Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture


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Turf Timing

rotary spreader

Rotary spreader applying fertilizer

Labor Day weekend is quickly approaching. This weekend signals many things: the end of the Nebraska State Fair, the start of school, and the perfect time to fertilize lawns.  Find out the benefits of fertilizing lawns now, decode the mystery of fertilizer numbers, and compare application equipment.

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Fall Turf Care

*This post was written BEFORE a majority of the state received snow 😉

Fall is good for more than just raking leaves and cooler nights. Fall is actually one of the better times of the year to improve your turf. Take advantage of these cooler temperatures and prepare your lawn for the coming spring.

The first question to ask yourself this fall is; can you see your turfgrass in the lawn? Heavy layers of leaves can do a few things to your lawn. If they are thick enough, leaves can smother the lawn and also create conditions that can be favorable to snow mold. Raking or mowing the leaves on a regular basis can help to prevent this heavy layer of leaves from forming and matting down on the turf before winter. If the leaves aren’t utilized in the compost pile or worked into the garden soil, they can simply be mowed over. Using the mulching blade on the lawn mower will chop up the leaves into smaller pieces that are able to filter down between the grass blades. This helps keep you from having to haul the leaves away and it also helps to add organic matter back into the soil. By removing or mulching the leaves on the lawn, you can ensure that your high quality winterizer fertilizer will be able to filter down to the soil where it can be used by the turfgrass, rather than sitting up on top of the leaf litter.

Good news. There is still time to control pesky perennial weeds. The ideal season to control perennial weeds like ground ivy, also known as Creeping Charlie, was between September 15th and the first frost, but there is still time. Research out of Purdue shows that herbicides that contain triclopyr, like Turflon, were effective on ground ivy and retained their effectiveness when applied later in the season regardless of the first frost. The study showed that broadleaf applications should be effective when made into the first week or two of November, but control might be not be seen until spring.

It may be time to rethink what you knew about winterizer fertilizer applications. Previously, recommendations were to apply nitrogen during early to mid-September and then make a heavy application of nitrogen fertilization at the end of the growing season (early to mid-November). Research has shown that nitrogen fertilizer uptake is not as efficiently used later into the fall. Fertilizer that isn’t taken up by the plant sits in the soil until the following spring or is leached out of the soil profile during winter. Avoid applying fertilizer too late into the fall. September fertilization is best to maximize recovery from summer stress and prepare for winter. For the last application of the season, apply it no later than the first week of November and aim to apply not more than 0.75 lb. of a fast release nitrogen source.

With a little time and effort now, your lawn can still look green and lush next spring and hopefully with a few less weeds too.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at elizabeth.killinger@unl.edu, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at https://huskerhort.wordpress.com/, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: hall.unl.edu.