Fall Lawn Care

Caring for your lawn properly in the fall leads to healthy grass
in the spring with little effort. (Photo: Darrell Youngquest)

From mowing to seeding, fall maintenance sets up your lawn to emerge healthy and hardy in the coming spring. However, many homeowners stop paying attention to their lawns once cool weather sets in.

That’s a mistake. Not only does late-season yard care play an important role in overall lawn health, it minimizes the amount of time you’ll spend on maintenance once spring arrives.

How should you mow in the fall?
Continue mowing as long as new growth appears. Cut the grass to a height of 3 inches _ don’t assume mowing short will reduce time spent on lawn care.

That’s because in the fall, lawns focus more energy on root growth than blade growth. Scalping the turf stresses the roots, making it hard for lawns to resist weeds and pests, not to mention survive the winter.

As leaves drop, mulch them into the lawn along with grass clippings. Though many homeowners debate this practice, studies consistently show that mulching leaves causes no negative effects to lawns, turf or soil pH.

Just don’t let the leaves pile up. Mow each weekend, and it shouldn’t be a problem.

What about fertilizing?
Several fertilizer applications throughout fall should help your lawn recover from summer stress; improve color, root structure and density; and help it spring back after winter.

The No. 1 rule when applying fertilizer: Always follow the instructions, including when and how much to use. Fertilizer misuse can harm the environment, and even destroy a lawn.

Also, buy fertilizer specifically blended for lawns. Of the three main nutrients in fertilizer _ nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K) – nitrogen is the most important for grass, so the first number in the ratio on the bag should be the largest.

How much fertilizer should you use?
Typically, you should apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. To calculate how many pounds of nitrogen to apply per thousand square feet of lawn: Take 100 and divide it by the first number in the fertilizer ratio.

So, if your lawn is 1,000 square feet and you have a bag of 25-0-5 fertilizer, you’d want to use 4 pounds of product per application.

One last note about fertilizer: If you’re using granular fertilizer, use a broadcast spreader to ensure even application. Too much fertilizer in one area will burn and potentially kill the grass.

What’s the best way to tackle weeds?
For large infestations, consider a broadleaf herbicide, which comes in selective and non-selective forms. Selective herbicides only attack specific plants (dandelions, clover, etc.); non-selective herbicides kill everything they touch. For weeds within the lawn, use a selective herbicide, otherwise you’ll kill the grass.

If you’d rather not use a herbicide, you can always dig out weeds by hand, just make sure you pull out the root system or they’ll return the following spring. This method isn’t always practical for large areas covered in weeds.

Can you seed a lawn in the fall?
Yes. Some pros even recommend it. Cool temperatures and warm soil conditions make late-summer to early fall an optimal time to sow grass seed. Just don’t wait until too long, or the grass won’t establish by the time temperatures drop.

As for repairing dead patches, remove the grass down to the bare soil, use a rake to rough up the soil and then add seed.

Germination usually takes around 10 to 15 days. It’s important to keep the soil moist but not drenched during this period. After it starts to grow, you should continue to water on a daily basis to encourage root growth and to prevent it from drying out.

By Mike LaFollette, Angie’s List (TNS). Mike LaFollette is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.