Archive for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Open Mike

Should Your Lawn Be Tall This Fall?

October 29, 2008

Have you ever heard the rumor that you should let your lawn grow tall before winter? Many believe the extra foliage above ground will insulate the crowns of the grass from the cold winter weather.

The basics of this practice make it sound like it should work and be something that you should do, but that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, the added plant material can cause lawn problems rather than solve them.

The wet, matted-down grass, combined with the insulating effects of snow can lead to diseases such as snow mold. Snow mold is a turf-affecting fungal disease that occurs when lawns are covered by snow for extended periods of time. It usually is only a concern on golf courses, but can strike just about anywhere if conditions are favorable.

If cold hardiness of your lawn is your chief concern, there are other ways to protect it that do not involve tall grass. Cold tolerance in lawns is primarily achieved by making the lawn healthy before winter. Good management practices such as fertilizing, watering when necessary and mowing with sharp blades are some of the ways to keep a lawn healthy.

Fertilizing the lawn with nitrogen once in September and once again in November will increase lawn health year-round. If you irrigate your lawn throughout the summer, then another nitrogen application in May will be helpful. To summarize, it is healthier for your lawn to continue mowing it at the normal level before winter comes than it is to let it grow tall.

Some recommended mowing heights for a few of the common grasses in home lawns are as follows: Tall fescue: 2.5-3.5 inches, Kentucky bluegrass: 2-3 inches, Zoysiagrass:

1-2 inches, Buffalograss: 2-3 inches. Sometimes it can be beneficial to your lawn to mow at the upper ends of these ranges, especially for warm-season grasses (Buffalograss and Zoysiagrass). During late summer and early fall, these grasses will store more carbohydrates for winter survival if they are cut a little higher than the rest of the year.

While we discuss cutting the grass one final time before winter, I want to mention a few tips for storing your lawnmower. There are several tasks you can do for your mower before putting it away that will help it run better next spring and add to its overall lifespan. First of all, drain the gas from the tank before parking it for the winter, or add a gasoline stabilizer to the gas in the tank if you don’t drain it. Untreated gas that sits in a tank over long periods of time can become gummy or thickened and cause future engine problems.

Cleaning or replacing the sparkplug can ensure maximum performance from your mower’s engine next summer. If the mower has a battery, it would be an excellent idea to clean the battery terminals with a wire brush. There are also some chemicals available that are designed to help with clean battery terminals. Removal of the battery and storage in a cool, dry place (not directly on the ground or floor) is also recommended.

While you’re preparing to put away the mower, take some time to sharpen the blade (or blades) so the mower is completely ready for use when spring comes.

If you have any questions about this information, or any other horticulture, agriculture or natural resources topics, stop by the Extension Office on the corner of Hughes and Eisenhower roads in Leavenworth, call 913-250-2300, or send an e-mail to me at


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