For most people, the idea of lawn care evokes images of sweltering summer days and quality time with the lawnmower. Surprisingly, fall lawn care provides some of the most important benefits for a healthy lawn throughout the year. Whether your lawn will be facing harsh winter weather or a comfortably mild season, your grass requires a different care schedule during fall. Learn about the importance of fall lawn care and the steps you should take to prepare your yard for winter.
Why Is Fall Lawn Care Important?
Fall lawn care provides your yard with the preparations it needs to stay healthy over the winter. When your grass and soil get the sustenance they need for a healthy winter, the payoff is a naturally beautiful lawn come spring.
It’s a common belief that grass only needs care during peak growing season. While it’s true that your lawn needs a lot of care during the summer, fall lawn care is equally important. Taking care of certain tasks during the fall when your grass is entering dormancy will allow treatments to work more effectively, providing you with a beautiful lawn next year.
Following a specific schedule will ensure that you offer the best fall lawn care techniques without damaging tender grass or overworking your soil. Early fall lawn care tasks include fertilization, thatch removal, and weed control. Many tasks can be continued into mid-fall, including mowing and watering as necessary, aeration, and overseeding. Late fall lawn care tasks prepare your yard for winter, and generally include winterizing, debris removal, and mulching.
Your Step-by-Step Guide to Fall Lawn Care
If you think the end of summer means the end of lawn care, think again! The steps you take in the fall make a huge difference in the appearance of your lawn when spring arrives. Whether you’re already familiar with the details of fall lawn care, or you’re new to the idea, use this checklist to make sure you take all the right actions to prepare your lawn for healthy winter hibernation.
1. Remove the Leaves
It’s a common myth that fallen leaves will insulate your lawn for winter. This isn’t true. A thick layer of leaves blocks sunlight, traps moisture, and eliminates air circulation. Leaf management can be accomplished with various tools depending on the volume of leaves you have and how much time you’re willing to invest. Grab the rake to pile leaves, or if you’re short on time, use the leaf blower. A thin layer of leaves can be mulched into small pieces and left where it lies.
Fall Lawn Care Pro Tip:
Leaf removal must be repeated several times throughout the fall. Leaf removal is Step 1, but it’s also Step 2.5, 3.5, 4.5, etc. Raking and disposing of leaves more often allows sunshine and fresh air to reach your grass and soil.
2. Test Your Soil
Your soil needs nutrients to grow healthy grass. Soil testing provides you with the information you need to feed your lawn to prepare for winter correctly. Testing will help you understand your soil’s pH and nutrition. Testing helps remove the guesswork from adding the proper nutrients and fertilizer when the time comes.
Fall Lawn Care Pro Tip:
Testing bare spots separately can help you repair trouble spots for a seamless lawn for the next growing season.
3. Keep Mowing
Many homeowners stop mowing grass when growth slows in the fall. But mowing to the correct height for winter hibernation is an important step in your fall lawn care routine. Surprisingly, grasses often found in northern climates like Kentucky Bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and many types of fescue need to be cut shorter during the fall. Grass that’s left too long in winter can encourage mold growth and diseases. Gradually reduce the grass length each time you mow until you reach a mowing height of 3 inches or even 2.5.
Fall Lawn Care Pro Tip:
Your lawnmower can do double duty when leaves are on the ground. Mulching leaves into dime-size pieces can save you from an afternoon with the rake.
4. Remove Thatch
Summer heat and a busy mowing schedule lead to a thick layer of organic matter between soil and grass. This thatch can benefit thin lawns but can cause problems for healthy turf. When thatch becomes more than a half-inch thick, it can limit water movement and encourage disease. To remove excess thatch, use a handheld rake, vertical mower, or a dethatcher. It’s important to cut into the thatch layer to pull it up effectively.
5. Loosen the Soil
Aerating your lawn is essential to provide compacted soil with a breath of fresh air. You may not need to aerate your soil every year, but compacted soil can inhibit root system growth and block water from reaching deep into the soil. Tools for aeration vary from manual footwear with spikes on the soles to machines called core aerators that remove plugs of soil. All types of aerators leave holes in the soil for easier introduction of air and water. Aeration right before fertilization can help you get essential nutrients directly to the soil.
6. Feed Your Lawn
Dormancy for grass is similar to hibernation for animals. Adding the right nutrients before winter’s first frost prepares your grass for healthy hibernation and increased spring growth. For instance, potassium in lawn fertilizer helps your grass survive cold temperatures. Your completed soil tests will help you understand the right techniques for repairing bare spots and adding the nutrients your entire lawn needs to stay healthy. Always apply fertilizer as directed on the package.
Tips for Fertilizer Safety and Success:
- Fill the spreader in the driveway to avoid spillage that will overexpose and kill the grass.
- Seal partially used bags of fertilizer with tape and store them in a dry place.
- Cover reseeded areas with plastic to avoid burning tender seedlings when you fertilize.
- Rinse out the garden spreader and allow it to dry completely before storage to avoid rusting and freezing of metal parts.
