Fall Lawn-Care Tips for Growing the Healthiest Grass
Improve the health and appearance of your lawn this fall with these helpful lawn-care secrets. A little work now will pay off big when temperatures warm up again in the spring.
Lower the Height of Mower Deck
If you increased the height of your lawn mower deck in the summer so that your grass would not suffer from heat stress, it’s time to return it to its normal height setting (approximately 3 inches tall for most grasses). By cutting your lawn slightly shorter, it will help prevent the grass blades from matting down under snow and other debris, like fallen leaves. Just be sure not to cut the grass too short — doing so will weaken the roots and allow weeds to infiltrate.
To counter a summer drought that holds over into autumn, consider watering your lawn thoroughly a couple times before freezing weather hits. These deep soaks, where you add moisture to the soil several inches deep, will help the lawn transition to winter. Of course, most often Mother Nature will provide the moisture for you, but not always. If you do find that watering is needed, be sure to do so in the morning so as to limit evaporation caused by increased winds later in the day.
If you reside in the North, fall is the best time of the year to fertilize your lawn. Feeding cool-season grasses, like fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass, in early September and again in late October or November, will help them green up earlier and look stronger and healthier in the spring.
For those in the South, do not fertilize warm-season grasses that are dormant unless they have been overseeded with winter ryegrass.
The best way to keep weeds out of your lawn is to create a healthy, lush lawn, as opposed to relying on chemical herbicides. Simply mow your lawn at the appropriate height, aerate as needed and provide essential nutrients by fertilizing. When your lawn is in top shape, smaller weeds will get shaded out. For bigger weeds, pull them out by the roots. If you find that a chemical spray is needed, be sure to follow the label instructions and target just the weeds that need killed, rather than treating the entire lawn.
Reseed Dead Patches
Reseeding thin or dead patches in cool-season lawns is best done in the fall. By seeding in the autumn, you’ll find that you have fewer weeds the next year. In addition, the seedlings will have plenty of time to become established before the stress of hot summer weather arrives. One convenient way to fill these barren patches is by using a mulch product embedded with seed and fertilizer. Just be sure to use a rake to prepare the soil bed beforehand. Water the new seed regularly for a couple weeks to encourage fast germination.
Whether you’ve been wanting to cover a patch in your turf or start an entirely new cool-season lawn with sod, fall is the ideal time to begin. The comfortable temperatures and readily available moisture translate into a quick start for sod. When choosing sod, look for it to be thick, dense and weed free. It is a convenient and immediate solution for any bald spots in your lawn. Be prepared to water new sod daily if weather conditions turn dry.
Inspect Lawn for Thatch & Remove Excess
If you’ve never heard of thatch, it is a layer of dead organic matter located near the surface of your soil. If you have a thick thatch layer, it can lead to insect problems and disease, as well as damage from cold weather and drought. Overfertilizing and watering your lawn too frequently can help thatch develop. To check for thatch, simply turn over a small area of your lawn with a spade. You want to see one inch or less of thatch. If more than that is present, it would benefit your turf to remove some.
Vertical mowers or power rakes are effective dethatching tools, since dethatching involves slicing through the thatch layer and pulling out the debris. These tools are typically available for rent at hardware stores and other rental agencies. After the lawn has been pulled out by one of these devices, use a hand rake to remove the thatch and compost it.
Aerating your lawn also reduces thatch, along with improving drainage and loosening the soil. The best type of aerators are core aerators. They will remove cores (plugs of soil), improve soil structure and break up thatch. The cores, once removed, are left on the surface of the turf and will slowly break up over time. Early fall is the ideal time to aerate cool-season grasses, while spring is best for warm-season grasses.
Spread a Topdressing
When people refer to topdressing, it means applying a thin layer of compost or soil to your lawn. Not only will doing so reduce thatch, improving growing conditions, it will also increase the ratio of organic matter in the soil, smooth out any bumpy terrain, and lessen the need for fertilizer. Simply distribute a ¼-inch to ½-inch layer of top-quality soil over the entire lawn, especially in difficult or problematic areas where grass is thinning. Dethatch or aerate the lawn before applying a topdressing. To work the topdressing into the soil, use a rake.
Eliminate Fallen Leaves
Rake or mulch any fallen leaves before they get matted and smother your grass. Consider using a mulch mower, as it is a great way to shred a small amount of leaves and spread that organic matter over the lawn, much like topdressing. Keep up with mulching fallen leaves by going over the lawn with a mulch mower every few days in the late fall. If you find that you have too many fallen leaves for a mulch mower, then rake the leaves off the grass and compost them.
Drain Irrigation Lines
Before freezing temperatures arrive, you’ll want to completely drain your lawn’s irrigation system. You can empty the system by using drain valves or with compressed air. To get the best results, try shutting off the water to the system and draining each section individually. Don’t forget to drain the main supply line coming from the house. If you choose to use an air compressor, avoid going over 50 psi of air pressure.