Issue 17, October 22, 2018

Lawn Care Fall Wrap up

There are a few things that can be done to lawns at the end of the season that will help to prepare for a good start the following spring. Now is time to get out the landscape management plans and fill in the final details of what worked, what needs to be improved and what didn’t work. Then we need to complete some things in the lawn in order to prepare it for winter dormancy. This is the time to get in the last minute seeding or sodding, repair any damages to the lawn as well as fertilizing for the next spring. Finally, it is time to mow and clean the lawn for the last times.


This is probably the only time of the year that you are encouraged to mow the lawn short. Gradually lower the mowing blades as to not put the lawn into shock. The short blades of grass can protect any new growth and allows for more light. Mowing the lawn short at the end of the season can prevent burrowing animals from seeking shelter in a warm place. Mice, voles, and others can create dead spots where they burrow by building up large amounts of grass. They can also create dead paths in the lawn where they travel back and forth as they forage.


The best time to fertilizer is before the first frost. This will give the lawn nutrients to replace those that were lost during the summer. Once the weather turns cold, the fertilizer will remain in the soil and feed your lawn’s roots all winter long.

A top quality lawn fertilizer will contain slow-release or controlled-release nitrogen. The labels for slow-release forms include; ureaform, sulfur-coated urea, milorganite, and IBDU. These forms stimulate uniform growth over a period of time and are less likely to burn the grass. However, do not expect the quick green up caused by fast-release forms. Slow-release formulations are more costly but worth the price for the improved health of your lawn.

In early fall use a regular lawn fertilizer with N-P-K ratios of 3:0:2 or 4:0:2. For example, a bag may list 21-0-14 or 32-0-16. Amounts don’t need to be exact but should be similar to the suggested ratios.

Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass lawns in sunny locations should receive 1 to 4 pounds per 1000 square feet of actual nitrogen every year. A rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet is recommended for each fertilizer application. Lawns and other plants in shade grow slower and don't need as much nitrogen as plants in full sun. Therefore, shady lawns should be fertilized at half the recommended rate.


The ideal time for planting grass seed to either establish a new lawn or renovate a poor quality one is the middle of August to the middle of September. During September grasses grow rapidly in the cool fall weather and have less competition from germinating weeds.

October is not too late to make seeding repairs to dead or trouble spots in the lawn. Be sure rake up the spot, add some topsoil, seed, and more topsoil. Be sure to water those areas. A mulch or cover should not be necessary although it is not discouraged.

Whether seeding or sodding, the key to long-term lawn quality is proper soil preparation. Soil should be tilled six inches deep. Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or peat, when tilling. If soil test results indicate a soil pH problem, sulfur or lime should be added at this time. After tilling smooth with a rake and apply starter fertilizer.

Top quality grass seed will germinate better and be more disease resistant over time. Newly seeded lawns must have adequate moisture for seed germination and seedling growth. The seedbed and later seedlings must be kept moist for six weeks.


Check for thatch by removing a plug of grass and soil. One-half inch of thatch or less is not a problem. If there is more than that, your lawn is ready for a thatch-management program. Thatch is a build-up of living and dead grass roots and stems between the soil and green grass blades. The amount of thatch in the lawn may be checked by cutting three to four inches down into the grass with a shovel and lifting up a piece of sod. Thatch looks like a thick tangle of dark brown roots above the soil level. If thatch is greater than 1/2 inch, the lawn should be core aerated or dethatched in fall or spring. In lawns with a thatch layer over 3/4 inch thick, you should aerate then topdress with a thin layer (1/8 to 1/4 inch) of soil or compost. Topdressing adds microorganisms that help breakdown thatch.

Cleaning the lawn

September and October are the best months to control perennial broadleaf weeds like dandelions and clover. During this time, the weeds are pulling nutrients and starches from their leaves into their roots. By doing this, they also will draw herbicides into their root systems, thus more effectively killing the weed. Actively growing grass will quickly fill in the bare spots created after the weeds die. Be sure to follow all label directions, and choose a calm day to prevent spray drift.

Rake or shred dead leaves in the yard. Do not wait until the last leaf has fallen to prevent them from matting down and smothering the grass. Raking smaller leaves, such as honey locust, is optional.

Doing these few things can set out your spring lawn for success. The lawn will be full of healthy, lush, green grass that has been feeding on good fertilizer nutrients underneath the snow.

Maria Turner

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