By Tessa Raebeck
With the days getting cooler and the nights getting longer, landscaping may be the last thing on your mind. But according to experts around the East End, autumn is the critical time for those looking to perfect their yards for next season.
“The fall is the best time to do everything,” said Ivan Roman, president of Heirloom Gardens in Water Mill. “What you do in the fall landscape-wise is going to basically set up your success or failure for the following season.”
The first step to ensure a healthy lawn come springtime is getting a soil test done for your property, said Roman. Many homeowners attempt to care for their lawn generically through programs such as the Scotts 4 Step lawn care system, he said, rather than with the individualized approach necessary for exceptional care.
“It’s like going to a doctor and expecting the doctor to diagnose you without doing blood work,” said Roman. “It’s blood work for your plants.”
Collect core samples of about one cup of pure soil from several varied areas around your lawn, such as one sample from a spot that sits in the sun and another from a shaded spot under a tree. Once the soil is collected, Roman recommends sending it to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Education Center in Riverhead to be tested. The extension will test the soil and send you a detailed report of what your lawn needs, including a breakdown of the ideal macronutrients, micronutrients and pH content for your soil, within two to four weeks.
“They’ll be able to find out exactly what the soil needs because regardless of the plant—grass, shrub, tree—it gets everything it needs from the soil,” said Roman. “A simple thing like a soil test is not negotiable when we handle a property.”
Roman then advises homeowners to bring their soil report to Lynch’s Garden Center in Southampton or another retail nursery to find out what their next steps should be.
“Get some professional advice on how to approach your property in a customized way so you save money,” he said. “By knowing what’s going on in your soil, what you actually need, then you can customize it and buy what you need in the right quantities, as opposed to more is better – cause that’s what everyone thinks.”
Once the ideal nutrient profile and pH for your soil is determined, use the remaining autumn months for aeration, fertilization, and seeding and overseeding.
According to the website for JCP Landscaping in Sag Harbor, overseeding “is a very effective means to make your lawn more resilient to insects, disease and drought.” When used in combination with aeration, a process by which small “plugs” of compacted grass and soil are removed from your lawn to allow the grass roots more room to breathe, overseeding is one of the best ways to ensure your lawn stays lush.
“This is actually the best time of the year for seeding—mid-August to mid-October—whether it’s overseeding or starting a new lawn,” says Mike Kusick, a salesperson at Marder’s Garden Center and Nursery in Bridgehampton. “Lawn grasses like cool weather. They germinate better in cool weather and there’s less weed competition doing it now, so now is the best time to seed.”
Like Roman, the experts at Marder’s steer clear of generic lawncare systems.
“We’re organic at Marder’s, so we don’t do the Scotts four times a year thing, so you only have to fertilize once a year,” said Kusick. “The fall is the best time.”
If your soil’s pH content is too low, Kusick recommends liming your lawn. Liming, which applies materials to the soil to neutralize its acidity, should be done about once every other year in the spring or the fall, at least a couple of weeks apart from fertilization.
For trees and shrubs, said Kusick, the ideal time for fertilization and pruning is in late October and November when plants’ leaves start to drop and they go dormant. Starting earlier in the autumn is ill advised because it can encourage late growth.
For more information, visit Heirloom Gardens on Montauk Highway in Water Mill or visit heirloomgardensllc.com; call JCP Landscaping 725-0277; or visit Marders Garden Center and Nursery in Bridgehampton or online at marders.com.