7. Overseed and Repair Bare Spots
While many people wait until early spring to spread seed, fall conditions are actually ideal for grass germination. Thin lawns that receive overseeding treatments in the fall will reward you with thick, healthy spring grass. A dense lawn is also an ideal defense against weed growth. Whether you’re repairing bare spots or giving your entire lawn a boost, overseed at least 45 days before the first frost to ensure tender grass has a chance to take hold. Seeds can be protected until germination by covering your lawn with a thin layer of mulch or hay.
8. Keep Watering
A common mistake of lawn care is the elimination of watering during the fall season. Increased rain can help your watering schedule, but it’s important to remember that healthy lawns need an inch of water each week. Use a rain gauge to keep up with how much natural water your lawn is getting and continue to supplement that amount into October. Besides keeping your existing grass healthy, a regular watering schedule is essential for new grass growth from overseeding.
9. Stay Ahead of Weeds
As grass continues to grow in the fall, weeds do the same. Tackling weeds in the fall can be the key to getting rid of annual and perennial weeds that plague your yard and gardens. Many common problem weeds like dandelion, clover, crabgrass, and other broadleaf plants thrive in the fall. Using herbicides that include a pre- and post-emergent treatment will eliminate a variety of invasive plants in one step. Targeted spot treatments may be required to tackle tough weeds.
10. Cleanup and Storage
Proper care and storage of lawn furniture, decorations, and tools is an essential part of your lawn care routine. When the weather is no longer suitable for the use of outdoor furniture, proper cleaning and storage can extend the life of these pieces. Rinse away dust and dirt with a water hose. Clean any hard surfaces with a sponge or cloth and mild dish detergent, and wash the cushions or cushion covers as directed by the label. Ensure that all furniture is completely dry before covering for winter storage.
While you’ll use your lawnmower and other tools well into the fall season, you’ll need to take care to store these tools properly before winter sets in. Take the time to winterize machines like your lawnmower and any other tools that use gas and other fluids. Rinse and dry hand tools before storing for the winter to prolong the life of these tools.
Fall Lawn Care Tips for Warm Weather Lawns
Lawns that face mild winters require different levels of care than lawns that hibernate during the fall and winter seasons. Warm weather grasses like Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass, and centipede grass require different care than cool climate grasses. Take these steps to keep your warm weather lawn healthy during the fall and winter seasons.
1. Test the Soil
No matter where your property is located, your lawn needs essential nutrients. Soil testing benefits all grass types by helping you understand what nutrients are missing. Making the recommended corrections now will put you one step closer to a beautiful yard in the spring.
2. Stop Fertilizing
Before winter frost arrives, you need to let your lawn know it’s time for a dormant season. Six to eight weeks before the first frost, your lawn should have its last feeding. The continuation of fertilizer can actually make your grass more vulnerable to winter temperatures.
3. Spread Winter Seed
Overseeding for the winter season takes on a different meaning for warmer climates. Instead of overseeding for thinning lawns, spread a cool season grass seed like perennial ryegrass to avoid a brown, dormant winter lawn. Time winter seeding with the loss of color in warm season grasses.
4. Skip Thatch Removal and Aeration
While these tasks are useful for creating healthy lawns, saving them for spring is your best bet in warmer climates. Dethatching and aeration can be hard on grasses. Taking care of these tasks in the spring when the grass is actively growing can help your lawn bounce back from potential damage. These tasks can be followed by overseeding thin lawns.
5. Customize Your Watering Schedule
If you don’t seed for winter color, you can let rainfall take over much of your watering schedule. As lawns grow dormant, you only need to continue your watering schedule while the grass is still growing. If you seed for a winter lawn, continue your watering schedule as needed to provide your lawn with one inch of water each week.
6. Attack Weeds
Dormant lawns make weeds an easy target. Spot treat these easy-to-see weeds with a post-emergent treatment designed for actively growing weeds. Your best choice will be a weed killer that handles a broad range of weeds in one treatment.
7. Manage Leaves
There are a couple of ways to manage leaves that can improve the health of your lawn. If your lawn isn’t subject to heavy leaf cover, mulching leaves can act as additional fertilizer for your growing grass. If you typically experience a heavy cover of leaves, using a rake or leaf blower is the best way to allow your lawn to get the necessary sunlight and water movement to remain healthy. Clear away leaves as often as needed during the fall season.
Fall Prep for Flower Beds and Gardens
Your garden needs special care for proper winter hibernation and healthy spring growth. Whether you grow vegetables or flowers and colorful plants, preparing your gardens and raised beds for winter will improve their condition next year. Take these steps to prepare your flower beds and gardens for the fall and winter season.
1. Deadhead and Clean
As summer plants die out, it’s important to remove plant waste. Remove dying blooms from plants that are still growing. Clear away rotted, dead, or dying plants. As perennials begin to die out, cut away brown, rotting plant parts and only leave healthy growth behind. While organic matter can provide some nutrients for the soil, a heavy mat of dead and dying vegetation can rob the soil of air and proper hydration.
