WHY FALL LAWN CARE & MAINTENANCE IS SO IMPORTANT
You’ve worked relentlessly, literal sweat and some tears, to keep your yard looking pristine all spring and summer long. Fall is not the time to take a break. If you do, you may be faced with a patchy, brown lawn come springtime. Fall maintenance is important to give your grass what it needs to absorb the oxygen and nutrients required to survive our Wisconsin cold winters. Plus, you want your lawn looking immaculate year-round.
POSSIBLE FALL MAINTENANCE PROJECTS
With so many different tasks to handle and limited daylight, you may be wondering what jobs are most important. Here are 6 basic services that Wisconsin Labor Men suggests to keep your lawn looking good, year long.
Pruning dead and diseased shrubs and trees. Not only will it keep your shrubs and trees looking good and kept, but it will also keep them healthy.
Planting spring bulbs. Fall is the perfect time to plant flowers like tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, day-lilies, and dahlias.
Lawn Mowing: just because the days are getting cooler doesn’t mean it is time to stop mowing. Of course, mowing to the right length this time of year is vital to keeping grass strong. Our professional mowing team will keep your lawn mowed at about 3 inches to ensure that it still gets the important sun, water, and oxygen it needs to thrive.
Weeding: fall is the perfect time to get rid of those weeds. Tackling weeds now will help make spring work much easier.
Raking Leaves: fall leaves may be gorgeous on the trees, but once they hit the ground they become nothing but a big mess. Getting leaves off of the grass before winter strikes is important. If leaves are allowed to remain on the ground, they will choke off the grass by reducing water evaporation. Plus, they can harbor mold and fungus, while also allowing insects to infiltrate the grass and ground. In some cases, diseases from the trees can also be transferred to the ground and grassroots, which can kill your lawn.
Dethatching: unless you have been raking grass clipping (or mulching them) all summer long, thatch probably has built up on your lawn. This can cause real problems if left untreated. Be sure that your lawn maintenance crew is dethatching to give your grass a good chance of thriving.
FAQ - How do I get started on these projects?
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO PRUNE?
Pruning isn’t just for curb appeal. Pruning helps to manage the growth and structure of shrubs and trees, removes dead or diseased stems and branches, and encourages the growth of flowers, fruit, and new foliage.
WHAT SHOULD BE PRUNED?
When you are pruning, the basic rule of thumb is to prune less instead of more. It’s easy enough to cut, but not so easy to reattach healthy branches! Any branches or stems that are dead, dying, diseased, or broken should be pruned, removed. This can be done at any time of year—and the sooner, the better. At the very least, prune branches or stems before the plant grows in spring so that it doesn’t waste energy on damaged areas. Removing dead or dying branches will not only help to prevent the spread of disease to other parts of the plant, but it will also help the tree or shrub to focus on producing new, healthy growth. Do not prune at the convenience of the pruner, but rather when it results in the least damage to the plant.
Branches that Cross or Grow Inwards:
Remove branches that are growing across each other, or prune one of the offending limbs. Branches that touch can create an access point for insects and disease. Similarly, branches that grow inward toward the central stem or trunk are likely to end up chafing against other parts of the plant, so it’s best to prune them. It’s also important to allow some space for air to reach the center of the plant; if a tree or shrub becomes too grown in on itself, it is at greater risk of rot and other fungal diseases that thrive on humid, stagnant air.
Suckers and Water Sprouts:
Suckers—long shoots that grow out of the base of a tree or from its roots—should be pruned as close to the source as possible. As the name entails, suckers are an energy drain on trees.
Prune water sprouts—shoots growing straight up from the main branches of shrubs and trees—as soon as you see them. Removing water sprouts helps to guide the shape and growth pattern of a tree or shrub.
Young Trees and Shrubs:
Young woody plants should be pruned in a way that encourages them to produce a balanced, open structure of stems or branches. Watch out for crossed or inward-growing stems or branches especially—it’s better to “nip them in the bud” while they’re still easy to reach and cut!
HOW TO PRUNE
When pruning shrubs, try to maintain the natural shape of the plants by removing individual branches. Using loppers or hand pruners, remove dead, damaged, crossing, and crowded branches back to the base of the plant. Avoid shearing flowering shrubs with hedge shears.
Cut back to a bud that faces out, away from the central stem or trunk. New growth will emerge from this bud, so you want it to grow outward, not inward.
Leave about ½ inch between the bud and where you make your cut.
Cut at an angle that slants down and away from the bud to discourage water from running towards the bud.
