How your yard looks next spring depends a great deal on what you do with it now. There's more to fall lawn care, say local experts, than just raking up leaves -- although you'll need to do that, too.
Here are seven tips to try right now for a lush spring lawn.
1 Mow Continue to water and mow the lawn as usual for now. But as the season draws to a close, adjust the mower's blade to its lowest setting for the last two times you cut the yard before putting the mower up for winter, advises Popular Mechanics.com. Make sure you aren't trimming down more than one-third of the grass blade. This allows sunlight to reach the crown of the grass.
2 Rake Leaves that aren't removed will become wet from rain or dew, stick together and form a mat that will suffocate grass and breed fungus if not removed.
3 Aerate You can either rent an aerator at local stores or, to save money, do it yourself. HGTV Gardens suggests using a garden fork to spike holes all over the lawn surface. Put horticultural grade (dry, fine) sand into the holes to prevent them from closing up and allow air and water to pass freely into the root zone. Spread top dressing -- which you can buy already made or use homemade compost or a basic mix of three parts sand with three parts loam and one part peat -- using a brush or back of the rake to work dressing evenly into the grass.
4 Overseed Overseeding is simply spreading grass seed on an already existing lawn either by using a spreader or by hand. Aerate first, then overseed. Overseeding helps fight crabgrass and other weeds from taking hold in the lawn and gives spring lawns a head start since young grass will have two or three months to become established before temperatures drop.
How much seed should you apply?
"On bare ground, we recommend one pound per 100 square feet, especially in the fall because this is when you want to be seeding. Sept. 1 to Oct. 31 is the ideal time for fescue overseeding," says Beth Painter of Green Thumb Nursery in Hixson. "For top dressing, buy one pound per 150 square feet."
5 Kill weeds Knowing when to apply a weed killer is key to the success of overseeding, according to Craig Walker at The Barn Nursery in Chattanooga. Do-it-yourselfers need to consult their calendars and make sure to allow two to three weeks leeway on either side of the date they plan to put down seed.
"If you spray weed killer now, you are going to have to wait two to four weeks, then overseed. If you overseed now, once the new grass is up and you've mowed that new grass at least three times, then you can put down a weed product. But you definitely have to have several weeks either way," Walker explains.
He suggests using a broadleaf weed killer containing a combination formula such as Trimec.
"If you are doing weed killing later in the season, you want something with carfentrazone. It's available in several different brands and you can use that much later in the season under cooler temperatures," he advises.
6 Bushes/bulbs Scott Drucker of Dream Gardens in Chattanooga says he always tells customers "plant a season ahead for what you want in the spring."
Now is the time to get tulip, daffodil and other bulbs in the ground, he says, so they have time to establish their roots before winter's freezing temperatures arrive. If you want to add color to your garden now, he suggests pansies and winter bloomers such as Camellia Sasanqua or shasta daisies, which keep their foliage in winter.
"I love late-fall-blooming camellias and the sasanqua blooms late fall to early winter," says Drucker. "They like a lot of sun. Put them in now and they will bloom for up to two months. There are also winter bloomers like hellebores, known as Lenten Roses, that are beautiful."
Lenten Roses are actually related to buttercups, not the rose family and are so-named because their rosy-hued blooms usually open during Lent, the six days in spring between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
7 Plant trees "This is a great time to plant trees," says Drucker. "It's actually better than summer because trees don't like the stressful summer drought, especially dogwoods, redbuds and deciduous trees. You can plant almost any tree or shrub all through the winter. Don't be afraid of winter because, in our area, the soil is workable all winter."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.