How to Care for Fall Lawns | Living the Country Life

How to Care for Fall Lawns

Autumn is an ideal time to assess the health of your lawn. Follow this checklist to keep your grass growing green.
  • All Lawns

    Mow. As the weather cools, lower your mower blade a notch, but avoid scalping the lawn, a practice that weakens turf and makes it susceptible to weeds. Remove no more than a third of the grass height when you mow. For example, if the lawn has grown 4½ inches tall, set the mower blade to 3 inches.

    Rake. A matted layer of leaves will smother the lawn if left all winter. Rake leaves and add them to your compost pile or shred them for mulch. Or use a mulching mower to chop them into fine bits that sift into the turf.

    Water. If you’re fortunate, fall rains will take care of the watering duty for you. Growing lawns need about 1 inch of water per week. Watering your lawn ½ inch at a time, twice a week, encourages deep turf roots and is better than daily sprinklings.

    Date Published: October 13, 2015
    Date Updated: March 4, 2016
  • Northern Lawns

    Cool-season grasses (including tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass) come back to life in fall after suffering through summer heat. Late summer or early fall is the best time to dethatch or aerate a lawn. Because grass has resumed active growth, it recovers quickly. Early fall is the best time to patch bare spots.

    Remove thatch. Thatch is a spongy brown layer of dead grass stems, rhizomes, and roots on the soil surface. A small amount of thatch is beneficial, acting as mulch, but a layer of ½ inch or more inhibits the entry of water and air into the soil. A power rake lifts the thatch so it can be raked away. A heavy garden rake is all you’ll need to dethatch a small area. Keep in mind that excessive thatch is often a symptom of overapplication of fertilizer.

    Aerate. When soil is compacted by foot traffic, lawn roots struggle to get air and moisture. Core aerators relieve compaction by extracting slender plugs of soil and leaving them on the ground. Water and air penetrate the open channels easily, and soil microbes that break down thatch spring to life. Aerate pathways, play areas, and lawns on heavy clay soil annually.

    Fertilize. Cool-season lawns are hungriest in late summer and fall, when nutrients go toward root growth and a denser lawn. (Rapid blade growth from spring fertilization lasts only until the next mowing.) Many experts recommend two late-season lawn feedings: one around Labor Day and a second six weeks later. If broadleaf weeds are a problem, choose a weed-and-feed product.

    Patch bare spots. Sow seeds of cool-season grasses in late summer or early fall, while the soil is still warm enough to encourage quick germination but after the hottest days of summer. Break up the soil in bare spots with a shovel or hoe and rake it smooth. Scatter fresh grass seed, then rake again to lightly cover the seeds. Keep the area moist until the grass is growing.

    Date Published: October 13, 2015
    Date Updated: March 4, 2016
  • Southern and Southwestern Lawns

    The growth rate of warm-season grasses (such as zoysia, Bermuda grass, and St. Augustine grass) surges as temperatures soar. Dethatching, core aerating, and lawn renovation are best done in spring. These lawns wind down in fall and need less maintenance.

    Store the spreader. The growth and nutrient needs of warm-season grasses diminish in cooler weather. No additional fertilizer is needed after Labor Day.

    Overseed. If you want a year-round carpet of green, overseed your lawn with perennial ryegrass, a cool-season variety that thrives during winter and fades away in hot weather.

    Mow the lawn at a low setting as soon as it goes dormant in fall.

    Rent a slit seeder to spread the ryegrass seed.

    Water as needed for germination.

    Date Published: October 13, 2015
    Date Updated: March 4, 2016

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