Don’t neglect fall lawn care and maintenance

“If you want a nice lawn in spring, put the work in now," says Damon Snyder of highly rated Lawn Medic in Indianapolis.

“If you want a nice lawn in spring, put the work in now," says Damon Snyder of highly rated Lawn Medic in Indianapolis.

The modern lawn is amazingly resilient. During the hottest, driest weeks of summer, it will go into protective dormancy during which growth slows and color fades. But then in late summer, after a few good rains and cooler temperatures, most grasses will bounce back with the return of lush, green growth.

If you’re under the impression that the mowing season is over and you should just let your lawn coast until winter – think again. Late season lawn care plays an important role in overall lawn health, and it will minimize the amount of time you'll spend on maintenance come spring.

Angie's List spoke with Damon Snyder, general manager of highly rated Lawn Medic in Indianapolis about fall lawn care tips.

Mowing

Your mowing frequency should decrease during the fall months as the grass focuses more of its energy on root growth instead of leaf growth. Snyder recommends setting the mower blade high to encourage deep root growth and to limit stress to the grass. A good rule of thumb is to mow to a height of 3 inches and to not remove more than 1/3 of the leaf at any one time. “My general rule is to mow high until the last two mowings of the year, and then you can mow lower going into the winter months,” Snyder says. “That way you don’t get a bunch of leaves and debris getting embedded into the yard.”

To add nutrients to your lawn, use the mulching feature on your mower. Grass clippings supply additional nitrogen to the lawn, while leaves and other yard debris can act as compost.

Fertilizing

There are several types of lawn fertilizer, and they can be identified by a code containing three numbers prominently on the front of the bag.

Each number in the three-number label represents the percentage by weight of the three main elements found in lawn fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The elements are always coded in the same order: nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium. Nitrogen is responsible for leaf growth, while phosphorus stimulates root growth and potassium strengthens cell function and helps to fight off disease.

For example, a 100-pound bag of fertilizer with a content label that reads "25-5-10" will contain 25 pounds of nitrogen, 5 pounds of phosphorus and 10 pounds of potassium.

So how much fertilizer should you use?

lawn burn
Too much fertilizer in one area will cause lawn burn. Use a broadcast spreader to evenly distribute granular fertilizer. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kimberly B. of Jacksonville, Fla.)

It’s always best to follow the application instructions on the bag itself, including when to apply it and how much to use. In general, for late season fertilizing, Snyder says you should apply 1 pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet of lawn. With a 25-5-10 mix fertilizer, that means you would use 4 pounds fertilizer total per thousand square feet of lawn, since the nitrogen makes up one-quarter of each pound of total fertilizer.

Snyder recommends two applications of fertilizer during the fall season. He says the first application should be a high nitrogen fertilizer in early fall to spur new growth, and the second application should have a high phosphorus content to stimulate root growth.

Weed and pest control

Use a broadleaf herbicide to treat weeds and dandelions. It’s more effective in the fall because like grass, weeds focus more energy on root development making it easier for the herbicide to easily reach the roots system. Snyder recommends a liquid weed control, which should be applied with a chemical sprayer for maximum efficiency.

Snyder warns that the rust fungus is one possible lawn nemesis that could show its face in the fall. “We often see it very prevalent after tough summers,” he says. “It’s one of the things we see in the fall and often get calls about.” You can spot rust by looking for a yellow or orange dust on their lawns. The dust is actually thousands of tiny spores, and many homeowners notice it on their shoes or after it gets tracked into the home. Rust occurs after a season of slow growth because its spores require 2-3 weeks for growth. Regular mowing removes the spores, so a summer with little rainfall leads to ideal conditions for rust growth.

If you prefer not to work with herbicides and fertilizers, you can hire a professional lawn care service to treat your lawn and repair damaged areas.

Seeding

Although spring might seem like the best time to plant grass seed, fall actually provides optimal weather conditions for growing grass and strengthening root systems.

“By far and large, it's better to sow grass in the fall than in the spring,” Snyder says. “The reason it's better is because of ground temperature. When the temperature starts to go down, the germination ratio starts to go way up. You get a fall growth and then you get a spring growth before the summer months.”

Snyder says you can repair small dead patches in the spring, but larger areas should be sowed in September, ideally within two weeks of Labor Day.

“Root systems are actually very active in the winter time,” he says. “By seeding in the late fall, you’re providing some energy for your roots that store the energy and then allow a quicker green-up and a better plant strength coming out of dormancy.”

When sowing grass seed, germination usually takes around 10-15 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 the grass on a daily basis to encourage root growth and to prevent it from drying out.

“If you want a nice lawn in spring, put the work in now," Snyder says. "The effort you put forth in the fall will pay off in the spring.”

For more information, visit the Angie's List Guide to Landscaping & Lawn Care.


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Tips on fall lawn care and landscaping projects

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Fall is a great time to work on hardscaping projects.  (Photo courtesy of Dee M., Kansas City, Mo.)
Fall is a great time to work on hardscaping projects. (Photo courtesy of Dee M., Kansas City, Mo.)

Don’t wait until spring to plan landscaping projects and lawn maintenance. Fall is a great time for landscaping, seeding, trimming and fertilizing your lawn.

Comments

I appreciate this story as it really helps explain the importance of lawn maintenance to home owners. I do wish that is also discussed mowing frequency for home owners. There seems to be a false idea out there that mowing the lawn is a weekly chore. In reality, the lawn needs to be mowed much more frequently. Many lawns need to be cut once every 4 or 5 days. And, that same lawn might only need to be cut 1x every 10-14 days in the summer. Still yet a lawn in a shaded area may need to be cut more often in the summer than a lawn that is exposed to the sun every day. This is especially true when the home owner is trying to follow the 'don't cut more than 1/3 of the blade off at a mowing rule. It's so often truly unrealistic to cut the lawn to 3" at one cutting without cutting off more than 1/3 of the blade. I also have to say that the height a lawn needs to be cut depends on many factors. Truth is that the taller the lawn regularly is the deeper the roots go into the soil which allows the lawn to access hydration better. Also, no lawn is the same. Even if you have the same species grass on 2 different properties oftentimes setting a mower at the same height for both properties may result in a different cut. No home is the same and no home maintenance program will be the same for each home.

Informative article. Didn't know to sow seeds in fall.

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