Winterizing your Lawn and Garden

October 12, 2010 View all articles in Lawn and Garden

Now that fall is here, it's time to clean up the yard and get ready for the cold winter days ahead. You've probably got the basics like cleaning the gutters and pruning the hedges covered, but if you've been wondering what you can do to winterize your yard the green way, we can help. Keep reading to find out how you can put your green thumb to work to clear leaves, start a compost, fertilize, remove weeds, and mow your lawn, all in an environmentally-friendly manner.


To avoid having your lawn smothered by leaves, it's important to remove as many of them as possible. The strenuous labor involved in raking leaves, especially for those with expansive yards, leads many to use gas-powered leaf blowers. But not only does a single leaf blower emit as much pollution in a year as 80 cars, it's also the cause of 70-75 decibels worth of noise pollution your neighbors have to endure with its every use. In addition, leaf blowers stir up mold, allergens, and dust particles that can worsen asthma and irritate the lungs. Rakes and petroleum-free, electric sweepers and blowers are much better eco-friendly alternatives. And once you have cleared your yard of its leaves, either compost them or use biodegradable leaf bags made of non-genetically modified starch to gather them up for disposal. These bioplastic bags can be set at curbside for up to 12 days before the collected waste will begin to break the bag down.


You can improve your garden next year and reduce your direct impact by starting a compost pile. Commercial compost bins are readily available at your local hardware store or garden center, but you can also make your own from railroad ties, wire mesh, wooden pallets, or concrete blocks. Once it's set up in your yard, you can add anything from lawn clippings and green plants, to food scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Your compost will become a rich fertilizer for your garden just in time for spring. Another great thing about having a compost pile in the fall is you can add all the leaves you rake, eliminating the use of plastic bags altogether; just grind them up or run them over with a lawn mower to speed decomposition.


Cold weather causes the metabolic rates in many plants and turf grasses to slow, affecting the rate of growth, the amount of water consumption, and the need for nitrogen input. To prevent your lawn and garden from developing mineral deficiencies, which can result in numerous disease and pest problems, you should utilize the cool season to rebuild the mineral content in your soil.

Turf management professionals recommend a final application of fertilizer as soon as the temperature falls into the 60s, around October or November. In addition to being 100 percent organic, the fertilizer you choose should contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These ingredients will ensure that your lawn, trees, and shrubs absorb the nutrients required to thicken their root systems in the cold, as well as store what they need for spring growth.

Synthetic fertilizers are usually very soluble and leach from the soil too quickly to be of any use. They are also known to create pollution by running off poorly maintained soils into the storm drain system, where they cause contamination and accelerated bacterial growth in ocean and fresh water supplies. In addition, synthetic fertilizers are potentially harmful to pets and children if they come into contact with the chemical ingredients. Organic fertilizers can easily be found either online or at most home improvement stores.


Fall is a good time to control perennial broad leaf weeds such as dandelions, plantain, clover, and ground ivy. Removing weeds before the first snow will promote healthy soil that reaps a better quality lawn by spring. As long as the temperatures are above 50 degrees, natural and organic herbicide treatments, such as corn gluten meal or vinegar, will have enough time to do their job before winter sets in.


The last mow of the year should be done when the daytime temperatures are consistently in the mid-40s. If your grass isn't cut low enough, it will get matted from packed snow, whereupon the blades will either die or develop a winter lawn disease, such as snow mold. Or at the very least, keeping your lawn too long throughout the winter will create dead, heavy layers that will need to be raked out in the spring. Therefore, it's recommended you mow your lawn 1 inch lower than normal for the year's final mow, keeping it at about 2 to 2-1/2 inches tall throughout the fall. If the grass is cut too short, its ability to make and store food for spring growth will be severely limited. In addition, it's recommended that you sharpen your mower's blades before the final mow, since dull blades shred the ends of the grass blades and leave them open to dehydration and disease.


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