Garden Plot: How much watering does your lawn need in the fall?

Straw bales are for scarecrows, not gardens

Matthew in Chevy Chase wrote: “I have some straw bales in my driveway that housed tomatoes over the summer. They’re decomposing but still have their shape. My question is: Can I plant my garlic in these bales? On one level, the growing medium for garlic in the straw might be great, but I worry about freezing. When the temps drop below freezing and we get a polar vortex or something, will the garlic survive?”

No, Matt. It will die a horrible death and then return to haunt you every Christmas Eve with rattling chains and leave behind hundreds of zucchini, each the size of a 10-year-old child.

Straw bales are a terrible planting medium for anything, Matt. A media-pushed “trend,” they were never a good idea, especially for garlic. Garlic cloves need to be planted approximately 6 inches deep and 6 inches to a foot apart in your lightest, loosest, best draining soil in the ground.

Straw bales are for Halloween skeletons to sit on.

Water woes? Welax!

Don in Brunswick, Maryland, wrote: “I just had my lawn aerated and over-seeded. I have almost an acre and a half of lawn and my water is from a well. How can I water that much lawn with low water pressure from the well? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.”

That’s a BIG area, Don. What I always recommend with lawns is to pay attention to the most visible areas first and foremost. Water as much of an area near the house as you can.

Overnight watering is fine if the water ends when the sun hits that area. Watering in the morning is fabulous; water applied between daybreak and noon is absorbed with the greatest efficiency. Now that we’re into cooler weather, daytime watering is fine. Just don’t water after 4 p.m. or the grass will stay wet overnight, and you’ll invite disease issues.

Water needs reduced in fall

I wouldn’t sweat it too much, Don. Now that we’re into cooler weather, there’s much less evaporation of moisture from the soil. Even newly planted grass seed can go several days without water and not have its germination affected.

And don’t forget rainfall. Note the day of the week the seed was spread and then chart the rain with a rain gauge. If you get an inch — or even close to an inch — of rain before that day of the week comes around again, you don’t need to water.

And if you DO need to water, do it close to the house, where you want the grass to look its best.

You can’t prevent crabgrass now

Debbie in Crofton, Maryland, wrote: “I recently seeded my lawn. In a week or two I will apply weed and feed. I have lots of crabgrass in my yard — when do I apply crabgrass preventer? I don’t like applying too much stuff to my yard, but the crabgrass is out of control.”

As is your timing, Debbie! Crabgrass is an annual weed. The existing plants you have will die over the winter. Ah, but a few weeks ago, they dropped lots of seed that will sprout in the spring. That’s when you can prevent a new run of crabgrass with a pre-emergent, hopefully a nontoxic one, such as corn gluten meal.

Any herbicide you apply now will achieve nothing other than endangering your health — and the health of any pets, children, birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, toads, salamanders (I really like salamanders!) and other living things.

Crabgrass control without herbicides

Crabgrass seed germinates in the spring, so don’t spread nasty chemicals now for no good reason. And don’t ever rely on chemicals to control weeds.

The only way to prevent weeds is to correctly care for the lawn itself. That means always mowing with a sharp blade, returning the mulched clippings to the lawn, always have at least 3 inches of grass left standing after you mow and if you need to water, water deeply and infrequently.

That’s the dirty little secret of crabgrass prevention.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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