Ask the Superintendent – Tips for the Avid Gardener

Ask the Superintendent – Tips for the Avid Gardener

Welcome to November, avid golfers, and be sure to get in as much golf as you can before we have the dreaded first frost of the season which usually lands in mid- to late-November in DFW. That said, here is a reminder that if you walk on frosted greens, it will damage the greens. So be aware of the frost policy at your club of choice this fall/winter. 

The frost delay policy at any golf club, while unpopular to eager players, is necessary to protect the turf. And if you look through the AVIDGOLFER archive, there are several good articles from this column that give all of the details about frost, frost delays and the fact that, while the golf course superintendent issues the frost delay, he/she actually does not know on any given day when the frost will lift. However, we are honored you think we have that sort of superpower. 

Now that we have checked the prepare-for-frost-delay box, let’s move on to this month’s Ask the Superintendent question, which is actually a collection of questions centered around fall tips and tricks from golf course agronomy for the avid gardener. In other words, how to take professional green tips from your club to your home. Let’s get started.

Clean Up and Organize Your Shop or Shed

Fall is the perfect time to clean up your shop or garden shed. Big or small, it was a long, hot summer, and it is very likely that you have collected several items that are unsightly or even dangerous. For example, gather and clean all of your oily rags and empty pesticide/fertilizer containers and dispose of them properly.  Any spills or leaks in your shed should also be addressed. Organize your tools and materials and dispose of anything that is no longer useful. Clean and protect all of your small tools (loppers, hand pruners, various saws, screw drivers, etc.) that will likely not be needed till spring. If you find some things that you have not used all season, consider donating them to a local school or garden club. 

I personally completely empty my garden shed every November and check the flooring and shelving, making any needed repairs, and then inspect each item before giving it a place in my shed over winter. I think it would be very appropriate to make November 15th the unofficial “clean up and organize your shop/shed day.”

The Big Three: Mowers, Weed Eaters and Blowers

In the green industry, we refer to the most used lawn/landscape equipment as the big three. They are, of course, your mower (big or small), your weed eater (technically this is a monofilament line trimmer) and your blower. These foundation pieces of maintenance equipment see heavy use during the growing season but are semi-retired or are out of use for several months in the fall/winter. Be sure to clean and lubricate the machines as recommended by the manufacturer (this is why we keep the equipment manuals on file, but if you do not have a manual for your specific piece of equipment, a quick Google search for the make and model number should produce the needed data) and remember to add fuel stabilizer to any stored fuel. 

If you have converted to battery-powered lawn maintenance equipment, you can skip this step. It is one of the advantages to lithium battery-powered lawn equipment. Your cost will be more up front, but
you are essentially pre-paying for fuel, and since you’re not storing gas, it is safer and less complicated. 

If you do use gas or mixed-gas lawn equipment and you do not have any fuel stabilizer, just stop by your local small engine dealer to pick some up and follow the instructions on the label. You can also buy premixed fuel that is already mixed with stabilizer to make sure your fuel is viable, even if stored in the tank or can over winter. It is expensive, but it’s very convenient. If you use your equipment regularly, even through the winter the fuel will not go stale or separate, so you are good to go. The takeaway here is that bad fuel is easily avoided. 

The next pro tip is to go ahead and have your lawn equipment serviced for next year now while the mechanics are slower in November/December and, thus, you can avoid the rush next spring. Most small shops appreciate the year-end business and will do better work. Have you ever dropped a mower or blower off for service in April? If so, I bet you said, “never again,” so let this year be the year you are proactive in servicing the big three. Your lawn and lawn equipment will appreciate the effort. Another tip is to make sure you stock up on weed eater cord, extra spark plugs, filters and any other progress-stopping lawn equipment parts.  

Identify Dead, Damaged or Diseased Tree and Plant Limbs 

If you have larger or numerous deciduous trees/shrubberies on your property, they will require pruning at some point during the cold season to correct problems, and doing this work during the colder weather will reduce the stress on the plant. We try never to do significant pruning during the summer when other plant stresses may weaken the plant. However, once the plants have gone dormant and dropped their leaves, it may be difficult to see which limbs should be removed. Now is the time to take a few quick photos or use tape or marking ribbon to mark the dead, damaged or diseased parts of the plant that need to be removed. It was another record hot and dry summer, and it’s taken a toll on trees across Texas, so be sure to inspect them closely. 

You may consider hiring an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist to inspect your trees and make recommendations. You can find a list of local certified arborists at the ISA website: Proper timing of seasonal pruning is essential for optimal tree/plant health. 

Drainage, Drainage and More Drainage 

First, let me say that as a golf course superintendent. I believe that it’s nearly impossible to have too much drainage on a golf course or your personal residence. I also know that you are aware, as I have mentioned it multiple times in this article, but I will state it again for inference, it was a very hot and very dry summer. 

When it’s dry for a long period of time, you often forget about areas of your property that drain poorly. That is until the rains come in the fall and winter, and then you are upset for not having addressed the problem when the weather was more suited for digging trenches and installing pipe and gravel. However, the best time to mark poor drainage is when water is flowing and holding. Take good pictures and document the water flow and/or get some construction stakes, turf spray paint and mark the needed lines. Drainage can be a do-it-yourself project, or you can hire a contractor (remember to get three bids with references). Either way, pictures of and painted lines showing the water flow and areas that hold water will be super helpful toward solving the problem. 

One last pro tip is never dig until all utilities have been properly marked. Call before you dig! There are lots of how-to-install French drains and drainage projects on the web, so I will leave that as is for now. Just remember that drainage issues change over time and usually get worse, so take note of standing water on your property and get a plan of action together before the next drought sets in.

In Conclusion: Be Grateful 

Thank you, avid golfers, for another great year on the links and lawns! I hope that you found these tips and tricks for the offseason useful and that you have enjoyed the Ask the Superintendent content so far this year. Be sure to find as many things as possible to be grateful for as you reflect back on this year and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.