Fall is finally here in North Carolina, and the changing leaves have been nice, but can be a real chore for homeowners when they start piling up on the ground. Clearing leaves off the lawn prevents suffocation, letting the turf breathe in preparation for spring. Newly seeded fescue can especially can be damaged from heavy leaves piling up the turf. And while leaving fallen foliage on beds and borders can eventually generate useful mulch, this creates a slippery mess on driveways, pavements, patios and paths.
So what is the best way to clear dead leaves out of your high-use areas?
- Mowing the leaves and mulching the clippings is a great way to take care of the leaves, as long as they are not too heavy. Leaf clippings will decompose and actually add valuable organic material back into the soil with time.
- If leaves are heavy, use a leaf blower to blow onto a plastic tarp into a pile, which can then be carried off the lawn for disposal. We recommend making a compost pile with dead leaves, grass clippings, and other organic material.
- One can go “old school” and just carefully rake the leaves. But do so without causing any damage to tender fescue seedlings that may be growing in the turf.
- If leaves need to be hauled off to a re-cycling landfill, put into paper bags if possible.
So give your lawn a chance to breath, and it looks much nicer, by clearing the lawn of leaves. Most have fallen by now and it’s a great time to do so. And with the drought we are still in, don’t neglect some winter watering also on trees, turf, and shrubs.
Needless to say, it’s very dry still in western North Carolina and into the Charlotte area. The current drought map shows the extend of what we are facing now, with exceptional drought in many of the western areas, including Asheville. Forrest fires are consuming miles of dry forest and causing smoke to fill the air. While this is all bad, homeowners in our area are facing watering restrictions, making it very challenging to provide enough water for their parched lawns and landscapes.
Our lawns and landscapes are a big investment, and an important part of our home value, aesthetics, and urban environment. So caring for it is important, and the most important thing one can do now is find a way to irrigate enough to keep plants alive. The good news, if there is any, is that with cooler temperatures, soil moisture will not evaporate as much and plants are not utilizing as much. So one does not have to water as frequently, maybe once a week will suffice. Make it a good soaking though and get the water down deep into the soil. And if you have fescue seedlings trying to come up and grow, lighter sprinkling even by hand will be in order, as those roots are still fairly shallow. And after our fall fertilization on fescue, the fertilizer needs to be watered into the soil to be effective.
So please try to keep your lawn and landscape watered some, and pray for rain, as we all need it.
With the warm fall, we’ve been mowing lawns a lot deeper into the season, but the grass will be slowing down soon. If you are done mowing for the year, it’s a good idea to service your mower before putting it away for the season. Make sure you drain the gas tank of gasoline-powered engines or use a gasoline stabilizer. Untreated gasoline can become thick and gummy, causing damage to the engine. A few drops of oil squirted inside the spark plug hole (after you remove the spark plug) will help lubricate the cylinder. While you have the spark plug removed, go ahead and replace it with a new one. If your equipment has a battery, clean the battery terminals with a wire brush.
Now is also an excellent time to sharpen mower blades so they’ll be ready next spring. Sharpening rotary mower blades is fairly easy, and really should be done several times per season. A good, sharp blade is really important for a proper cut on the grass, and helps with the health of your turf.
The following steps will guide you through this process:
* Check the blade for major damage. If you can’t fix it, it should be replaced.
* Remove nicks from the cutting edge, using a grinding wheel or hand-file.
* If using a grinding wheel, match the existing edge angle to the wheel. If hand-filing, file at the same angle as the existing edge.
* Grind or file until the edge is 1/32 inch, about the size of a period.
* With a grinding wheel, avoid overheating the blade as this may warp it.
* Clean the blade with solvent or oil, much like if you were cleaning a gun, for optimum winter storage. Do not use water because it will promote rust.
It’s early November in Carolina, and our azaleas in our front landscape are in full bloom! What’s up with that? With such a long stretch of warm weather into mid and now late fall, some plants such as my azaleas think it’s springtime I guess. It can be normal for some varieties to show a few blooms in fall, but my bushes appear to have about 50% of the buds in bloom. Therefore next spring, since these buds are spent, I’ll have a less than stellar show of color on our azaleas.
