will be the first one to say that I do not care for my lawn in the fall. Frankly, after mowing it all summer long, I am ready for a break but….if I want to have a healthy lawn in the spring then I need to care for it in the fall. There is a direct relationship between fall care of one’s lawn and how it looks in the spring. Lazy fall lawn care equates out to a terrible looking spring and summer lawn and more work for me in the end. But where should one begin?
The first step of the process begins with your lawn mower. In the spring and summer, you should have raised your mower deck to its highest setting. I know what you are thinking and that is you will need to mow more often. While this is true, it does give your grass the ability to survive through times of drought. Also, keeping the grass tall during the growing season allows the grass to develop stronger and denser root mass. This stronger root system keeps weeds from taking hold in the lawn.
Now that we know the science behind grass height, what height do we need for fall lawn care? A good number to go for is a 2 inch height. While I know you can have drought situations during the fall, the shorter grass height keeps the grass from matting down from the weight of leaves and snow. While you may think that a 2 inch grass height is great, do not consider going shorter. A shorter grass height will produce grass with a weaker root system, which is a welcome mat for weeds.
The next step is creating a watering program. While most gardeners water during the spring and summer months, believe it or not you can also have a water issue in the fall. The easiest way to tell if your lawn is getting enough water is through a rain gauge. This gauge can be used to measure Mother Nature’s water along with what you apply through your sprinkler system. For best results, check your rain gauge whenever it rains. If your lawn is not receiving between one to two inches a week, go ahead and irrigate once or twice a week. Do not forget about your rain gauge. This simple tool can also help you monitor the amount of water your lawn is receiving from you.
Now that you know that your lawn may need supplemental watering during the fall, do not fall into the trap of watering anytime of the day. As in the spring and summer, you should only water in the morning. This will give your grass time to dry before nightfall, which is an important technique to keep fungus at bay.
The third step in fall lawn care has to do with the type of grass you may have. You may not realize this but there are two different types of grasses. One is a cool season grass that as the name applies, thrives in cool weather. The second type is a warm season grass, which thrive in warm weather. If you live in a cold climate, you will want to overseed your lawn with a cool season grass. This will give you a lush green cover over your lawn while your warm season grass is dormant.
The process of overseeding starts with placing your lawn clipping bag on your mower and lowering your mower deck by ½ inch. Once you have mowed your grass, overseed the area by making one swipe in one direction and then repeating at a 45 degree angle.
After your seed has been planted, do not forget to water. Once your seed has germinated, begin to extend the time between waterings. This will cause the grass roots to grow deeper, which will make them less susceptible to droughts.
Next, feed your lawn if you have overseeded. Cool season grasses will benefit from a feeding in early fall and then again in late fall.
Once you have overseeded your lawn, the next step is to kill perennial weeds. This includes clover and dandelions. While you can use chemical applications to get rid of these weeds, a better approach is to just dig them up and overseed the area.
Now that you have your lawn overseeded, what do you do about those special areas? You know what I am talking about, those small, brown areas that have just appeared in your lawn. This can be from your dog, debris that has fallen on the lawn, and diseased areas. The solution is to reseed the area but the grass seed that you used to overseed will not do. Why is this? The grass seed you used in your “grass” areas should have been just plain old grass seed. The living grass itself that you planted your grass seed in will protect it, which is not the case on bare areas. These areas are open to the sun, rain, and other elements. To give your grass seed the best chance, purchase a grass seed that is encapsulated with a mulch and fertilizer. This will keep the seed in place, moist, and feed, which means your bare spot will be lust in no time.
While the above technique will work for small areas, what do you do for larger areas? The answer is somewhat confusing. Yes, you can reseed large areas but you are running a chance of having a weed problem that develops as the soil remains bare while you are waiting for your grass seed to germinate. To reduce the chances of this happening, if you have a large area you may consider laying sod instead. This technique will cover the bare soil and prevent weeds from taking over.
Boy, at this point you are thinking about how much work it takes to care for your lawn in the fall but do not sit back and think you are done. Many people will set their mower to the right height, overseed, water, treat for weeds, and address those special places with seed or sod but they forget about the leaves in the fall. While a few leaves are fine and actual good for your lawn if they are mulched, a blanket of leaves left on your lawn can be the downfall of all your work. If you find that your lawn is covered in leaves, rake them up as soon as possible. The weight of the leaves will crush your newly seeded lawn and can smother the grass. Once they are raked, you can mow as usual.
What do you do with these leaves? Do not throw them away. If you cannot return them to your lawn’s soil, consider using them as mulch in your landscaping or place them in your compost pile.
Fall lawn care can be a little intimidating but understanding the reasons behind each one of these techniques will help you develop your own fall lawn care plan. With a little time and effort, you too can have a lawn that you are proud of and the best part is you can say you did it yourself.