8 Fall Lawn Maintenance Projects to Complete Before the First Freeze

Fall is the best time to restore your garden and turf from the scorching summer heat. Along with being the perfect time to rejuvenate your lawn, fall is also your window to prepare plants for the winter season. This period can be crucial to your turf and garden’s survival, so don’t take it lightly.

We’ve got you covered if you need some help establishing a fall lawn maintenance routine. We’ll provide eight must-know lawn care tips for a healthy autumn yard.

8 Lawn Care Tips for Flourishing Fall Turf

Clean Up Leaves

Clearing your lawn of fallen leaves is one of the most important fall lawn maintenance projects. Piles of leaves atop the turf can cause the grass to matt down, develop diseases, or simply become deprived of sunlight and oxygen. Prevent the lovely fall leaves from killing your yard by clearing them ASAP. Be sure to remove leaves from your gutters while you’re at it. Clogged gutters can send waves of rainwater splashing down on your precious landscaping.

You have a couple of options for leaf clearing and disposal. Homeowners with smaller lawns and only a bag or two of leaves may opt to rake by hand and throw the leaves away. Those with larger lawns or huge amounts of leaves may be better off cleaning up with a lawn mower bagger. These tools collect debris as you ride along, eliminating the task of scooping the piles by hand. If you’d prefer to use the crunchy, colorful leaves instead of trashing them, consider composting, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Start a Compost Pile

Turning dead leaves into compost is an excellent way to maintain your landscaping while producing your very own lawn care product. Compost is a mixture of organic matter like dead leaves, food scraps, and plant clippings that decompose into a nutrient-rich concoction perfect for feeding your lawn and garden. Keep trash bags full of leaves out of landfills and return them to the soil with the steps below.

How to compost fall leaves:

  1. Create a pile of leaves in the corner of your yard. The Sierra Club suggests keeping leaf piles at a 3-foot-tall by 3-foot-wide maximum to allow for sufficient aeration.
  2. Some people assume they should start a compost pile on a tarp or in a bin, but on the bare earth works just fine. It allows worms and other organisms to aid in the decomposition process.
  3. Add freshly fallen leaves to the pile as the older ones start to break down. Feel free to add food scraps, sticks, and grass clippings to the pile. Don’t add animal products like grease or bones that could attract pests.
  4. The pile should be moist, so spritz it with water if it starts drying. If the pile is in direct sunlight, shade it with a tarp until the brightness passes. Avoid placing the tarp directly onto the pile, which could cause excessive heat buildup. Lay the sheet across two chairs or tall stakes to create an awning for the heap.

Encourage airflow and thorough decomposition by turning the compost with a shovel every couple of weeks – especially after adding fresh leaves. By the time spring comes back around, you’ll have a pile of nutritious compost for your lawn and garden.

Remove Weeds and Dead Shrubs

Many homeowners think winter temperatures will kill the weeds infesting their lawns, but this isn’t the case. Weeds are incredibly hardy and can survive through almost any season. In fact, some even become stronger during the winter by absorbing energy from dormant grass and shrubs. You’ll be shocked to find a weedy lawn when the next spring comes around.

Prevent this peril by applying weed control products before cold weather arrives. Early fall is a good time to apply a pre-emergent weed killer to your lawn. This product eliminates existing weeds and those that have yet to pop up. For this reason, you should apply pre-emergent herbicides even in areas without visible weed growth. This lawn care guide will show you how and when to apply weed killers for a healthy lawn in all seasons.

Once you’ve treated your lawn for pesky plants, assess the state of your existing flowers and shrubs. If you see any dead growths, it’s best to go ahead and pull them up. Removing dead shrubs in the fall will save you the hassle of yanking them from the frozen ground later in the year. Consider replacing the dead plants with winter bloomers to maintain a beautiful landscape throughout the winter.

Aerate and Dethatch the Lawn

Allowing your lawn to breathe after summer’s suffocating heat is crucial to its survival for the rest of the year. Luckily, lawn aeration and dethatching are the perfect solutions.

