Fall is a good time to assess your property and take note of things such as seeding, mowing, watering, and other turf needs before the onset of winter. Lawn care experts note that the best way to have a healthy lawn in the spring is to do some basics during the fall.
1. Remove the leaves. A carpet of colorful autumn leaves may look nice and be fun to play in, but they’re not good for grass because when there is a thick build up, they block the light and trap moisture, leaving a decaying mat of dead grass or erosion. When the leaves are falling, blow or rake them away as often as you can, or mow over them to thin them and use as a light cover (mulch). Be sure to rake and thin out all leaves that may build up in corners. If you don’t, come springtime the grass under that soggy, decaying mat will be dead.
2. Keep cutting, but to the correct height. Don’t put that mower away yet. Grass continues to grow up to the first hard frost, so it will need regular cutting to keep it at an ideal 2½- to 3-inch height. If you let it get too tall, it will mat and be vulnerable to fungi like snow mold. Cutting grass too short is just as bad because it curtails the root system—root depth is proportional to cutting height—and impedes the lawn’s ability to withstand winter cold and dryness. Regular mowing also gets rid of those pesky leaves, chopping them up and leaving behind a soil-enhancing mulch.
3. Continue watering. The experts say that lawns should get at least an inch of water a week—a simple rain gauge is a useful way to keep track—then keep the sprinklers or irrigation system running until the end of October. By that time, you’ll want to disconnect hoses and flush the irrigation system to avoid frozen pipes and spigots.
4. Loosen the soil. Aerate once every couple of years to prevent soil from becoming compacted and covered with thatch, a thick layer of roots, stems, and debris that blocks water, oxygen, and nutrients from reaching the soil. “It’s a good idea to aerate a lawn right before fertilizing,” according to Scott Firth, CEO of Lawn Doctor.
5. Add fertilizer, if needed. Experts recommend a late-fall application of a slow-release granular 27-0-5 fertilizer. The numbers indicate the percentage by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. When there is ample nitrogen, grass will produce chlorophyll which in turn produces sugars which will protect roots from freezing and give the entire plant the energy to bounce back in the spring. Potassium is also important in the fall because it aids in root growth, disease protection, drought tolerance, and cold resistance. (A soil test can tell you how much of each nutrient your lawn needs.) Please read Maryland’s Lawn Fertilizer Law online at https://mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Documents/fertilizerwebpage.pdf.
6. Spread seed. Firth from Lawn Doctor also says, “A dense lawn is good protection against weeds.” Fall is the best time to overseed because the ground is still warm, moisture is more plentiful, nights are cool, and the sun is not as hot during the day.