GTI Lawn & Garden Letter

Entertaining advice for home gardeners with a focus on lawn and garden care and the outdoor gardening lifestyle. Suitable primarily for people living in northeastern North America and similar temperate climates in other parts of the world.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Late Fall Lawn Care

It has been a long time since my last message. Sorry about that. Students arriving on campus are always a distraction this time of year. The weather hasn't exactly been conducive to gardening and lawn care either. On a positive note, I relocated my small raised bed vegetable garden this fall and resodded the area. I think I only had to irrigate the sod once immediately after laying. It's been a great fall from a seeding and sodding perspective.

In southern Ontario we are experiencing a little window of warmer, drier weather which makes it a great time to get the outdoor Christmas lights up but also a chance to get the all important fall fertilizer application down on your lawn. If you only fertilize your lawn once a year, now is the time to do it.

Soil temperatures are cooling so unfortunately it is too late to apply an organic based nutrient source. The best fertilizer to use right now is urea, a straight nitrogen fertilizer that will be immediately available to the plant. The idea behind fall fertilizing is that you "charge" the plant with nitrogen which is the key nutrient for a healthy, thick and green lawn. The nitrogen serves several benefits at this time of the year including increasing the winter hardiness of your lawn as well as giving it a head start in the spring which will result in earlier spring green up, deeper roots and the development of additional side shoots to help increase the density of your lawn helping to crowd out weeds.

The hardest part of fertilizing at this time of year is finding the fertilizer. Urea is not commonly carried by the big box stores or most garden centres. If you live near a rural area, your best bet is to find a local farm supply or feed mill which should carry this common agricultural fertilizer.

The analysis of urea is 46-0-0 which means it is almost 50% pure nitrogen. You want to apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet which means you have to apply 2 pounds of urea per 1,000 square feet. I would suggest estimating the area of your lawn, then determining how much fertilizer you will need. For example, a 5,000 square foot lawn will require 5X2=10 lbs of urea. Weight the fertilizer out in a pail on a bathroom scale to get the right amount and put it in your spreader. Always fill your spreader on the driveway to avoid spilling on the lawn which will burn the grass. Set the spreader at a very low setting and go over the lawn several times to evenly distribute the fertilizer on the lawn. Avoid getting fertilizer on the driveway, sidewalks or street where it can run unimpeded into the storm water system. If you do get some on a hard surface, sweep it back on to the lawn. Rinse your spreader out and put it away for the season.

As far as outdoor Christmas lighting is concerned, here are few of my suggestions for an easy but attractive outdoor display.

1. Under light deciduous trees and shrubs. A very easy and simple but very striking effect can be had by under lighting trees and shrubs with clear flood lights. One or two lights placed right at the base of the plant and aimed up into the branch structure gives a very nice effect. Make sure you go out at night and tweak the beam adjustment a bit for full effect.

2. When using minilights on trees, use lots. Professionals recommend 100 bulbs per foot of tree. That's a lot of bulbs (see tip #1 for a good effect with fewer bulbs). I like to use the new energy efficient LED lights. On all trees, try to avoid the "spiral up the tree" effect. On deciduous trees and shrubs, wrap the lights around the individual branches to highlight the form of the plant (you'll quickly see that 100 bulbs per foot is not really that many). With evergreens, try to weave the lights in and out of the branches and interior of the tree to give more depth to the lighting effect. Net lights are an easier option although they only light the outside form of the tree.

I read recently that we are in the middle of the worst season for ladder accidents. I wonder why? Be very careful when using your ladder to put up exterior lights. I have noticed that there are specialized extendable poles you can use to string lights up high without having your feet leaving the ground.

My next post will likely be sometime in the new year as the snow melts (unless I realize my dream to put a natural ice curling rink in the backyard in which case I'll report back).

I wish you the best for a peaceful holiday season and will leave you with a picture of the great skating track I had in my yard back in 2003.