Can’t say if it’s a sign of global warming, or just another very warm fall with signs of a warm winter. I do know that it affects plants, trees, and turf in the landscape and is tricking them to do wierd things. It’s very dry also, so some turf is under drought stress sending it into dormancy in a stressful state, which can be a problem next spring. And if you have fescue that was seeded this fall, then we recommend to irrigate your lawn some to help alleviate stress on your turf.
And where is our fall color on trees? The hot and dry fall has sure affected that also, with many tree leaves just turning brown. And without those crisp, cool nighttime temperatures, the bright yellow, orange, and red pigments of tree leaves are still being masked by the green chlorophyll that still seems to be hanging on.
Generally, it is recommended to plant hardy bulbs (especially daffodils) and tulips in October to give them enough time to root before winter. But it is certainly not too late to plant them now, as the temperatures have been warm, leading to a warm soil temperature. As long as the soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F, the bulbs should continue root development. Most garden centers still have a good selection, and they can be purchased on-line also. Try to select large, firm bulbs that have not begun to sprout. While many bulbs can adapt to a wide range of soil types, none can tolerate poorly drained soil. Prepare the planting bed by adding organic matter such as peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost and mix into the soil.
Good fertility is essential. Use a fertilizer relatively high in nitrogen such as a 29-5-4, 27-3-3, or something similar. Apply these fertilizers at the rate of 2/3 pound per 100 square feet. Organic sources of fertilizers low in phosphorus include blood meal (12-0-0) applied at 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet, cottonseed meal (6-0.4-1.5) applied at the rate of 10 pounds per 100 square feet and soybean meal (7-2-1) applied at the rate of 8 pounds per 100 square feet. Mix all fertilizers and amendments thoroughly with the soil before planting the bulbs.
The size and species of the bulb determine how deep to plant. In general, the depth to the bottom of the bulb should be about 2 to 3 times the size of the bulb, but check the planting instructions specific to each particular flower. We recommend planting in bare or open areas in the landscape bed, to compliment shrubs and other plants growing there. Plant in bunches, with at least 6 in each bunch. Don’t plant out in the lawn, as it not only looks weird, they will also be harmed when applying turf weed-control products during the spring.
Although we often think of soil testing as a spring chore, fall is actually a great time. At LawnAmerica, we offer soil testing for a $20 fee, working with a laboratory in Ohio, and can send you results within a few weeks. We can test your lawn, or if you have a garden, are happy to do that also.
For lawns, we are mainly looking at what your soil pH is. The acidity or alkalinity of a substance is measured in pH units, a scale running from 0 to 14, with a pH of 7 being neutral. As the numbers decrease from 7, the acidity increases. As numbers increase from 7, the alkalinity increase. Soils generally range from a very acidic pH of 4 to a very alkaline pH of 8. This range is a result of many factors, including a soil’s parent material and the amount of yearly rainfall an area receives. Most cultivated plants and turf enjoy slightly acidic conditions with a pH of about 6.5.
If a soil test shows the pH not being in the preferred range from about 5.8-7.2, we’ll recommend several treatments of either lime or sulfur in order to amend the soil. At very acidic or very alkaline levels, certain soil nutrients are tied up in the soil and not available. So, the nutrients, such as Iron for example, may be in the soil, but the plant cannot utilize it if the pH is too alkaline. With acidic soils, nutrients such as Phosphorus and Potassium are tied up and not available. So with low pH soils, we’ll apply granular lime to raise the pH gradually. On alkaline soils, we apply granular sulfur to help lower the pH. No more than two treatments per season should be applied, and late fall is a great time to do so if needed.
If your soil test suggests more organic matter, and most soils in the urban areas of North Carolina are short of this, fall is a much better season to add organic matter to gardens or lawns. Organic materials are more available than in the spring, and fresher materials can be used without harming young tender spring-planted plants. Generally, the higher the amount of organic matter in the soil, the better for your plants.
