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Homeowners Lawn Care Water Quality Almanac

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October      An Old Leaf

“Shady characters”/Yard waste
During the growing season tree shade can reduce energy production in grass plants, making them weak and more susceptible to stresses and pests. The result is a thin stand of turfgrass or completely bare spot that can lead to surface water runoff.  

Shade line
The angle of the sun changes and increases or decreases the area that receives light.
Morning sun is best!

Consider the following:
What to do?
Raise the canopy or understory to improve air movement.

Selectively prune entire trees in group plantings. Grass needs a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight.

Turfgrass shade management

  • Select grass species that show tolerance to shade, for example, fine fescues.
  • Fertilize less often because plants in low light grow more slowly.
  • Irrigate less often but more deeply to water deeper grass roots.
  • Mow at the high end of the recommended mowing height for the species.
  • Don’t fight Mother Nature! Consider mulching around the bases of trees with wood chips or bark mulch (to a depth of 3 inches) or planting ground covers adapted to the shade. These include pachysandra, lily of the valley, English ivy, periwinkle, creeping myrtle, or creeping mahonia.

Tree Leaves Are Loaded with Phosphorus
Autumn is a critical time to protect our water quality.

As deciduous trees begin to shed their leaves in preparation for winter, we run the risk of large amounts of phosphorus being loaded into our surface water runoff and ultimately into lakes and streams.

If leaves are not properly managed, they can lead to high concentrations of phosphorus in lakes, streams, and ponds in the fall. Algal blooms will flourish in these waterways owing to the readily available phosphorus; lower levels of dissolved oxygen from plant dieback can be fatal to fish and other aquatic organisms. This process is called eutrophication.

Consider instead:

  • Using a mulching mower to shred the fallen leaves into small enough pieces to be mulched into the turf to decompose.
  • Collecting grass clippings and leaves for composting away from the road. Mix in a ratio of one part clippings to three parts leaves. Turn the compost pile every couple of weeks to hasten decomposition and 
    eliminate odors.

October is a good time for

  • Mowing: Continue as long as grass is growing.
  • Fertilizing: Apply the last 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 ft.2 two weeks after last mowing (Halloween to Thanksgiving in the Northeast) when the plant is still actively growing.
  • Raking: Collect, or finely shred, leaves from the lawn to minimize mold and prevent grass suffocation.
  • Core aerating: Do this to reduce compaction and improve drainage.

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This page last updated on
November 05, 2000

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