The shorter days of autumn inspire us to slow down after a busy summer, but accomplishing a few tasks before the rains set in and the winds start to blow will make winter more pleasant and surprise you with a healthy land and soil-scape next spring
Has summer left your lawn a little crispy? Our cool season grasses come out of dormancy naturally when the rains and cooler temps return, however, we can help them recover and improve soil health for next year by aerating and top-dressing with compost.
Aerating with a core aerator opens up large “pores” in the turf, reducing compaction from a year’s worth of mowing and playing catch with the kids and the dog. Spreading compost to fill the pores improves soil structure and provides nutrients to the turf.
When your soil has pore spaces and nutrients from compost, grass roots can spread further and deeper, resulting in a thicker, healthier lawn that better withstands drought and shades out weeds that might try to invade. The healthier your soil, the healthier your lawn.
- You can rent a core aerator from many equipment rental companies. Consider going in with a neighbor and share the cost.
- Remove weeds first because they’d benefit from an aerated lawn, too.
- Overlap your runs and go in different directions – you needn’t worry about overdoing it.
- When done you can rake up the cores, but it’s not necessary. Mowing with the blade as high as it will go will help break them down and nature will do the rest.
- Next, overseed thin areas with a grass seed blend that is suitable for our area and your sun/shade conditions.
- Then spread ¼ ” – ½” of compost over the lawn and lightly rake it in, making sure that the grass still peeks up above the compost.
- Remember, if you seed, keep the compost and soil moist if nature doesn’t do it for you. New grass seed and plants need moisture to germinate and thrive.
- Listen for the tiny thank-yous from your happy grass plants.
It’s tempting to tidy up the garden before winter, like cleaning the house before going on vacation, but if we rake out too much, we take away the winter homes and shelters of beneficial insects that could help pollinate or provide pest control next year.
Diseased plants do need to be removed and either put in the yard waste bin or added to the burn pile. And you can pull weeds that would otherwise keep growing and be waiting for you next spring. But otherwise, dead stems, flower heads with seeds and fallen leaves provide places for bees and butterflies to overwinter, and provide food for winter birds.
In the food garden, cover the soil to prevent erosion, reduce compaction from the rains and suppress new weeds that take advantage of winter warm spells. Here are some options for covering the garden:
- Plant a cover crop like crimson clover
- Leave in place winter-hardy crops like kale
- Cover with your fall leaves
- Cover with straw
On the Farm
Prepare your cropland and pastures for the rainy season, thinking toward the next year’s growing season. Through early October, test your soils and apply lime at the rates recommended by the soil lab or your farm planner. Our soils are naturally acidic and will more than likely need an input of lime to “sweeten them”, making nutrients more available to next spring’s plants.
Now that you’ve amended your soils, protect them from the rains. Move your horses and livestock to their winter heavy-use areas to prevent damage to your pastures. Slow feeders and toys can help keep horses active when off pasture. From mid-October into November, plant cover crops in your fields. They prevent erosion and compaction, improve soil structure and add nutrients to the soil when your new spring crops need it.
Maintenance Tasks for Home and Farm
- Check light bulbs and smoke detectors in the house and outbuildings
- Plan for power outages
- Prepare for floods
- Have trees checked for safety and pruned by an arborist to prevent damage to fences and buildings (permits may be required)
- Fix fences for both livestock and pets
- Stock up on winter feed early
- Empty manure bins
- Replace manure tarps or repair roofs
- Make sure stock tank heaters are in good condition
- Wash and repair horse blankets
- Complete tractor and lawn mower maintenance
Most importantly, meet your neighbors if you haven’t already. We don’t see them often in the dark days of winter, but when the power goes out or the water rises, it’s good to know who we can lean on and who may need our help. So, knowing that your lawn is pampered, your garden and its beneficial insects are tucked in, and your farm is set up to thrive next spring, have your well-earned cup of hot tea - with a neighbor.
Need more great farm and home tips? Check out www.betterground.org.
By Kathryn Wells, Community Outreach Specialist