Improve Your Autumn Lawn Plan

This morning I noticed the autumn dew collecting on the grass. The sunlight shimmering on the blades reminded me that it is time to turn my attention towards lawn care.

Taking a few simple steps now will ensure that my grass goes into winter with everything it needs to emerge lush and green next spring.

Here are a few tips for preparing your lawn for the upcoming season.

Fall Lawn Fertilizer

Most plants don’t need feeding at the end of the summer, but turf grass is an exception. An application of fertilizer at this time promotes strong root development – good news for your grass as we head into winter. For cool season grasses (northern states) spread fertilizer in early September. Feed warm season grasses (southern) in early September and mid-October. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and water thoroughly after applying.

To do my part to reduce chemical runoff I like to use an organic lawn food, especially one that is phosphorous-free.

Fall Lawn Mowing

If you dislike mowing as much as I do, then you know the inclination to lower the mower blade in the fall is strong. I tend to think that if I cut the grass down to the roots I’ll be done mowing for the year. For a healthy lawn, resist this temptation and continue to cut your grass to about 2 inches tall. It is also best to remove the grass clipping because cool, wet weather can turn them into mush.

Improve the Soil pH to Eliminate Mushrooms and Moss

If you have problems with moss or mushrooms in your lawn, fall is an ideal time to apply agricultural lime or dolomite to improve the pH and prevent these two problems.

Sundial on a Grassy Terrace

Overseeding Grass in Fall

If you have bare patches in your lawn or wish to establish a new lawn, mid September is the time to sow grass seed. Check with your local county extension service for the best type for your area. Be sure to purchase top quality seed and prepare the soil by tilling and working in organic matter. Keep the area adequately moist while the seeds germinate and get established. When reseeding spots within the lawn choose a seed variety will match the existing turf in color and texture.

Laying Sod in Fall

This is a great time of year to create a new lawn or re-sod an old one. You just want to give your new lawn plenty of time to acclimate before it gets too cold. To prepare the area first kill any existing grass or weeds with a nonselective herbicide. Once the vegetation has died, till the area to loosen the soil. Sod will root best in moist soil so gently shower the area with water before you put down the grass down. It is easy to forget to water during the fall but you should keep the area consistently moist until the grass gets established.

Fall Leaves on your Lawn

Wouldn’t it be nice if fallen leaves insulated grass from cold winter temperatures? Unfortunately leaves left on the lawn are not helpful and can actually be harmful. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass. So get out the rake, add the leaves to your compost pile and keep reminding yourself all the great rich soil that will come from your efforts.

Dethatching and Aerating your Lawn

Our lawns benefit from an occasional loosening up, so to speak. Over time the soil gets compacted and thatch builds up. Thatch is un-decomposed grass roots and stems that collect and compound, weaving a mat around the blades of grass. To check the level of thatch in your lawn dig down about 3 inches deep and remove a piece of turf. What you will see is a brown root like material sitting between the soil and the green grass. A thin layer of thatch, less than 1/2 an inch, is good for your lawn. It increases durability, prevents weeds and retains moisture. Anything over this amount needs to be removed. If you have a small lawn and less than 3/4 of an inch of thatch, you can remove it by simply raking it up.

If you have clay or highly compacted soil you may need to go the extra step of aerating your lawn. Be sure to do this before the end of September. It will take about 3 weeks for the grass to recover from the process. To aerate your lawn you can either rent a machine, hire a professional or, if you are working in a small area use, a pitch fork. Push the pitchfork into the ground at a 45 degree angle about 4 inches deep. Then rock the fork back and forth to loosen the soil.

Controlling Annual Lawn Weeds

My best advice about weeds is to know your enemy. Is it an annual, biennial or perennial? Apply a pre-emergent now to prevent annual weeds and a post emergent later in the season to kill annual weeds that escaped the pre-emergent as well as perennial and biennial weeds.

Controlling Perennial Lawn Weeds

One of the best ways to knock down many perennial weeds such as dandelions, clover and ground ivy is to use spot applications of herbicide. These types of unwanted plants are taking in nutrients to create food and storing it in their roots for winter. Herbicides applied in the fall go quickly to the roots right along with the nutrients.

Managing Lawn Diseases

Fungi often thrive during the cool and moist autumn weather. Diseases such as Brown Patch, Take-All Root Rot, Snow Mold or Fusarium Patch are prevalent during this time. Check with your local garden centers for the best treatments in your area.