2. Remove Weeds
Invasive weeds that remain in place during the winter will thrive when spring arrives. Tackling invasive weeds throughout the fall will help you avoid dealing with these plants in the spring. Pulling up weeds is an efficient means of disposal, but it can be labor-intensive if you have a large garden. The use of an appropriate herbicide may be needed, as well.
3. Trim and Prune
Shrubs and perennials will survive the winter in most climates. Proper fall care will help ensure these plants look their best next spring. Trim away dead or dying blooms, branches, and leaves to eliminate the chance of extended damage and debris during the winter season. Avoid pruning hardy plants like shrub roses to allow them to go into a dormant state naturally. Instead, leave roses on the shrub, so they can turn into hips and produce seeds, signaling the end of the growing season.
4. Plant Perennials and Spring Blooming Bulbs
Bulbs that will bloom in spring can start a healthy root system in the fall. In fact, in many climates, fall is a better time to plant than spring. As the air cools and the soil remains warm, new plants will concentrate growth on the root system instead of growing foliage and flowers. Plant your spring bulbs during early and mid-fall to have thriving plants next spring.
5. Plant Cover Crops
Using crops during winter can provide a variety of benefits for your soil. Cover crops can help insulate roots and bulbs below the surface. Many of these crops also add essential nutrients to the soil. Select cover crops that work with your climate and meet your needs. Some cover crops are designed to prevent winter erosion. Others perform tasks like adding nitrogen to the soil and managing pests.
6. Winterize Summer Bulbs
Taking proper care of your bulbs can mean they last longer than only one season. Dahlias, gladioli, and other frost-sensitive bulbs should be dug up in the fall and replanted in spring. Store bulbs in a paper bag in a cool, dry place to prepare them for spring planting.
Mulch provides the root systems of your plants with much-needed protection against winter temperatures. This versatile covering will also protect tender plants from excessive heat when spring arrives. In some climates, a mulch layer can protect bulbs and eliminate the necessity of digging them up each fall. A layer of organic mulch provides benefits and nutrients for all types of gardens.
DIY Winterization Tips for a Healthy Yard
Fall is the season to prepare for harsh winter weather. Besides preparing your soil and grass for this weather, it’s essential to take care of the other features that keep your yard healthy and comfortable. Take these steps to prepare your entire outdoor space for a safe and healthy winter season.
Check and Clean Gutters
Your gutters provide a way to direct water away from your home and avoid standing water in the yard. During the fall, they often become clogged with leaves and other falling debris. Find a partner and use a ladder to inspect your gutters safely. Scoop out large debris and place them into a bucket or drop them to the ground. Flush out debris with a hose and watch for leaks so that they can be repaired before winter.
Prepare Decks and Pools for Winter
Outdoor living spaces are more popular than ever. Taking care of the elements that make up your outdoor living space can give them a longer lifespan. For example, properly winterize your pool. Take the time to give your deck a fall cleaning. Cover any appliances, furniture, or other features that are permanently installed on your landscape to eliminate the dangers caused by falling debris and harsh winter weather.
Fall Tree Care
Your trees are an important part of your lawn. Unfortunately, they can be dangerous when winter freezes and storms arrive, unless they’ve had the proper care. After leaves have fallen, search for dead, broken, or crossed branches that need to be removed. Fertilize tree roots and replace the mulch cover around the base of young trees to protect tender root systems. Water the tree roots until temperatures dip below 40 degrees. Investigate your trees and shrubs throughout the fall. Always remember to properly dispose of the resulting debris to eliminate dangerous projectiles and tripping risks.
Winterize Your Sprinkler System
Many homeowners use a sprinkler system well into fall. Before the first freeze arrives, it’s essential to winterize your system to protect against damaged parts and burst pipes. This is a service that may be provided by your landscaper. However, with the right techniques, it’s a job you can accomplish yourself.
Begin by shutting off the supply of water to the system. There are three ways to eliminate water from your sprinkler system. The process you choose will depend on the type of system you have. For sprinkler systems with manual valves, open all valves to allow water to drain completely from the system. When the system is drained, close the valves. Some systems have automatic valves that allow you to automatically drain water by running one of the sprinkler heads to reduce pressure in the system. Check valves will need to be drained separately.
If you have the proper knowledge, tools, and experience, it’s possible to completely dry out your irrigation system with the introduction of compressed air. It’s important to note that this method can be dangerous without the correct procedure, safety precautions, and for certain sprinklers. You will need an air compressor and the proper coupling to attach the hose to your irrigation system for this method.
Prepare for Snow Cover
Areas that experience considerable snowfall each year can have dangerous obstacles in their yards. Remove large rocks and other debris from large spaces. Roll up garden hoses and properly store them indoors to avoid unseen tripping hazards. Plan clear paths to create trails without obstacles for your snowblower to encounter when you least expect it.
Fall lawn care is an easy and effective way to prepare your yard for the upcoming spring season and protect your property against harsh winter weather. Following this guide to fall lawn care will help you eliminate many spring chores and make it easier to create a yard that’s healthy and beautiful throughout the entire year.
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