and apply a fast-release fertilizer according to label directions. To avoid burning your lawn, apply no more than one-half of a pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
One way to determine how much fertilizer to apply to a 1,000 square-foot turf area is to divide the amount of nitrogen desired by the percentage of nitrogen in the bag. The first number on the bag is the percentage of nitrogen in it.
For example, if putting down one-half of a pound of nitrogen using a bag of fertilizer which contains 26 percent nitrogen, the calculation would be 0.5 / 0.26 = 1.92. In this example, a proper application would require nearly 2 pounds of fertilizer from the bag to be spread over the 1,000 square-foot turf area.
After fertilizer is applied, remember to water the lawn. Give it just enough moisture to move nutrients into the soil without washing them away or leaching them below the root zone.
Fertilizing and aerating grass in the cool days of fall promotes healthy lawn roots. This gives grass a quick green up in spring, growing the landscapes gardeners dream about.
Ashley Andrews is the horticulture assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have plant questions? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.