A luscious green lawn, which begs you to walk barefoot on doesn't happen overnight. And if you are reading this, you’re becoming a savvy DIY landscaper, because you know that a lawn that makes your neighbors “green” with envy requires maintenance all year long. So this autumn take advantage of these fall lawn care tips to prepare your lawn to be healthy, thick, and green for spring and summer. After all when the warmer summer months hit, you’ll want to be enjoying your lawn not slaving over it.
It’s All About Preparation
Fall Lawn care is all about preparation. Preparing the plants to grow deep strong roots, preparing any bare spots with seed and fertilizer to establish growth before Winter, and preparing your lawn for the stress of fall and winter. But most importantly it’s about preparing your lawn to be ready to take advantage of the sun and warmth of spring and summer, which will allow YOU to take advantage of spring and summer.
Of course we here at A Concord Carpenter know that our busy schedules can limit the amount time and effort we can invest in our home and lawn so we’ve broken up this article into simple steps and advanced tips to accommodate all levels of landscape enthusiasts.
Lawn Care Simple Steps
Address the Bare Spots
The first step in achieving a luscious green lawn is to ensure your lawn doesn't have any thin, bare, or dead patches. Fall is a great time to address these problem areas and this type of maintenance is pretty simple and only requires a few tools and materials. Here’s how to patch your lawn in three simple steps.
1. Rake up the thatch or rake away the dead grass from problem areas. It is important to expose the earth and remove any obstacles that could prevent the seeds from making their way to the soil.
2. Spread new grass seed, the first step is important to ensure good seed to soil contact, which ultimately ensures the best chances of establishing new seedlings. You’ll want to spread the seed at 4-7 pounds per 1,000 square feet, which is fancy landscape talk, but your seed should have instructions that help you do the math for the area you need to cover.
Another way to promote good seed to soil contact is to pass over the area with the back side of a rake, this will help settle the seed down to the bare soil and mix with the soil, where it will germinate.
3. Finally, you’ll want to deliver nutrients to the patched areas through a product that combines mulch with fertilizer, which will give your established seedlings everything they need as they germinate and take root.
Additionally there are specific products designed for patching bare spots. These patch products help hold the seeds from washing away, have embedded fertilizer and retain moisture, which will help keep your seedlings moist and promote growth. These products often will expand with the addition of moisture so don’t over do it, you may cover the seedlings, depriving them of sunlight.
Fall is a great time to fertilize your lawn, as the cool and moist weather combines with the relatively long sunlight hours, and the addition of nutrient to promote dense root growth. This investment in the plants’ root system will allow your grass to stay lush and green when the weather gets nice again, and resist drought when it gets too dry and hot in the later summer months.
Fertilizers come in a myriad of different combinations of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium represented by the three numbers separated by dashes on fertilizer packages. Often fertilizers are stocked for your local region and with clear labels for foolproof use. For example, a product may be advertised as “Starter” (for new growth), “Late Summer” (For late summer). You get the point. But it’s important to understand the purpose of these components so you can apply them appropriately to your lawn care needs.
As I mentioned the three numbers represent Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, in that order. The common phrase to associate each element with its impact on your lawn just remember; Up, Down, and All Around. Nitrogen (Up) enhances foliage growth, the green leafy part of grass, which is above ground. Phosphorus (Down) promotes root growth, which is most important during the autumn months. And finally, Potassium (All Around) is responsible for overall plant health.
Now that you understand the system you can cross check products with their fertilizer analysis to ensure you’re getting what you want. For fall fertilization you’ll want a product with a high middle number or phosphorus for “down” to promote root growth.
Just because it isn't hot out doesn't mean your lawn doesn't need water. In fact by continuing to give your lawn a healthy dose of H20, you will maximize growth, and as we mentioned, root growth is an important goal to achieve during the fall for a healthy green lawn come springtime.
Your watering is important for seed establishment, if you patch a bare spot or over seed (meaning adding seed to an existing lawn) you’ll want to keep the soil moist for 7-14 days until seedlings are about 2 inches tall.
Maintenance Just Before Winter
You’ve made it to late fall and have done a great job patching and feeding your lawn for next season. But as the days get cooler, leaves start to fall, so you’ll need to clear the leaves as soon as you can!
Fallen foliage will block out the sun and if are left long enough and soak up rain, will suffocate your lawn. To protect your lawn while foliage is still falling, cut your grass a little higher than normal to keep the leaves from tamping the lawn down. Additionally, the longer blades will insulate the lawn a bit more keeping it warmer as the weather cools down.
You can continue this practice until the first serious frost, then you’ll want to do your last mow and cut the grass lower than normal, but being sure to keep the green leaves intact. This will make your lawn more resistant to disease and if some rogue leaves blow onto your yard they roll off the lawn, as they’ll have very little blade to cling to.
Check Thatch Level and De-thatch as Needed
Thatch is a layer of dead grass components between the living vegetation and the soil surface. A thatch layer of 1/2 inch is acceptable but anything more should be removed as excessive thatch can lead to disease, infestation from insects, and can amplify issues in the event of drought or cold weather.
You can easily take a sample from your lawn by using a small hand spade or transplant tool to take a small cone of earth and grass. If your lawn’s thatch layer is excessive you can use a de-thatching tool or even a standard rake to work the thatch loose and remove it from the lawn. This step would be done before you’d add seed or fertilizer.
Aerating a large lawn can be a challenge, so it is recommended you rent an engine powered aerator tool if you have a lot of ground to cover. Otherwise if you have a small lawn a hand held aerator tool or even a pitchfork can do the job. Regardless a mechanical core aerator will ensure the best results, so it’s worth considering for all size lawns.
Core aeration benefits your lawn in several ways; the most important is the space cleared out by the aeration makes room for major root growth. Additionally, water, nutrients, and seeds make it directly into the soil much easier once aeration is complete.
You’ll want to make at least one pass in one direction with your mechanical aerator, and can consider making a second pass at a perpendicular direction. Be sure to leave the cores on the lawn, they’ll break down and return organics and nutrients to the lawn. This step would be done after de-thatching and before seeding and fertilizing.
Apply a Top Dressing
Despite all the hard work you’ve done on you lawn this fall, yes there is still more you can do to secure that lush green lawn come springtime now! After you’ve de-thatched your lawn, aerated, patched your bare spots, over-seeded and fertilized you are now ready to apply a top dressing of organic material.
The top dressing will continue to add nutrients as it breaks down, it will add additional insulation to the lawn as the winter creeps in, and most importantly it will improve the quality of soil of the grass system, even out the elevation of the lawn, and promote the overall growth of the lawn.
Fall Lawn Care and lawn care in general can be hard work, but with a little elbow grease and T.L.C. you can develop an annual schedule that will make your neighbors drool over your lawn while you barbecue in the back with all the extra time you’ve gained from establishing a strong, healthy, and persistent lawn using these tried and true landscaping methods.