Help landscapes recover this fall
A hot, dry summer has been tough on home lawns and landscapes. But September and October is a good time to help turf, trees and perennials recover, and maybe even set them up to thrive next spring, according to two University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educators in the Panhandle.
Jim Schild of Scotts Bluff County and Karen DeBoer of Cheyenne County say fall is an excellent time to treat problems and prepare the home landscape for winter. Lawns will respond well to watering and weed control. Trees will make it through the winter in better shape if their roots are surrounded by moist soil. Here are some specific recommendations from Schild and DeBoer.
If turf has turned brown, check first to see whether the cause is insects. Grubs and billbugs cause damage into September and October, and if they are active there is the potential for major winter turf kill, especially if winter is dry and open.
To check for grubs or billbugs, pull on the grass. If it rolls up like carpet, and there's no root system, that indicates that insects have been chewing on roots. There's still time to treat the lawn. Imidacloprid products such as Merit are the preferred treatment for both bugs.
Weeds have been an issue this year, especially in lawns that are stressed by lack of moisture. After the weather cools is a good time to apply chemical weed control. Fall is the best time to control dandelions and a lot of hard-to-control perennial type weeds that have the edge over bluegrass in the summer because their roots are deeper. The best time to control them is after the first frost, because they're still actively growing. Use Trimec products or products containing carfentrazone.
Fall is a critical time to rejuvenate a lawn that has not been watered enough. As a cool-season grass, Kentucky bluegrass makes its prime growth in the spring and fall, and especially regenerates its root system during the fall. So watering into mid-October, in addition to controlling weeds and insects, will help produce a thicker turf in the spring.
Late September and early October is really not the time to neglect a lawn. Those who shut down their underground sprinkler systems to keep them from freezing ought to consider hand watering their lawns during this time.
Trees and shrubs
After the first good frost of the fall, a good watering will improve the survivability of trees (both deciduous and evergreen) by surrounding their roots with moist soil during winter. Special areas of concern include the south and west sides of homes, which tend to be hottest during summer.
Evergreens and deciduous trees also would benefit from an application of mulch around their base. Mulch not only conserves moisture, but also helps prevent the ground from freezing as deeply and quickly, so the roots can continue to extract water.
Schild and DeBoer also point out that the end of the growing season is a good time to reflect on the landscape: Did it perform as hoped? Did it cost too much? Are there areas where more native species can be introduced that use less water? Can turf areas be converted into mulched areas with deep-rooted perennials that would take less water?
Anybody who was unhappy with their summer water bill might want to consider buffalograss next year, or other alternatives to bluegrass. To learn more, check UNL Extension publications available at ianrpubs.unl.edu. Many natural resources districts provide cost-share programs to offset some of the cost to converting to buffalograss.