Get a better lawn with less effort.
Caring for the lawn is a year-round job, but when autumn comes around it’s time for a change of pace. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda grass and zoysia, grow slowly when the overnight temperatures cool down. And while cool-season grasses like tall fescue and bluegrass perk up with the cooler weather, they too slow down in the fall. As growth tapers off, it’s the perfect time to prevent weeds, prepare the lawn for winter, and take steps to ensure a lush, verdant lawn next spring. Ahead, learn 10 easy ways to get a better-looking, healthier lawn.
Aerate the soil.
It’s tough to grow grass in compacted soil. Dense soil resists deep root growth, leading to sparse grass coverage and fast die-off in hot, dry weather. Core aeration opens up the texture of heavy, compacted soil, allowing roots, moisture, and nutrients to penetrate deeply. This helps make the grass more resilient in hot weather and reduces the need for lawn repairs.
Fall is a good time to aerate yards before overseeding with tall fescue or ryegrass. For the best results, aerate a day or so after a deep, soaking rain. Alternatively, irrigate the soil deeply before aerating. Moist soil allows the aerator to penetrate deeply, opening up the root zone. Apply lime, starter fertilizer, and grass seed within two days of aerating.
Related: 10 Remedies to Rescue a Dying Lawn
Apply lime and fertilizer.
Grass needs good nutrition to grow strong and healthy. Two key components of lawn nutrition are soil pH and nutrient content. Soil pH determines the plant’s ability to take up nutrients. The ideal pH varies between 5.8 and 7.2, depending on the species of grass. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the major nutrients that fuel plant growth. Nitrogen feeds foliage, phosphorus helps roots grow, and potassium benefits overall plant vigor.
Test the soil to determine which nutrients and amendments you’ll need for a healthy lawn. You may need to add lime, which raises the pH if it’s too low. Starter fertilizer helps newly seeded grass to become established, while winterizer fertilizer provides nutrients that warm-season grasses can store in their roots for a quick start in the spring.
Seed or overseed cool-season grass.
Cool-season lawns that are seeded in the fall grow deep, extensive root systems and perform better through summer heat. Discontinue the use of all weed killers a month or more prior to seeding, and do not apply pre-emergent herbicide.
Six to eight weeks before the first frost, mow the grass at the lowest setting. If the soil is heavy clay, use a core aerator to prepare the soil. Apply lime and starter fertilizer as indicated by a soil test. Seed at the recommended rate for your chosen variety of grass, then lightly cover with straw to protect from erosion and retain moisture. Do not allow leaves to accumulate on newly seeded lawns. Allow the grass to grow 4 to 6 inches high before mowing.
Water as needed.
Fall is a dry time of year in many areas, but grass needs an inch of water per week to look and grow its best. Water warm-season grasses until they begin to go dormant. Water cool-season grasses during dry weather until the first hard freeze.
Newly seeded grass needs additional care to ensure a high germination rate and deep root establishment. Immediately after spreading seed, water lightly every day so the soil doesn’t dry out. After two weeks, gradually increase the watering duration and decrease the frequency to 0.5 inches of water (total of rain and irrigation combined) twice weekly until cold weather sets in.
Apply pre-emergent herbicide.
Where poa annua, chickweed, henbit, and other early spring weeds have been problematic in the past, pre-emergent herbicide can help. Pre-emergent weed killers eliminate annual weeds by preventing their seeds from sprouting. Use pre-emergent on established lawns that will not be seeded this fall. Areas with mild winters may require a second application in early winter.
Spot treat broadleaf weeds.
Broadleaf weeds like dandelions, oxalis, and clover may reappear after heat dissipates in the fall. They look especially bad in dormant warm-season lawns. Many lawn weed killers control broadleaf weeds in cool fall temperatures, but be careful not to stress the grass. Rather than applying a broadcast weed treatment over the entire lawn, simply spot spray the individual weeds.
Related: 9 Natural Ways to Kill Weeds
Mow less often.
A rule of thumb is that mowing should remove between ¼ and ⅓ of the height of the grass. Ideal grass height ranges from 1 to 4 inches, depending on the type of grass. Because grass grows more slowly in the fall, you can maintain the ideal height without mowing as frequently. So, instead of mowing every week, cut down to once every two or three weeks.
Stop bagging the clippings.
Bagging clippings is generally unnecessary. Doing so removes organic matter and nutrients that would otherwise improve the soil and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements. Plus, bagged clippings must then be disposed of in some way. Eliminate the extra work, and watch the lawn improve. If you don’t like the look of clippings on the lawn, switch from a standard mower blade to a mulching blade for a tidier finish after mowing.
Leave the leaves.
Once the leaves begin falling, it takes weeks for the trees to go bare. Until that time, weekly raking or blowing is the norm—but it doesn’t have to be. Left on the lawn, fallen leaves add valuable organic matter and trace minerals that are beneficial to the grass. Unless the leaf volume threatens to smother newly emerging grass seedlings, simply mow the leaves into the lawn.
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