When pruning larger branches, cut back to a lateral branch—i.e., where a smaller branch emerges from the branch you are pruning.
Evergreen and deciduous hedges need periodic pruning throughout the growing season, starting in spring. For informal hedges of lilacs or other deciduous shrubs, use loppers or hand pruners to remove broken or dead branches, keeping the shape of the shrub intact. For evergreens in a formal setting, shear to keep the hedge shape and size in bounds. Be sure to leave the bottom of the hedge wider than the top so sunlight can reach the bottom branches to promote lush growth.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PRUNING TOOLS
Hand pruners, loppers, shears, trimmers—there are several different types of pruning tools out there and each has its purpose, but the options can get a little overwhelming. Here’s how to pick the right tool for the job:
Hand Pruners — Next to the trowel, hand pruners are a gardener’s best friend. They’re small and light enough to be carried in a single hand or a pocket, but sharp enough to easily tackle any (small) stem that stands in their way. Use hand pruners to make precision cuts on small, soft stems and branches.
There are two main types of pruners: anvil and bypass. Bypass pruners have overlapping blades, like scissors, while anvil pruners have a single blade that presses against a flat edge. Anvil pruners are prone to partially crushing the stem rather than cutting cleanly through it, which can expose the plant to disease and pests. For this reason, bypass pruners are recommended.
Loppers — Once you’re dealing with branches greater than about ¼ inch in diameter, hand pruners may no longer cut. Rather than risk crushing or making an uneven cut, upgrade to loppers. Loppers are essentially larger, heavy-duty pruners with long handles that allow for greater leverage and thus, more power. They’re perfect for cutting thicker branches, stems, or roots that are too tough for hand pruners, while still getting a clean, precise cut.
Pruning Saws — Contrary to popular belief, a saw is not always an extreme measure. Pruning saws, with their curved blades and sharp teeth, are specially designed to make clean cuts through branches that hand pruners and loppers can’t handle. They’re great for when you need to cut out large parts of a shrub or remove thicker branches from a tree. Plus, they also come in the form of the pole saw—essentially a saw on a stick—for when you need to reach higher branches and don’t want to risk using a ladder
Hedge Shears — Traditional hedge shears, which look similar to giant scissors, are best suited to shaping evergreen hedges and topiary. Because their large blades make broad cuts, they should not be used for pruning most other shrubs and trees.
Hedge Trimmers — Like shears, motorized hedge trimmers are used to shape broad areas of evergreen hedges and shrubs. They use sharp, reciprocating blades to make clean cuts more quickly, efficiently, and over larger areas than traditional shears. If the hedge you’re trying to trim is too large to tackle with traditional shears, we recommend using an extendable hedge trimmer.
WHEN TO PLANT SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS
Spring-flowering bulbs (also referred to as “fall bulbs”) often offer the first glimpse of color that bursts into our garden in late winter and early spring. Think crocus, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth, among others! This is in contrast to summer-flowering “bulbs” such as dahlias, elephant ear, caladium, gladiolus, and cannas, which are planted in the spring.
They’re generally planted when soils are below 60°F in the late fall. This is usually during September and October in the North, or October and November in the South. (Tulips are one exception—you can plant tulips as late in winter as you can get them into the soil.) In general, the time to plant fall bulbs is about 6 weeks before a hard frost is expected.
BUYING FALL BULBS
Bulbs are easy to find at all the local garden centers and even big-box stores and grocery stores. We suggest you buy bulbs from reputable nursery or garden centers. Second-rate bulbs produce second-rate flowers, don’t sprout at all, and often don’t return year after year. Don’t forget to plant extra for cutting so you can bring some of that spring color indoors.
SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS TO PLANT IN FALL
We prefer daffodils over any other bulbs because squirrels, deer, and chipmunks leave them alone! Daffodils come in many colors, not just yellow (pink, orange, white, multi-colored) and their flowers range from trumpets to flat rings to little rose-like cups. They grow best in well-draining soil that has been amended with organic matter or compost. They should be planted at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. They look great in large drifts in groundcover beds or meadows or planted under hostas.
One of the best-known spring bulbs, tulips come in a rainbow of colors and variations. They prefer well-drained or sandy soil that is rich in fertilizer. Tulips look beautiful when planted en masse and bloom after the daffodils. They look great paired with grape hyacinth.
A word of caution: Tulips today are often one-season wonders. Due to hybridization and the fact that squirrels love these bulbs, we tend to treat them as annuals. Expect no more than ¾ of the bulbs will return in their second year and even less in their third year. You’ll just need to plant more tulip bulbs every year (it’s not hard) or protect the bulbs with a nylon mesh.
