It's important to clean up fallen leaves before winter sets in. When left on your lawn, leaves can smother and kill the grass. As they collect, rake them into piles and bag them for disposal. Keep mowing your lawn right up until the first frost, but keep it longer than 2-1/2". You can also use a mulching mower instead of a rake. The mulch will keep as much nitrogen as possible in the soil over the winter and into the spring. Don't forget to check your lawn for weeds. Use a dandelion digger to pop them out of the soil, and they won't return in the spring.
Ready Your Lawn for Winter
Winter is coming and it's time to wrap up the warm season's yard work. However, you still need to prep your lawn and outdoor areas for the coming cold months to ensure your grass is healthy, green and enjoyable come spring.
Step 1: Keep Raking and Mowing
Step 2: Dethatch Your Lawn
Thatch builds up when excessive grass clippings are not removed after cutting. To prevent thatch from accumulating, rake your lawn after mowing, especially at the end of the growing season. Or, you can always use a mower with a bag attachment or grass catcher throughout the summer.
If you have thatch more than ½" thick on your lawn, you should. Use an iron rake or a thatch rake (also known as a "scrake") to cut through and rake off built up dead clippings. For large lawns, you may want to consider renting a walk-behind dethatching machine.
Contrary to common practice, you should never dethatch in mid- to late spring or during your lawn's active growing season. Because it exposes the soil, dethatching can give weeds a chance to take over your yard. Instead, dethatch your lawn in the fall once the growing season has ended.
Step 3: Aerate Your Lawn
Over time, soil can become too compacted for water and air to penetrate. Some typical causes of compaction include heavy foot or vehicle traffic, dry weather, slow drainage and water logging. Brown grass can be a sign of compaction. You can also test for compaction by watering your lawn or waiting for a good rain and then observe how quickly the water is absorbed. If it isn't absorbed quickly, the soil is compacted.
For moderately compacted soil in a limited area, systematically prick holes in the soil with a spading or digging fork. Holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. If you're dealing with a larger area or you want to make the task easier, there are several types of push spike aerators you can rent or purchase. Some models look a little like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. Others are designed as attachments that fit behind a power mower. For medium-to-large size yards, consider renting a gas-powered spiking aerator.
Aerating is generally easier to do when the soil is moist, but it won't work as well if the ground is wet. Although aerating can be done any time of year, it's best to do it in the fall after dethatching or after a thorough raking.
You can prick or spike the soil annually, but don't cut plugs more than once every three years. You can leave the plugs on the lawn because they break down quickly. They can also be added to your compost pile.
Step 4: Fertilize Your Grass
Fall fertilizing keeps your lawn healthy and strong over the winter months. It also helps keep the grass green and weed-free. Choose a fertilizer consistent with your grass type. The experts at True Value can help you find the right fertilizer for your geographic area.
If you're using a spreader, fill it with fertilizer on a sidewalk or driveway to prevent spills that can damage your grass. Apply the fertilizer evenly over the entire lawn.
Step 5: Trim Trees and Remove Debris
Remove dead growth or branches on trees that are too long. Use a handsaw to saw off branches that are dead, infested with termites or that have grown too close to power lines and pose a safety threat. Two-handed loppers work well for smaller branches. Always cut away from yourself so the branch does not fall toward you.
Make sure to wear safety goggles when working with a handsaw or lopper.
Step 6: Miscellaneous Maintenance
Don't let the rest of your outdoors go unprepared for winter. Late fall is a great time to clean out gutters. Clogged gutters can damage your home and cause basement flooding when snow melts. Use a ladder to get high enough to see into the gutter then remove leaves and twigs with gloved hands and/or a large gutter scoop. Place the debris in a trash bag, carefully dropping it to the ground when it's full. Use a hose to flush out the gutter wells after you're done cleaning. With the hose running, you'll also find any leaks that need to be repaired.
You can easily patch a leaky gutter yourself. Scrub the inside of the gutter around the hole with steel wool. With metal snips, cut a patch of metal flashing that is slightly larger than the hole. Use a putty knife to coat the back of the metal patch with asphalt flashing cement or gutter patch and press it into place. Smooth any adhesive that oozes out with gloved hands.
Always keep ladders, tools, equipment and yourself at least 10' from any overhead power lines.
Pipes and Hoses
Do what you can to keep winter weather from damaging your pipes and plumbing. After you turn off the water supply at the shutoff valve inside the house, open the outdoor spigot to drain any remaining water from the line. Finally, cover faucets with a faucet cover. If you don't have faucet covers, you can wrap a cloth, rag or trash bag around the faucet and secure with duct tape. Bring in hoses and sprinklers to avoid damage from any remaining water that could freeze inside them and potentially damage them. Protecting them from exposure to the elements will also help them last longer.
Patio and Deck
Winter weather can ruin your patio furniture. If you have the space, store patio furniture in the garage, basement or other protected area. If that's not an option, invest in furniture covers that are made to withstand the harsh winter weather. Before you store or cover anything, clean your furniture properly. Wipe each piece with damp cloths and dry with towels. Remove cushions and pillows, and follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions. If you don't plan on grilling during the winter, you may also want to cover your grill to protect it from the elements.
Don't neglect your deck. Wintry conditions can be hard on a deck's surface, but it's easy to protect. Use a broom to sweep away leaves, pine needles and other debris from your deck and between the boards. You can remove mildew with a solution of 3 quarts water, 1 quart oxygen bleach and ¼-cup ammonia-free liquid dishwasher detergent. Add this solution to a garden sprayer and apply liberally to the deck's surface. Let the mixture set for about 10-15 minutes. Remove planters or place 2 x 2 boards beneath their base to prevent staining and discoloring your deck.
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