How to Care for Your Lawn in the Fall

By: Beth Krietsch Fall, How to

Fall is one of the most important times of the year for tending your lawn—prep it for the oncoming cold and the following spring. Follow these fall lawn care steps to ensure your lawn is winter ready and prepared to shine once the sunshine rolls back in.

Water

The weather is cooling and your grass and plants may not appear to be begging for hydration anymore, but it’s important to water your lawn in the fall if natural rains aren’t getting the job done. Watering at this time of year is important because lawns are more likely to be damaged if they enter the winter season stressed from dry, drought-like conditions.

As in the summer, the best time to water will be mornings and evenings. Be sure not to overwater, which can cause nutrients to leach out of the soil. You can safely water your lawn up to the point of the first frost.

Mow

Be mindful of how long or short you keep your grass in the fall. Grass that is too short can stress the plants, and grass that’s too long may promote disease or mold growth in the spring. Raise mower blades a touch so that trimmed grass is a bit longer than in the summer, and leave the grass clippings on the lawn if your mower has mulching capabilities.

Weed

Remove dandelions, chickweed, and other aggressive broadleaf weeds so that they’re not able to leech important nutrients and water from your lawn that could better be used strengthening grasses for the winter. Removal will also help prevent invasive weeds from reseeding and multiplying.

Rake

As large amounts of leaves fall and carpet the ground, take steps to ensure they don’t smother the ground. If you choose to rake, consider composting the leaves or using them in your gardens as mulch in the spring. Or, use a mower to turn the leaves to mulch and leave them right there on the ground to fertilize the soil and suppress weed growth.

Fertilize

Fall is an important time to fertilize your grass to prepare it to be healthy and beautiful when winter eventually fades into spring and summer. Fertilize twice in the fall—just after Labor Day, and then again around the last time you mow prior to winter. If you’re looking to move beyond natural mulch created by fallen leaves, think about using a lawn spreader to apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. The University of Illinois suggests looking for types like ureaform, milorganite, IBDU, and sulfur-coated urea.

Side view of a lawn aerator removing moss from garden.See similar Garden related pictures from my portfolio:

Dethatch

Thatch is the layer of slow-decaying organic matter that lays between the soil surface and your grasses or plants. Though beneficial for insulation in small amounts of a half inch or less, thicker layers of thatch can lead to problems like pests and reduced oxygen to the roots of plants. Keep thatch layer control by raking and aerating your lawn.

Aerate

Aerating will help increase the amount of nutrients plants can absorb from your lawn, while also improving air circulation and drainage, minimizing soil compaction, and reducing the thatch layer. Aerate or dethatch at least one month before the first frost. You can calculate the date of the first frost in your area using the Almanac’s Frost Dates Calculator.

Plant and seed

Fall is the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs like crocus, tulips, hyacinth, and allium. If you’re going to sow new grass seed, the best time to seed is before the middle of September, allowing the grass time to grow in the fall before the cold weather sets in. Of course, you’ll need to water all your plantings.

Weatherize

Some plants and shrubs require weatherization in order to survive the winter. For rose plants and other perennials that have recently been planted, you’ll want to protect the plant by placing a mound of soil or mulch on top of the plant’s crown or bud after the first freeze. Evergreen trees and shrubs also need to be protected. Here are key steps for weatherization.

  1. Provide a deep watering in late fall before the ground freezes.
  2. Cover the ground around young trees with a layer of mulch.
  3. Shelter or cover trees with a burlap shelter in the late fall.

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