Attention lawn lovers

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     November is the most important time of the year for lovers of lawns.  Regular readers will know that I do not favor golf-course lawns.  I much prefer a lawn that includes white clover, dock and even dandelions, which is healthier for the environment and for pollinators.  However, for lovers of turf grass lawns, it is time to attack those very weeds.
     Most broad-leaf lawn weeds are quite hardy, and were not even affected by the light freeze we have had in the area.  They are cool-season plants that will continue to grow until we get a hard freeze.  They will then go dormant and be ready to return with the first hints of spring warmth.
     I also am not personally a fan of chemical herbicides, but I recognize that they are the most effective way to get rid of the lawn weeds, if that is what you desire.  Be specific and read the labels when you go shopping for chemicals.  Choose one that targets the exact plants you want to kill.  At this time, the broadleaf plants are still actively growing, so herbicide applied to the tops of the plant will be carried down to the roots to kill the plant.  This ensures the plant will not return from roots that have survived the winter.
     Temperatures and moisture are also important.   The chemicals are most effective when temperatures range from around 50 degrees to the 70’s.  Plants are also most actively taking in chemicals after a rain, but the chemicals should be applied when no further rain is expected for a couple of days.  The first half of November is the perfect time for such weed control.  
     You may also wish to provide some nutrition for the roots of the remaining grasses.  Choose a fertilizer with a small nitrogen value (the first of the three numbers on the bag).  Nitrogen promotes active top growth, which should be avoided as winter approaches.  Instead, we want to establish a healthy root system for the desirable plants.  The roots of plants will continue to take up nutrients and grow until the ground freezes solid.  If the roots are healthy, the grass will be ready to begin healthy growth when warm weather returns in the spring.
      The same conditions that make this a good time to kill unwanted plants may result in death for plants we want to keep.  The beautiful fall weather often coaxes us out into the garden and it is tempting to get out the pruners and cut back on some over-grown shrubs.  This is not advisable for a couple of reasons.  If the shrub flowers in the spring, you could be cutting off the blooms for next year.  The other problem is that trimming results in new growth.  That new lush growth may not have time to harden off before the big freeze comes.  Freezing of that new growth could stress the plant and cause permanent damage or even death.
      Do get out into the garden on those pretty days.  Welcome the new birds that will be your winter neighbors.  Revel in the beauty of the fall garden and soak up enough of that autumn sunshine to get you through the winter.


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