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Important to fertilize despite temperatures

Fertilize your fescue lawn now for beautiful grass this winter and into next spring. Many gardeners fail to realize the importance of feeding lawns in the fall. Grasses store nutrients and sugars for use during the winter, and fertilizing now gives lawns a head start next year.

“The way I tell when to feed in the fall is when I don’t need to mow any more. That time is now,” said Mel Hengren, a longtime master gardener and turf specialist for Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Hengren was one of the first master gardeners Nevada Cooperative Extension graduated. Sickness has taken its toll on him, and he has gone into full retirement. Hengren was an excellent educator, becoming famous for his expertise in turf, irrigation and landscape design. He put in countless hours educating gardeners across Southern Nevada. I often called on him to share his knowledge about growing turf. Here is an update of a Nov. 21, 1999, article I did with him as he retired his mower.

Look for a balanced fertilizer, Hengren said. That’s a fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the same bag. Normally, nitrogen promotes leaf growth and gives grass its color, but its fall application also benefits the roots. Phosphorous stimulates root development, and potassium improves the overall quality of the turf.

Let’s focus on potassium, because increasing evidence shows we need to add it to our turf, Hengren said.

“Although tests indicate Las Vegas soils have ample potassium, our grasses still respond to it,” he said. “Potassium brings about increased cold tolerance, improves the plant’s overall health and increases stress tolerance to pests and foot traffic.”

For those who have Bermuda lawns, fall feedings wake grass up sooner in the spring.

Hengren fertilizes on three holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving. If you don’t feed now, you’ll need to fertilize around Valentine’s Day. Follow the bag’s recommendations for the amount to apply.

To avoid a striped lawn next spring, put the fertilizer on correctly, Hengren said. Measure out the amount needed and divide in half. Spread half in one direction and the other the opposite way. Follow each feeding with a good irrigation.

If you use a mulching mower, you recycle your clippings by replenishing nitrogen every time you mow, said Hengren. As the grass decomposes, it releases the nitrogen to the turf. You reduce the need for nitrogen by a third and will still have a beautiful lawn.

Also, fertilize with iron. Our desert soils are alkaline and that reduces iron availability to plants. If your lawn appears yellowish, feed it iron twice a year, Hengren said. Keep it off the sidewalks, or it will stain them.

Aeration is another important technique that improves the appearance of your lawn significantly, Hengren noted. Aeration reduces soil compaction and enables nutrients and air to infiltrate soil to improve your lawn’s looks. Sodded lawns in particular benefit from yearly aeration in the fall.

During the winter, mow the grass at 2½ inches high to thicken your lawn.

“It may seem like extra maintenance, but a good winter maintenance program actually saves on maintenance through next season,” he said.


The Nevada Garden Club had a successful fall garden show Oct. 23 and 24. The theme was “At the Movies.” Flower arrangements in particular showed interpretations of this theme, drawing on musicals, westerns and cartoons. The arrangers came up with all kinds of beautiful designs — “Notorious,” “The Lion King,” “Duel in the Sun” and “Garfield.”

Here are the winners:

In the horticulture division, the award of horticulture went to Barbara Roe and the award of merit to Alana Sullivan, Roberta Baltz, Roe and Doolittle Senior Center Community Garden. The arboreal award went to Peg Cummings, sweepstakes to Baltz, collectors showcase to Sullivan, growers’ choice to Roe and the special award to Doolittle Senior Center Community Garden.

In the design division, the award of design excellence went to Anna Williams, designer’s choice to J. Rowley and Williams, the award of distinction to Xem Hagenson, petite award to Rowley and sweepstakes to Karen Burth.

In the exhibits division, the educational award was given to Sullivan, the award of appreciation to Lee Pearns and the artistic craft award to Judy Stebbins.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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