Lawn Care Basics: 5 Steps for Fall Maintenance

posted on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 in Residential Property Tips

Fall Maintenance

When the temperature dips and the leaves turn, it signals that lawn care season is coming to a close. As your grass heads into dormancy, growth slows. Your mowing load lightens and your water bill shrinks. 

But you shouldn’t shove your lawn care equipment into storage just yet. There’s still important work to be done for the health and beauty of your lawn. As the seasons change, your lawn’s needs change too. So you have to make some adjustments to your lawn maintenance schedule and leave your lawn looking as good in the fall as it did in the spring.

1. Aerate and overseed early.

The cooler temps that make springtime ideal for aeration and seeding provide another window in the fall. Your soil gets compacted over the summer, especially if you didn’t aerate your lawn earlier in the year. Poking holes in the soil opens up areas where air, water, and nutrients can enter. It helps the grass establish deeper roots and increased density.

The best time to aerate and spread grass seed in the Tennessee–Alabama region is mid-September to mid-October. This gives the seed time to germinate and develop a good root system before winter sets in. Pair your John Deere riding lawn mower with a tow-behind aerator to remove plugs of soil — or an aerator-spreader to do both jobs at once.

If you like greenspace year-round, overseed with a cool-season grass, like perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, or Kentucky Bluegrass. The cool-season grass will green up right as your warm-season grass browns.

2. Slow the flow of water.

There’s less heat to stress your lawn in the fall. But there’s also less precipitation to keep it thriving. Autumn rainfall in the mid-South is lower than precipitation in the spring — even the summer in parts of the region. Some watering is still necessary.

Water is also an important ingredient for new grass. After you overseed, water at least once a day in the early weeks to help your new grass grow. Once your overseeded lawn is established, give it the occasional sprinkling so that it stays green and healthy throughout the fall months.

For best results, water deeply and infrequently so it gets down to the roots. Do it in the morning so that it has a better chance of penetrating the plant and doesn’t evaporate in the sun.

3. Fertilize but hold the herbicide.

Early fall is your last chance to fertilize a warm-season lawn. Cool-season grasses should be fertilized in the late fall only. Apply a starter fertilizer shortly after you throw down your new grass seed to help it shoot up quickly. If you’re not seeding, use a winter fertilizer to feed your grass one last time before the cold weather comes.

Avoid herbicides as much as you can. It may kill your new grass as well as all the weeds. Most weeds start to die out in the fall. Wait it out and your weed problem takes care of itself. If weeds are giving you a headache, use herbicide after your new grass is more established, but while the soil is still at 70 degrees.

4. Mow as long as it grows.

While fall temperatures are similar to those in the spring, grass is in a very different stage. Growth is headed in the opposite direction. Instead of getting jumpstarted and growing rapidly, it’s slowing down and getting ready to stop altogether.

The height of the grass determines the amount of leaf surface to support growth. So fall is a good time to reconsider your cutting height. Raise the deck of your lawn mower to support the development of new turf, combat the drier conditions, and to help insulate the soil from the colder temps to come. If you’re not seeding or facing environmental stress, lower the deck to cut your grass on the shorter end of recommended levels to allow the soil to breathe.

5. Mulch, blow, and rake.

Mulch, whether from grass clippings or dead leaves, puts nutrients back into the soil and helps your lawn grow. Leave the bag off your John Deere lawn tractor and use the side discharge or a mulch kit instead.

In November, when the leaves really start falling, it can be too hard to mulch as quickly as the trees are shedding leaves. And a thick layer of leaves can choke your new grass and limit established turf’s recovery from summer stress. Rake and bag the excess leaves to get them off your lawn. Or use a battery-powered or electric leaf blower to keep your yard free of debris.

With the growing season winding down in the fall, your lawn’s needs change yet again. And what you do in autumn will set your lawn up for better growth in spring. So take advantage of the lighter mowing load by taking steps to ensure the health of your lawn for the seasons to come.

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