Okay folks, it’s that time of year when you have to start preparing the landscape for late fall, winter, and next spring. If you live where I do, Minneapolis area, USDA Zone 4, we’re about a month away from our first frost. We are less than 2 weeks from the start of the possible snow season! Yuch! Anyway, I digress, if you are in Zone 4 or colder, Zone 3 is for north of the Twin Cities, and the only Zone 2 area in the continental United States, north central Minnesota, the first thing to focus on is the lawn.

Starting right now in Zone 3 and no later than Labor Day in Zone 4, your lawn could use an aeration. This could be via a punch or spike aerator or a core aerator which pulls plugs from the ground and scatters them about. The reason for aeration is just what it is. The lawn is composed of individual grass plants which need oxygen to live, just as we do! Aerating the lawn opens holes to get air, water, and nutrients to the roots of the plants. If it’s been more than a few years since you’ve done this, it’s time. If you have heavy or clay soil, aeration should be done at least every other year. Otherwise, just normal traffic, snow load, etc, compacts the soil making the transport of air, water, and nutrients to the roots less efficient. After aerating, it’s a great time to over-seed the lawn. Use a grass seed that compatible with or the same as the turf grass you presently have. Check the seed label for content, I prefer a high percentage of Blue Grass, and a little perennial rye with as close to no weed seed as possible. Don’t skimp on the seed. Check with your local agronomist or garden center for more information if you’re not sure. After spreading grass seed, you should apply seed starter fertilizer. This fertilizer is formulated to help new seed and seedlings get up and going. If there a larger bare spots or if you have some slopes, consider covering them with green mulch. You should get this at the same reputable source where your seed comes from. The mulch sticks the seed to the ground and retains moisture for the seed to help germination.

Around the end of September, it’s time to apply fertilizer to the lawn. If you did an over-seeding, you needn’t do this application. Spread a good inorganic fertilizer that is faster acting, in other words, not time released. This step feeds and strengthens the grass for winter. There are three numbers on the fertilizer bag. In Minnesota, you will have to use one with a zero for the middle number. Potassium is outlawed for general use on lawns and gardens. If you can find a fertilizer with a higher third number, Potash, that’s great. Potash helps the development of a healthy root system. Nitrogen is the first number, trey to avoid any fertilizer with a first number higher than 24 if possible. At this time of the year we don’t need a deep green and fast growing turf. In October, third week if it hasn’t snowed yet, use a “winterizer” or if you can find an organic fertilizer use that. This is the application that sets your lawn up in the spring. Organic fertilizer will lay dormant in the soil until spring when the soil temperatures go above 53 degrees. There’s your “spring feeding”! Once on a regular lawn maintainance schedule, you will not be feeding your lawn in the spring, you’ll only be applying pre-emergent weed and crabgrass control and insect and grub worm control.

Once the temperatures have dropped to fall-like numbers, end of September, lower the cutting height on your mower. The grass will survive and thrive because of the cooler temps. Keep your lawn well watered until ground freeze up. If you have an irrigation system, the companies that blow them out and winterize them are always doing it too early in the fall. If your system gets closed long before ground freeze, you’ll need to keep watering with hose and sprinkler, especially if you’ve over-seeded the lawn.

Removing leaves and debris from the lawn is important. I don’t believe in mulching leaves into the lawn. I think it chokes out the grass and the lawn has to devote so much energy in the spring to recover from a too heavy coat of leaf mulch and thatch. If you have many trees, rake up and remove the leaves. Once you’ve removed the heaviest of the leaf cover, then you can bag them as you mow with the mower. I do recommend using the mulcher of the mower when mowing before leaf drop.

This is the time of the year when you can start dividing perennials. Daylillies, Bee Balm, Daisies, etc. are divisible. Most of the perennials in my garden I’ve gotten as a result of divisions. It’s a cheap way to expand your gardens and add new varieties by trading with fellow gardeners. I prefer dividing Hosta in the spring, when the new growth spikes are up a couple of inches. Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs. As long as the ground can be worked, these items can be planted! The key, of course to late season planting is water, water, water.

If you have a compost pile, start getting it ready for use in late September and October. Turn it over again, water it, etc. If you are making new beds, removing sod etc., install what ever material you’re using for edging, then work on conditioning the soil. Use your compost by tilling it into the ground. If you don’t have compost, either get it from local free compost dumps or get peat moss to turn into the soil. If you don’t have a roto-tiller, turn the soil amendments into the soil with a shovel. Now you can plant this fall, or the bed is ready for spring planting.

Your annuals in the landscape are starting to leg out now. When you start yanking them out, dispose of them if they have any sign of insect or fungus damage. These things can live in compost piles so get rid of them, don’t compost them! Garden vegetables are producing now. If you have them growing in your garden, pinch all flowers on your vegetable plants, they are not going to give you fruit in time, remember we are a month away from frost! You can also pluck little fruits, small tomatoes, etc. By removing the blossoms and small fruit, the plant can focus it’s energy on ripening the larger fruit.

Trimming and pruning can be done now on certain shrubs and trees. A general rule of thumb to go by is if the shrub flowers, trim right after the blooms fall off. If the shrub is non-flowering shape and prune as needed. I don’t recommend trimming and pruning shrubs in the fall. They’ll need as much woody material and leaves if coniferous, like rhododendrons, to store moisture to get through the dry air of winter. If, however, the shrub has some random long canes or shoots, cut them off, they’ll die off in the cold dry winter wind anyway. It’s okay to prune trees right now but, only do it if you have damaged or dead limbs. The best time to prune trees in the dead of winter, January in our Zone.

I’ll write on the end-of-season duties in the landscape in about a month. If you have questions or remarks, please leave a comment on the blog or e-mail me at For seed and plant materials, I recommend contacting the folks at Linder’s Garden Center on They have the know how and a superior quality of plants and plant products.

The essential thing to take away from this commentary is to water, water, water, all the way through the fall. I look forward to your comments and questions and thank you for today’s read.
Cam Obert



  1. Spot Says:

    Then why isn’t called airation?

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