Fall is the ideal season for many things, such as pumpkin carving and playing in piles of leaves. It is also the best time to newly seed or overseed a lawn. Fall lawn care practices are essential for lawns to be able to withstand the winter period of dormancy and frost. By taking the time to care for your lawn this fall, you’ll prime it to grow greener and healthier next spring!
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Time is of the essence when it comes to fall lawn care. Start fall lawn care once summer has ended and before cold, winter weather begins. Assess your lawn for summer damage and tailor your fall lawn care routine to address your lawn’s specific needs.
If you have a cool-season lawn, plant grass seed at least 45 days before the first fall frost. It is also crucial to fertilize your lawn in the fall if you live in the Northern part of the U.S.
Aim to get one application of fertilizer in between mid-August and mid-September, and another in early November (as long as there is no snow on the ground) to safeguard the lawn for winter.
Contrary to popular belief, fall is the best time to control lawn weeds before spring.
Broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions, chickweed, and henbit germinate in the cool, moist weather that occurs between September and October. The germinated weed seeds overwinter as small plants, then rapidly grow and flower with the arrival of warm, spring weather.
Once weeds have reached the flowering stage, they become incredibly difficult to control. This is why you should tackle weed problems in the fall before they become well-established.
Use weed killer, such as Lawn Weed Control, to control actively growing weeds in your lawn. If you apply Lawn Weed Control and plan on seeding in the fall, you must wait 30 days to seed post-application.
Thatch is a layer of organic matter consisting of stems, dead grass, and leaves, that builds up above the soil and below the crown of the grass blades. Thatch is a normal part of every lawn, but too much thatch can cause headaches for your yard.
Thatch buildup that is more than ½ an inch thick on your lawn can block access to air, water, and nutrients that grass seedlings need to grow. Excess thatch on your lawn can also harbor disease-causing fungi and insects that weaken and ultimately kill your grass.
Remove excess thatch by using a metal rake or a dethatcher machine. It should look like the picture below:
Do not rake so vigorously that healthy green grass is removed from your lawn.
Compacted soil can inhibit healthy root development and limit the flow of oxygen to the soil. Soil must be loose and porous prior to seeding for grass seedlings to germinate and grow.
Core aeration removes soil plugs from your yard, therefore creating space in the soil for air, water, and necessary nutrients to travel to your lawn’s root system. A core aerator can be rented from most garden centers or hardware stores.
If you’re looking for an alternative to heavy and unwieldy aerators, Jonathan Green Love Your Soil® naturally loosens compacted soil and increases necessary airflow to your lawn’s root system. Plus, you don’t need extra equipment, it’s easily applied with the same spreader you use for grass seed and fertilizer.
For more tips on treating compacted soil, check out our How to Treat Soil Compaction article.
If you want a thicker, greener lawn for spring, fall is the perfect time to overseed! The hot, summer sun has probably done a number on your grass, causing thin or dead spots. Take advantage of the fall season’s warm soil temperatures, ample moisture, and cool nights to thicken up a thinning lawn.
To prepare your lawn for overseeding, adjust your mower to the lowest setting and mow the area you want to seed. Be sure to bag clippings afterward. After mowing, rake the area with a metal rake to create grooves in the soil and remove dead grass and debris. This will help grass seeds make seed-to-soil contact and improve the rate of germination.
Want a complete guide to overseeding? Click on this How to Overseed Your Lawn article!
Fertilizing your cool-season lawn during fall is important to repair summer damage, supply it with nutrients to withstand the brutal winter months, and green up quicker in spring.
Cool season grasses like to be fertilized twice in the fall – one application in early fall (late August to September) and another in late fall (late October to November). The first application helps strengthen weak or brown spots from summer and the second helps to protect your lawn against winter disease. Make sure your second application occurs before the ground freezes.
Opt for a fertilizer rich in both potassium and nitrogen (the N and K in the NPK ratio found on the front of fertilizer bags) such as Winter Survival Fall Lawn Fertilizer. Nitrogen aids in plant growth and greener grass. Potassium builds stronger cell walls and root systems, which helps your lawn endure times of stress and harsh weather conditions.
As your grass is still growing throughout fall, it is important to continue to maintain a regular mowing schedule. Once grass growth begins to slow down, lower your mower height to about 2.5 inches. For the last mow of fall, which will usually be between late October to early November, drop your mower to 2 inches to discourage winter disease, such as snow mold.
Fall weather signals the end of sweltering, summer heat and the need to frequently water your lawn. Rainfall in autumn results in less evaporation and more moisture so your lawn can sustain itself. While this means your grass needs less to drink in the fall, this doesn’t mean you should stop watering altogether.
Water your lawn as needed, making sure it receives about one inch of water per week, including rainfall. Use a rain gauge (an inexpensive tool found at most garden centers) to keep track of how much water it receives. Continue to water your lawn until the ground freezes.
For a complete guide to watering your lawn, visit our How to Water Your Lawn page!
While fall leaves may look picturesque on your lawn they can be harmful to your grass. Leaving piled-up leaves on your lawn blocks necessary sunlight for new grass seedlings. If your lawn is damp, wet leaves can encourage lawn fungus and kill the grass underneath.
Remove leaves from your lawn by using a leaf blower or a rake. For newly seeded lawns it is best to use a leaf blower, as a rake may damage or hinder new seedlings from growing. If you choose to rake, carefully glide the rake over the leaves when the soil is dry to remove them.
Another great option for handling fall leaves on existing lawns is mulching them in. This helps to break down the leaves into nutrient-rich organic matter for your soil and lawn to absorb. If you have too many leaves, bag extra fall leaves and add them to your compost pile.
For easy, step-by-step instructions to compost fall leaves, read this How to Make Leaf Compost article!
If you have cool-season grass, fall is without a doubt the best season to care for your lawn! Feeding your lawn in fall repairs summer damage and gives it a boost of nutrients to survive the brutal winter ahead. If you want a thick carpet of dark green grass by spring, use fall to overseed or fill in any bare spots. Maintaining a mowing schedule and managing fall leaves will both prevent lawn fungus. Got some great fall lawn care tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below!
Want more essential tips for fall lawn care? Explore these articles:
- 5 Reasons Why It’s Best To Seed In the Fall
- Fall Lawn Fertilizer: Boost Your Lawn’s Health for Winter
- Can I Seed My Lawn in October?