Winter Yard-Care Prep
A big, soggy Pacific Northwest winter is on the way. Now is the right time to protect lawns against chilly temps. Here's how to set up your lawn for spring greening in just a weekend by dethatching, aerating, overseeding and more.
Anyone with a yard knows the naughtiest four-letter word around here—moss.
Moss thrives in our bleak, temperate winters, because darkness and moisture are what bryophytes live for. Bryophytes, an ancient family of non-vascular plants to which mosses belong, stake their claim when lawns go dormant (that's winter).
Ever the stubborn foe, moss may put up a good fight—but this is one war you can win.
“Start with moss control,” says Scott, our Garden Department buyer. “Apply it when daytime temperatures are at least 50°-plus degrees for more gratifying results.”
Iron, a.k.a. ferrous sulfate, dries out moss without damaging your lawn. For stand-alone moss killers, choose a product with 10% or more iron. Or, get a twofer and choose a fertilizer that also contains iron.
Apply granules with a rotary spreader or by hand, according to package directions, and follow with a good watering. Any remaining stubborn spots may require a second application after four or five days.
PRO TIP: These products contains iron, and iron plus water equals rust—so avoid contact with walkways, brickwork or patios because it’ll turn them orange as a pumpkin.
Quackgrass and its ilk are grassy weeds that take hold in the winter. Growing in clumps up to three feet tall, deep-green quackgrass (or Elytrigia repens, for you Latin lovers) spreads from an underground snaggle of long, root-like horizontal runners, called rhizomes.
When removing manually, use your favorite hand tool to loosen surrounding soil and work a clump out by the base. Fish out as much root material as possible—complete rhizome eradication prevents regrowth.
If manual removal doesn’t work, then bring out the big guns: a glyphosate-based herbicide like Round-Up. To reduce collateral plant damage, our buyer Scott recommends cutting a clump-sized hole in a piece of cardboard. Place the hole over the quackgrass and blast it with the herbicide.
After two weeks, scrape the dead quackgrass away and repeat, if necessary.
Now full of dead moss and quackgrass, your lawn is ripe for a good thatching. Thatch is the layer of stuff—some living, some dead—beneath the green grass blades. To lift away excess thatch from your grass, use a thatching rake, a lawn mower-mounted dethatching blade or rent a gas-powered dethatcher.
For smaller areas, try a thatching rake with crescent-shaped tines, which dig into the thatch while leaving healthy grass intact. Installing a thatching blade onto your lawn mower is relatively simple and inexpensive, but beware: thick thatch can strain mower engines. The fastest method for any yard is to use a gas dethatcher.
Next, give your lawn a breath of fresh air and aerate. Use a product of your picking—an aerator, spiky shoes, spike aerator—and plug away. This loosens compacted soils to bring air and nutrients deep into the roots. It'll look messy when you're done, but it's worth it. Promise.
If your yard was mossy, chances are it could use a little sweetness.
“We’ve got sour soil with the amount of rain we get,” Scott said, meaning that our soil tends to be acidic. Acidic soil allows moss to thrive, and also prevents fertilizer from working as well as it can.
Lime, derived from limestone, is a calcium-based pellet or powder. This natural product neutralizes acids to “sweeten” the soil, making lawns less hospitable to mosses and weeds, and more receptive to fertilizers.
Again, use your rotary spreader and apply the product following label directions, watering lightly afterward.
Your yard is now perfectly prepped for overseeding and bare-spot repair.
Overseeding thickens lawns and helps thwart weed growth with the application of grass seed over your existing lawn. Be sure to use a quality grass seed made just for our local climate.
To overseed, apply seed using a rotary spreader and cover with a fine layer of compost or potting soil to help seeds germinate and prevent it from becoming bird food. Don’t use soil from other bare areas in your yard—it can contain weeds. Finally, pull a lawn roller across your yard to work those seeds in.
For bare spots, Scott recommends an all-in-one product containing seed, mulch and fertilizer. Simply sprinkle over bare spots, cover with a fine layer of potting soil or compost and wait seven to 21 days for germination.
The last step to keep your hard work growing strong is a good fertilizer. Since our area is massively moss prone, consider a winter fertilizer with moss control. Simply apply with your rotary spreader.
Before you store your mower for the winter, give your lawn one last mow, but leave a little on top: Cut grass no shorter than two inches—four inches is better—because short grass is stressed grass.
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