Most Carolina soils have adequate levels of Potassium and Phosphorus, and Nitrogen is always going to be needed, as it’s utilized by plants or is lost in other ways. If a soil test shows low levels of these primary nutrients, we can adjust our fertilizers used on your lawn and/or apply a supplemental treatment during the late fall, winter, or early spring. In our part of the country, most soils are on the acidic side. So we sometimes will apply granular lime as part of our regular service instead of regular fertilizer. Contact us now for a soil test, and if the soil chemistry is not ideal, it’s a good time to begin applying amendments to correct.
The last days of summer have faded away, so now is the time to fertilize cool-season tall fescue to strengthen plant and turf roots so that it comes out strong next spring. Late fall is the most important fertilization of the season for fescue in the Carolinas. So with the R6 Fall Treatment on fescue, we provide a good granular fertilization. For warm-season turf, we are applying something totally different, a liquid pre and post-emergent herbicide. So as just about always, we are treating fescue differently compared to warm-season bermudagrass or zoysiagrass.
On fescue turf that has been seeded earlier this fall, this granular fertilization provides a boost of nitrogen for growth, along with other soil nutrients for plant health. After not growing much during the winter, early spring warmth will then stimulate much earlier spring green-up with the nutrition provided from the fall fertilization. “Fall fertilization is the foundation for a successful turfgrass fertility program,” says John S. Kruse, Ph.D, a research agronomist with Koch Agronomic Services, LLC. “Winter survival and spring green-up depend, to a significant degree, on a sound fall fertilizer application, particularly when combined with timely cultural practices.” We also will carefully spot-treat any existing winter annual broadleaf weeds with a liquid weed-control at this time of year. There usually are not many broadleaf weeds now, and we have to be careful not to harm any new fescue seedlings.
We DO NOT apply a fall pre-emergent to fescue turf in the fall, as this would harm fescue seeding. We assume that homeowners will overseed in the fall, so we do not apply pre-emergent to fescue as we do on bermudagrass or zoysiagrass. About the only grassy weed that comes up in the fall may be some annual bluegrass in places. It usually blends in with the turf or is not much of an issue in healthy fescue turf. If it is, then we do offer a supplemental treatment of Prograss Weed-Control, which can be safely applied in early December without harming new fescue seedlings.
Fall is not only an ideal time to fertilize turf, it’s also an ideal time to give trees and shrubs that important boost as the winter months near. Late Fall is the ideal time for deep-root fertilization, so we’ll start this service sometime in late November and on into December.
We are about to wrap up the window of opportunity for seeding tall fescue in Carolina lawns now that we are into October. It’s best to seed fescue from mid-September to about mid-October, allowing for the seed to germinate and grow some before winter sets in. Then as the warm spring weather hits in March and April, new fescue turf will quickly develop maturity, thicken up, and develop a stronger root system, increasing the chances for surviving the summer heat and disease pressures. Using a blend of quality fescue seed is very important, especially in keeping other weeds and foreign grass types out of the turf. Proper soil preparation is vital, in making sure that the seed comes into contact with the soil to germinate. The most important factor though is keeping the seed bed moist for at least 10 days, and not allowing it to dry out.
At LawnAmerica, we recommend watering 3 times daily if possible for about 15 minutes per watering if possible. If you don’t have an irrigation system, that will be tougher to do. So you can water once a day for longer, and then go out by hand and lightly sprinkle once or twice daily. And, if we are lucky enough to get one of those nice fall soaking rains, then that is ideal, so you can cut back on some of your irrigation. It’s been a dry fall though, after a dry summer, so you’ll need to help out a bunch, since Mother Nature does not seem to be helping much. After about 10 days, new seedlings should be popping up through the soil, so you can cut back to about once per day watering, but for a longer duration, to get the soil wet at deeper levels and stimulate the new roots to grow deep. As the seedlings reach about 3-4″ in height in a few weeks, you can carefully mow for the first time. And by then, you should be able to cut back even more on the irrigation frequency, while watering longer (up to 30 minutes per cycle) for deeper wetting of the soil.
The bottom line is that it is hard to over-water your fescue seedlings in the fall. Better for too much water than not enough. We’ve seen too many cases where we use the best seed, do a great job of seeding, only to have a homeowner neglect the discipline of watering the new seed and it just does not come up, or dies soon after germinating. So we need your help! And, when leaves start falling soon, it’s important to keep those raked up, so the tender seedlings will not be smothered. When you mow, remove your leaves by using a bagger to keep your fescue turf free of leaves later in the fall.