These spring beauties bloom around the same time as daffodils and tulips, and have a wonderful fragrance! Small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms, hyacinth are also good for naturalizing. (They also come in paler pinks, baby blues, yellows, and white). An annual application of compost should provide adequate nutrients. Flower size may decline in subsequent years, so some gardeners treat hyacinths as annuals and plant fresh bulbs each fall.
HOW TO PLANT FALL BULBS
Planting bulbs is generally an easy task (unless you’ve ordered hundreds of them), but there are some things that you want to make sure to get right. Here are tips to keep in mind:
Of course, the first tip is to remember to plant bulbs with the point facing up! Examine bulbs carefully before placing them in the planting hole, being sure to set them with the roots facing downward.
Bulbs need soil that drains nicely or they are prone to rot. Work a few inches of compost or organic matter into the soil before planting for nutrients and drainage, especially if you have heavy clay soils. If your soil is sandy, plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower.
The general rule is to plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb, but refer to our chart above for specific planting depths.
Consider bloom time for each bulb (early spring, mid-spring, late spring) and plant bulbs with different bloom times so that you have flowers throughout spring!
Place shorter bulbs in the front of beds and borders.
Plant bulbs generously in case some do not sprout (or are devoured by hungry squirrels). Plant them in random order and spacing for a more natural appearance. Or, if you love groves of daffodils and blanketed landscapes of tulips, be prepared to buy and plant a large number of bulbs together!
You can use a special bulb-planting hand tool to assist you, but if you are planting en masse by the dozens, just use a shovel and make a wide hole for planting many bulbs at once.
After planting, apply a fertilizer that’s fairly low in nitrogen, such as a 9-6-6 formulation.
Water bulbs well after planting and make sure they do not dry out before the ground freezes.
Apply mulch to the planting area to keep the weeds down, hold in moisture, and avoid heaving from wintertime thawing and freezing.
Do you have voles or squirrels? Consider planting your bulbs in a “cage” fashioned with chicken wire. Also, check out our tips for preventing vole damage and squirrel damage. Or try planting some rodent-proof bulbs.
Grass doesn’t stop growing until it frosts over in winter, so there’s no reason to stop mowing come autumn. Continue cutting your grass at its normal height until it stops growing. Once you call it quits for the season, you’ll need to winterize your mower. This includes sharpening the blades, changing the oil and spark plugs, inspecting the mower for damage, and cleaning the air filter.
Don't put that mower away yet. Grass continues to grow up to the first hard frost, and so will need regular cuts to keep it at an ideal 2½- to 3-inch height. If you let it get too long, it will mat and be vulnerable to fungi like snow mold.
Cutting grass too short is just as bad, because it curtails the root system—root depth is proportional to cutting height—and impedes the lawn's ability to withstand winter cold and dryness. Regular mowing also gets rid of those pesky leaves, chopping them up and leaving behind a soil-enhancing mulch.
Get in contact with Wisconsin Labor Men t0 have your lawn care taken care of, 2629559801.
When is the best time to control weeds in your lawn? The answer may surprise you, but it’s actually fall. Late season applications of herbicides strike weeds when they are most vulnerable. This makes it easier to kill weeds this time of year than any other.
Some very hard to kill weeds like ground ivy (Creeping Charlie) for example are much easier to control in the fall. After spraying you won’t see much change in the leaves other than some discoloration, but by the time the snow melts in the spring, the weeds will be gone, or at least a big percentage of them.
October is the Month
The best time to apply weed control is anytime in October. Two applications are best, applied 2 weeks apart. This is when the weeds are in full food storage mode which is needed for winter survival. Weed control will disrupt this process.
Liquid or Granules
Granule applications may be suitable for common weeds, but the hardest to kill weeds should be treated with a liquid herbicide.
Removing leaves and additional debris from your yard is important for two reasons. First, it makes your yard look better as the leaves continue to fall. Debris removal keeps your grass from being weighed down and crushed and prevents the growth of fungi and diseases that can harm your grass and spread across your yard.
Before you even pick up a tool, purchase a pair (or several) of good work gloves. They'll save your hands from blisters, scrapes, thorns, cuts, and general wear and tear. Be sure to choose a comfortable, durable pair that fits well.
These long-handled tools dig, spread, and gather. And there's a surprising variety of them to choose from. A rigid, metal-toothed landscaping or garden rake is ideal for weeding, spreading dirt, separating rock from the soil and laying down mulch. If you're looking to remove dead leaves, grass clippings and other debris from your lawn, you'll want a more flexible plastic leaf rake.
