If you’re dreaming of wandering barefooted through a green lawn in spring, you must care for it in the fall.
Fall lawn care doesn’t have to be complicated and makes the difference between having a healthy green lawn or a patchy brown one come spring. This checklist of basic fall lawn care steps will help make sure that next year, you’ll start spring with a flourishing, healthy lawn.
Keep Mowing the Lawn
Don’t put away the mower yet. Continuing to keep your lawn mowed properly is another important step in your lawn care for fall chores. It might not be performing with the robust growth it had during spring and summer, but the grass hasn’t achieved full dormancy yet. It’s still growing. Dormancy occurs with the first fall frost.
Maintaining a proper mowing height is essential in keeping your grass healthy and prepared for winter and keeping it insulated. If you allow the grass to grow too long, it has a tendency to form mats, which makes it vulnerable to a host of fungal problems such as snow mold.
The advice in summer is to mow higher, but as the temperatures fall, set the lawn mower’s height lower gradually. But not too low: Cutting the grass too short obstructs the development of a healthy root system. Grass roots grow as deeply as the turf’s height with normal mowing. Cutting too short impedes it from growing deeply enough. You end up with turfgrass that is weaker when it comes to withstanding the cold and dryness of winter.
Recommended Mowing Heights:
- Cool-season grasses: Those living in colder sections of the country with cool-season turfgrass should maintain their grass at a height of 1.5 to 2 inches.
- Warm-season grasses: Those residing in warmer areas growing a warm-season turfgrass should maintain their grass at a height of 2 to 2.5 inches.
Don’t Leave the Leaves
Those with four seasons look forward the beauty of early fall foliage and watching leaves change from green to autumn colors of gold, bronze, red and purple. Few, however, look forward to the cleanup. Once those eye-catching leaves start dropping from the trees you don’t want to leave them lay on the ground covering your lawn. Layers of leaves covering your grass block out sunlight and trap moisture, which will leave you with bare spots of dead grass. In addition, they can promote disease and insect problems. Next spring, the covered areas will most likely be soggy and dead.
Two schools of thought have developed on leaf-raking: a bit at a time, or all at once. Either way, the end goal is the same. You want to prevent a thick layer of leaves from choking off your lawn.
Do not let those fallen leaves go to waste. Use a mulching mower to chop them into a fine mulch, or add them to a compost pile.
Every couple of years, regardless of whether you live in the North or South, it beneficial to your turf to aerate your lawn. Aerating helps reduce soil compaction and thatch, a thick buildup of debris, roots and grass stems. If your turf has too much thatch, oxygen, nutrients and water cannot reach the roots, leading to unhealthy grass. Using a core aerator, which punches holes through the thatch and removes plugs of soil, will solve the problem and allow nutrients, water and oxygen to reach the roots. When it comes to your fall lawn care schedule, the Penn State Extension recommends you aerate your lawn before applying your fall application of fertilizer or overseeding.
Overseeding With Grass Seed
If you live in southern portions of the country and your lawn is made up of warm-season grass, you don’t have to worry about seeding until spring or summer. However, those living in northern regions with cool-season lawns should overseed their entire lawn or repair bare patches in fall. This chore is best done after aeration to give the new grass a chance to make good soil contact. Overseeding is primarily done with bunching cool-season grasses such as fine and tall fescue, and annual and perennial ryegrass. Warm-season Bermudagrass is also sometimes overseeded in fall with a cool-season seed.
Fertilizing in Fall
Late fall will be the last feeding you give your lawn until spring. Take a walk down your local garden center fertilizer aisle and you are bound to find various products for winterizing your turfgrass. JayDee Gunnell, Horticultural Agent, Davis County (Utah) Extension suggests that the best time to put down your fall lawn fertilizer is in late October or early November using a quick-release nitrogen blend. Apply after you have mowed for the last time. For those living in frost-free climates where you will periodically mow through winter, should still apply the product in late fall. He notes that even though your lawn might not look like it’s growing, nutrients seep down to the root system where it’s stored, helping the grass green early in spring when it starts growing again. Always water the fertilizer into the grass after applying.
Fall is also the ideal time to amend the soil according to a soil test. Adding organic matter to soil this time of year gives it a chance to work itself into the soil an give you a beautiful lawn in spring. Contact your local extension service to see if it offers soil testing. Many do, at a nominal cost.
Face it – weeds are a royal pain, especially when they try to invade your lush lawn. Although to most, a weed is a weed, their lifecycle of whether they perform as annuals or perennials will distinguish when treatment is best. Annuals perform their entire lifecycle in one year, whereas perennials can continue growing for years, springing back to life each year from the same root system.
When it comes to fall lawn care for weeds, JayDee Gunnell suggests when dealing with annual weeds such as spurge and crabgrass, an important time for treatment is in early spring using a pre-emergent weed killer. However, when it comes to treating perennial weeds like morning glory or dandelions, he suggests it’s best to wait until after the first light frost in fall. Once this happens, the weed diverts all its energy down into the root system, making it easier for the herbicide to seep into the roots, killing it. Mr. Gunnell notes that spraying perennial weeds at this time is more effective in killing them.
Although the heat of summer is long past and the growth of your grass has slowed, this doesn’t mean you should stop lawn irrigation. Those living in climates where freezes and snow are common should continue watering their turf until the first freeze. However, those living in warmer locations should continue irrigating their lawn every two to three weeks, depending on local weather conditions.
If you water your grass with an irrigation system and you live in a northern climate where freezes are common, you should expect to keep your system up and running until October’s end. Next, you will want to disconnect the system’s hoses and flush the entire system to help prevent frozen spigots and pipes. Those living in consistently warm climates can keep their sprinklers running year-round.
Stay on Your Fall Lawn Care Schedule
To keep your lawn in its best shape, prepare it for winter so it’s performing at its peak comes spring, it is important to carry out these tasks at the appropriate time. For example, if you fertilize your turfgrass too early the tender grass blades will become decimated with winter’s cold. In addition, if you fertilize the grass too late in the season the root system doesn’t have time to absorb the nutrients. In addition, if you overseed too late in the season the grass seedlings are too immature and tender to survive winter.
If you find that some of the chores like aerating and overseeding are more than you want or can handle on your own, you can always hire a lawn service to pick up the slack. This eliminates the need to go out and rent equipment to perform these tasks and the lawn service will have experience in these areas. Just remember, taking proper care of your lawn in fall guarantees you’ll enter spring with a green, healthy yard.