Fall is an important season for Lawn care maintenance and is as important in many respects as is spring. There are a number of things that should be done in the fall, all to assist your lawn grasses in preparing for the winter. Fall is probably also the one season where your lawn will look it’s best! It is one of the only times of the year where growing conditions for almost any lawn type (and particularly the Cool Season Grasses) are ideal, the weather is cooling off some so the grass is not as subject to drought conditions as it is during the summer, you’ll typically get more rainfall and the cool evenings relieve the grass of heat related stress. In order to take advantage of these great conditions and to insure that your lawn is ready for the cold winter there are a number of steps that you should take. Below is a fall maintenance program to help you in getting the best possible lawn possible.
Aerate and Dethatch
For Cool season grasses, Aerating and dethatching in the fall is desirable. Both of these activities are damaging and stressful (although necessary and ultimately beneficial) and should only be done during periods of active growth. For the cool season grasses Fall is the ideal time to aerate and dethatch. For the Warm season grasses this is best done during late Spring or early Summer.
If you have a lawn that has heavy traffic, the soil in it is likely to be heavily compressed. This limits root development and penetration and also reduces oxygen levels in the soil. Core aeration will pull plugs of soil from the ground, opening up the soil and allowing it to expand into the holes left behind. You can also take advantage of the plugs pulled from the soil to analyze how much thatch has built up in your lawn. Examine one of the cores or plugs that is complete, you should have a pretty good cutaway view and can see how much thatch has built up. If the thatch is over ½” of thickness then you should dethatch as well.
Fertilization in the Fall is as important, if not more so then fertilization in the Spring. Typical fall fertilizing programs emphasize Potassium (The third key element in a fertilizer) and nitrogen to some extent with a minimal amount of phosphorous. A typical fall fertilizer for cool season grasses may be a 22-3-14. This is 22% Nitrogen, 3% Phosphorous and 14% Potassium. The nitrogen and potassium will help the lawn grasses grow a more extensive root system as well as develop new stems and shoots. Another key benefit of fertilizing in the fall is that of building up a store of carbohydrates, which will help the lawn grass make it through the winter
Fall feeding is beneficial to both grass types, Cools season as well as warm season. Cool season grasses can be fed twice in the fall, once in early September and again in mid to late October. Warm Season grasses should be fed early in the fall, early September being a good time for this. One of the benefits of feeding during this time frame is that although a warm weather grass is entering a period of slow leaf growth, it can dedicate it’s resources (and fertilizer) to growing it’s root system and storing carbohydrates. Please refer to the section on Fertilization for additional information.
Another important aspect of fall maintenance is cleaning up the leaves that are falling off the trees. Leaving the leaves on your lawn for extended periods of time rob it of the benefit of Sun, air and water, All essential elements to a healthy turf grass and a great looking lawn. It’s best to remove leaves completely, although for small quantities mowing it in with a mulching blade should be ok.
Continue to mow your lawn until it enters dormancy and the grass stops actively growing. No height adjustments are necessary (there is some controversy as to whether you should mow lower in preparation for winter). If you are compelled to mow lower, make it incrementally lower, certainly no lower then 20% of the height you normally mow to.
Other Fall Lawn Activities
Since fall is an active growing season it is also an ideal time to reseed a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn. There are two types of overseeding that you might do during the fall. The first is to overseed an existing cool season grass with seed of the same grass type to fill in bald or thin spots. The second is to overseed a warm season lawn with a cool season grass to give it a green look over the winter. Rye Grasses are often used when overseeding the lawns. Both perennial and annual grasses are used for overseeding warm season grasses. Annual rye is preferable since it won’t compete with the warm season grass once winter is over. A perennial rye will continue to grow and compete with the warm weather grass.
Whether establishing a new lawn or overseeding an existing lawn it is important to properly prepare the lawn bed so that you have the highest rate of germination with your seed.
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