WINTERIZE? SOME TRUTHS ABOUT COOL SEASON LAWN CARE
Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the front yard. I'm standing on your
lawn and asking you why you're using that stuff in the bag that was
advertised on television to "Winterize" your lawn. I must say that your
lawn looks pretty good now, why are you messing with it?
During the cool season your lawn only requires two things. Some minerals
and some organic matter to feed your soil while you take a break from
weekly mowings, constant feeding, and being swayed into buying the latest
snake oil that "guarantees" the best lawn in the neighborhood.
I'm here to
tell you how to save some money, ensure better soil structure, and do a
heck of a lot less work this winter while your lawn goes through some
seasonal changes. Cooler weather and cold weather create slower metabolic
rates in many plants including turfgrasses. This slower metabolism results
in slower growth, less water consumption, and a drastic reduction in the
need for nitrogen inputs.
I actually recommend that from the first of
November to the first of March that no nitrogen rich fertilizers be applied
to turfgrass. This allows for the plants to rest a little during cold
weather and to minimize potential damage to soft growth from occasional
frost. Stimulating the growth of your lawn during cold weather can be
dangerous because the tender growth is susceptible to a multitude of
problems. Not the least of which is total tissue destruction from extreme
or lingering frost.
Any lawn food with a nitrogen content higher than 5%
(identified as the first number of three on a fertilizer package) will
unnaturally stimulate growth of your turfgrasses during cold weather.
Chemical fertilizers put all or most of their nitrogen out to the plants
immediately after dissolving in water. This puts way too much available
nitrogen where the lawn can use it and thus rapid growth occurs at a time
of year when none should.
Lawns don't have to be growing at warp speed to remain lush and bright
green. Quite the opposite is true. The chemical manufacturers want you to
continue to buy their products all year so they invent marketing strategies
to convince you that your lawn really needs their products if you don't
want to be the laughing stock of your neighborhood. Boy have they got it
wrong. Smart turf management professionals utilize the cool season to
rebuild the mineral content in their soils and to feed the soil with a
little bit of organic matter so that in the spring and summer they don't
have mineral deficiencies that can result in numerous disease and pest
The organic matter they add to the soil feeds beneficial microbes
and larger organisms like earthworms. These helpers convert the organic
matter to humus, which helps to minimize runoff of water, increase water
retention so they don't have to water so often, and improve the physical
structure of their soils. One of the best things this organic matter
addition can do is to stimulate the larger organisms in your soil such as
earthworms to stay in your lawn because food is there. Earthworms also
have the added benefit of tunneling around in your soil creating deeper and
improved water penetration while feeding on thatch.
Thatch is the name
given to the dead and decaying remains of the summer's growth. Thatch is a
good thing when a lawn is care for naturally because the beneficial
organisms inhabiting your soil actually convert this thatch into plant food
that your turf can use when the weather warms up. The whole mechanical
dethatching thing that begins soon just cracks me up. If the people that
spend all that money on removing this valuable material would just feed it
to their soils they would have better soils and healthier lawns.
"Winterizing your lawn should only include a mineral supplement and some
organic matter as mentioned earlier. I love to apply a good calcium source
such as Kelzyme fossilized kelp (available from Organic Resources
760.438.4608 ask for Doug) or agricultural gypsum mixed with soil sulfur,
soft rock phosphate, and sulfate of potash magnesia (sul-po-mag) at a
5-1-2-1 ratio. Apply Kelzyme or the mineral mix at a rate of 10lbs per
1,000 square feet of turf.
Water after application as always. I then love
to use worm castings as an organic matter addition. If no worm castings are
available at a reasonable cost in your area fully composted steer manure or
a product called Kellogg's Nitrohumus make great substitutes. These two
materials are widely available at most garden centers. I use the worm
castings at a rate of 4 cubic feet per 1,000 square feet of turf. For the
fully composted steer poop or the Nitrohumus, I like to use either of them
at a rate of 8 to 10 cubic feet of material per 1,000 square feet of turf.
This makes for a great winter meal for all of the good guys that live in
the soil beneath your lawn. If you use fully composted steer manure there
is no need to be concerned with high salt content. Fresh or dried fresh
manures have way too much sodium and chloride to be useful for adding
directly to plants. Composted manure also eliminates the possibility of
burning your plants.
By adding these two ingredients to your lawn at this time of year you will
be truly winterizing your lawn. The other really great thing you won't be
doing is contributing to the pollution problem that often occurs when
chemical fertilizers run off of poorly maintained soils into the storm
drain system resulting in contamination and accelerated bacterial growth in
our oceans and fresh water supplies. Just add some minerals and some
organic matter and in the spring your lawn will be way ahead of any other
in your neighborhood and will remain lush and green throughout the winter.
Next time we will be discussing preparing your roses for next spring. See
you in the Garden!
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