Why take minutes to sweep off a driveway or "dust" your garage when it can be done in seconds? You’ll need a broom for other projects around the house, but for efficient cleaning of your yard, you can’t beat a leaf blower. Some models can also be converted into outdoor vacuums, ideal for gathering dead leaves and turning them into mulch. Backpack blowers are very efficient.
What is thatch?
Simply put, thatch is a layer of living and dead organic matter that is between the zone of vegetation and the soil surface. When a lawn begins to have a spongy feel to it, this can be a sign an excess of thatch is occurring.
Thatch is composed of stem nodes, crowns, fibers of vascular tissues and roots and about 25 percent of thatch is made from a compound named lignin. Lignin is resistant to decay by microorganisms and can cause thatch to build up faster than it can be broken down.
Is it good or bad?
A thin layer of thatch (less than ½ inch) can be beneficial for a yard, helping insulate it from extreme temperatures and foot traffic. It can also reduce weed germination by keeping weed seeds from reaching the soil and helping retain soil moisture. Penn State’s Center for Turfgrass Science says that about ½ inch can be helpful on sports turf, as it boosts resiliency and softens the impact, but any lawn with more than an inch of thatch will start to experience problems.
Excessive thatch can cause numerous issues. The thick layer can harbor pests and diseases and trap roots in the layer, subjecting them to drought and temperature extremes. Too much thatch can limit the ability of oxygen, water, insecticides and pre-emergent herbicides to reach their intended target.
Causes of thatch accumulation
Depending on the species and variety of turfgrass in question, certain species produce more stem tissue than others, causing them to create more thatch faster than other species. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue and creeping bentgrass all form thatch at an accelerated rate and even certain cultivars of these grasses are worse with accumulation than others.
Meanwhile, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue tend to not produce significant thatch buildup. Yet even if you do have a grass that typically does not have problems with thatch accumulation, aggressive fertilization with nitrogen can stimulate too much production in the stems and leaves, resulting in an overabundance of thatch.
Another element that allows thatch to build-up is reduced microbe activity, which can occur in acidic soils (5.5 pH or lower) as this inhibits microorganisms from being able to decompose thatch. Compacted, clay or sandy soils can also lack the needed population sizes of microorganisms to keep thatch under control.
The best control for thatch is to have a good management program in place and most of the thatch’s catalysts can be prevented by just following good cultural practices that you should be conducting anyway.
Taking soil tests regularly can alert you to any changes in the pH that would cause microbial activity to drop, while core aeration alleviates soil compaction and boosts microorganisms’ activity as well.
Applying fertilizer in controlled amounts that do not cause rapid growth and only using pesticides when they are needed can also improve the rate of thatch breakdown.
There is a misconception that grass clippings contribute to thatch. Yet there is little evidence to support this belief, as it often decomposes quickly.
“However, if a thick thatch layer already exists, returning clippings can cause thatch increases,” wrote Peter Landschoot, a professor of turf-grass science at Penn State. “This may be due to the inability of decomposing microbes to persist in the upper thatch layer where clippings accumulate.”
Also, don’t overlook considering starting fresh with a more suitable grass type. Aggressive grass cultivars might be able to grow quickly, but they’ll end up causing more issues from the thatch accumulation. Mixing perennial ryegrass with the more aggressive types can help reduce the amount of thatch formed.
Thatch can be removed with rakes, a vertical mower, or a dethatching mower, depending on the quantity. In some regions, people burn their yards in an attempt to remove thatch, but this is very risky and not very effective.
“While controlled burns may provide some benefits when performed by a trained professional, most of the advantages have been disproven or proven to be less effective than we originally thought,” says Perfectly Green Lawn Care, based in Hoschton, Georgia. “In this case, it seems the cons outweigh the pros, and it’s best if you do not burn your grass.”
Depending on how severe the thatch accumulation is, you can end up removing a fair amount of the turf as well, if the root system has begun growing in the thatch layer.
Dethatching is a stressful process for the turf, so it should be conducted when the grass is actively growing and the soil is moderately moist. Early spring or early fall is the best time for cool-season grasses, while late spring through early summer after a couple of mowings for warm-season grasses.
Fall Cleaning Checklist
Finish the year strong, keep up on lawn maintenance with this simple checklist!
Keep Your Waukesha Lawn Healthy and Green
Follow these tips to have the greenest lawn in your neighborhood!