It’s been a hot and dry summer overall in the Carolina’s, so our fescue turf has struggled to do well. Since fescue is a cool-season grass, it does not do as well with hot temperatures and when soil moisture is lacking, so it may thin out during the summer. Fall is then the ideal time to overseed with fescue and thicken up the turf with new grass plants.
Even with the best seed possible used, and with good soil preparation, it’s all for naught if not irrigated properly during germination. For the first 10 days or so, the seed bed needs to stay consistently moist for best germination. So homeowners will need to provide irrigation, since Mother Nature cannot be depended upon to do that. One should see some seedlings germinate and pop up through the soil after about 10 days, but watering still needs to continue. These are very small grass plants with a weak root system still, so soil moisture still needs to be consistent. We’ve seen cases where the seeds germinate just fine, only to wilt and even die from a lack of moisture weeks later. So this falls on the homeowner to continue to supply good amounts of irrigation on the new seedlings.
As the seedlings grow and develop a stronger root system later in fall, irrigation can be cut down to 3-4 times per week, depending upon what normal rainfall is received. Even during the winter, do not let the turf dry out completely, so irrigation may be needed if we go over 10 days without rainfall. The seeded fescue will not really mature until the following spring, which by then, should be a thick turf with a solid root system. Normal irrigation schedules of 2-3 times weekly then should suffice.
Now is the time of the season to set up your fall fescue seeding, so contact the professionals at LawnAmerica for information and a price quote.
LawnAmerica seed with ZERO weed or other crop seed.
Now that fall is in sight, it’s time to be thinking and scheduling your fall fescue overseeding. Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass, that will grow in semi-shade areas where bermudagrass and zoysiagrass will not do well and in full sun. It is the predominate turf in North Carolina, and stays green pretty much all season. However, especially when we experience hot and dry summers as we have the past few years, fescue will thin out over the summer, and hence the need for fall seeding to help keep the turf thick and healthy.
There is a big difference in the quality of fescue seed out on the market. Here is a copy of our seed label for the product we are using this year at LawnAmerica. It’s a blend of three different solid types of fescue, Firenza, Virtuoso, and Sunset Gold. It’s preferable to blend different varieties, as each one has strengths that others may be weaker in, so you’ll be getting a stronger and healthier stand of turf. There are hundreds of varieties of tall fescue, with the majority of them being good. There are some though that one wants to avoid, including the old variety K-31. This is a forage grass used in pastures, very course blades, and not desirable for a home lawn. The vast majority of seed is grown and produced in Oregon, where pretty much perfect conditions are present for growing tall fescue. And it’s certified, meaning that it is tested for quality and purity.
The biggest thing to look out for on fescue seed is the amount of “other crop seed” and “weed seeds” present. That should be listed on seed bags, and it should be ZERO on each! Our LawnAmerica seed is certified, with zero other crop and weed seed, so you can be assured that your lawn is receiving the best pure quality seed. Most of the seed you find at that big box stores will show small percentages of “other crop seed”, and even some weed seeds. The problem is that there are about 200,000 actual seeds in a pound of fescue. So even if the number seems small, like .05%, that’s 100 weeds per pound of seed you are planting, or over 1000 per 1,000 square feet. And most of these weeds and other crop seeds are pereneal grassy weeds, so it’s impossible to control them other then just pulling them up. We can’t spray them with anything to kill them without harming the existing fescue.
Using a quality seed is the first step towards success with fescue seeding, so compare apples to apples when it comes to seed. Don’t be fooled by the cheap price or fancy name and bag. Look at the seed label, and if not showing zero on both weed and other crop seed, don’t buy it. While our staff does a great job with preparation of the soil with aeration, fertilize, and even come back to check on seed germination three weeks later, you may want to do your own seeding. If so, you can even purchase our LawnAmerica seed from us in either 25 or 50 lb bags, so you’ll be assured of having the best quality seed on your lawn.