Lawn aeration involves poking holes in the ground to allow water and nutrients to reach the grass roots. This process reduces the likelihood of soil compaction and matting under autumn’s inevitable leaf cover. Give your yard a breath of fresh air by treating it with core aeration. You or a hired professional can use a core aerator tool to remove tiny plugs of soil from the ground, thus alleviating compaction and improving airflow.

Dethatching your lawn in the fall is another way to save it from suffocation. Thatch is a buildup of dead grass and other organic matter atop the soil. Some dead plant matter is healthy for the lawn and provides it with vital nutrients. However, too much buildup prevents water and oxygen from reaching the roots, eventually leading to bare spots or nasty fungal turf diseases. Dethatching is the process of using a rake or tow-behind tool to till up and remove the matted layer from the turf.

Aeration and dethatching can be performed DIY, professionally, manually, or with a power tool. Each choice has different cost options involved, so be sure to do your research before fall arrives.

Plant Cool-season Grasses

Your lawn may flourish with warm-season grasses like Bermuda grass and zoysia grass, which do well in summer’s hot, dry summer conditions. However, they often die out during cold winters, leaving your yard with dead brown patches. Luckily, you can spare your home’s curb appeal by overseeding your lawn with cool-season grasses.

Overseeding is the process of applying new grass seed to an existing lawn. It eliminates the need to dig up your yard and start from scratch, allowing the turf to transition smoothly between seasons.

The three most common cool-season grasses:

  • Kentucky bluegrass is a persistent cool-season grass with a rich, dark green color and an aggressive spreading habit. This plant’s durability makes it a great choice for bare spots or thinning turf.
  • Perennial ryegrass is a fast-growing turf known for its high foot traffic tolerance and lightning-fast growth. Ryegrass is an excellent choice for homeowners looking for a quick, green lawn as the temperatures drop.
  • Tall fescue is another option for cool-season grasses. This family of grasses is tolerant to cold and hot temperatures, making it a fantastic choice for fall overseeding.

Mow With Care

Start cutting your grass shorter at the start of fall to keep it from matting under leaf piles. Don’t drastically change the height all at once – this may cause the turf to go into shock. Instead, gradually lower your lawn mower’s blades throughout the season, ensuring they’re at approximately 2 inches up by the onset of winter. Avoid cutting the grass any shorter than this to prevent vulnerability to pests and diseases.

Apply Fertilizer

You should typically fertilize your lawn once in the late spring and again during peak summer when the turf is under heat stress. As the weather starts cooling down, your grass will need help recovering from the summer season. For this reason, you should apply fertilizer again between August and November and then once more in six to eight weeks to maintain the lawn until spring.

According to Spring Green Lawn Care Corp., fall fertilization is one of the most important things you can do for your lawn. This notion is especially true for cool-season grasses needing extra support to grow during this time.

Set your fall lawn up for success with these fertilizer tips:

  • Apply fertilizer after a light rain or sprinkler has watered the lawn. Avoid fertilizing before it rains to prevent the product from washing away.
  • Consider a slow-release lawn fertilizer if your grass is patchy. This product provides a consistent supply of important nutrients that will help even out the growth.
  • Fertilize after mowing to allow for better absorption and to avoid wasting the product.

Prepare Your Perennials

Many perennial plants enter dormancy during the cold season, leaving them in a slow-growing, energy-saving state. Prepare your plants for cold weather with the following tips:

  • Stop fertilizing perennials by the end of summer to discourage them from blossoming.
  • Prune the plants and cut down on watering to stop them from growing. This step prepares them to enter a dormant state before frost arrives.
  • Mulch around your garden beds to provide insulation and weed suppression throughout the cold season.
  • If you live in a cold winter climate, consider covering your outdoor beds with a frost blanket to maintain warmth around the plants.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article helps you prepare your lawn for the tail end of the year. Remember that fall is your annual opportunity to prepare your plants for winter, so a detailed autumn lawn care schedule is key to their success. With diligent maintenance, thorough preparation, and consistent care, your yard will breeze through the winter months into a fruitful spring.

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