The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 31, 2013

How to get your lawn ready for winter

Autumn is the perfect time to do repair work on your lawn, which may have been stressed by the summer heat and may now be infested with unwanted weeds. In addition, depending on where you live there are things you should do to prepare your lawn for the coming winter.

One of the most common end-of-the-season problems is “thatch,” a build-up of dead grass and other materials that can accumulate on the surface of the soil, blocking drainage, promoting fungal-related disease and impeding the growth of healthy grass.

So a first step in getting your lawn ready for winter is to rake it thoroughly, getting up leaves, pine needles and other debris. Once the lawn has been raked, use a pitch fork or lawn aerator to make small holes over the surface of the lawn. This aerating will allow the easy movement of water and air to grass roots and promote overall plant health.

Once you have created the holes, fill them by brushing fine horticultural sand into them. Otherwise, they will just close up on their own. Filling them with sand keeps the air and water flowing.

Autumn is best

Lawn care experts say autumn, not spring, is the best time to work on your lawn. Jim Welshans, regional turfgrass educator at Penn State University, suggests lawns with cool-weather grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and perennial ryegrass should be fertilized in two waves, the first in early fall and the second around Thanksgiving, but before the ground is frozen.

He recommends a fertilizer high in phosphorus. However, the best way to make sure you're putting down the right fertilizer is to get a soil test through your county or state extension agent. There are geographic exceptions, of course. Hold off on fertilizing in the desert Southwest and deep south. The grasses prevalent there usually go dormant in the winter and don't need fertilizer.

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