Fall Grass Maintenance

The summer heat seems to be gone and cooler air is upon us. Now is a great time to take a hard look at your lawn and start thinking about next year.  Here are some types to review before you get started. The regimen right for your situation will vary, according to whether your lawn is composed of a warm season turf grass or a cool season turf grass. Cool-season turf grasses are so called because they thrive in the cool weather usually associated with spring and autumn. Examples are rye grass, the fescues (both "fine" and "tall" kinds), Kentucky blue grass and bent grass.

By contrast, warm-season turf grasses grow most actively when the weather is warm, which is why they are the preferred grass types of the South in the U.S. Some of their names even make you think "South," as is the case with Bermuda grass and Saint Augustine grass. Other kinds include zoysia grass and buffalo grass.

The following tips apply for both grass types.

  • Apply herbicides to broadleaf weeds
  • Correct soil pH: if your lawn is not performing well, have your soil tested. If the soil test should show a need to reduce acidity, apply lime now. If alkalinity needs to be reduced, apply sulfur.
  • Dethatching is essential to maintain a lush, healthy lawn. Thatch is the layer of built-up plant material between the green top growth and the roots of grass plants. Thatch develops naturally as lawn grasses grow and slough off roots, shoots and leaves. Some thatch helps protect the roots, but excessive thatch prevents moisture, oxygen and nutrients from penetrating the soil.To dethatch your lawn start by raking; for bad cases of soil compaction, you may have to employ the technique known as core aeration, for which lawn equipment known as "aerators" can be bought or rented
  • Rake leaves, or use a leaf vacuum, lest the leaves smother your grass over the winter
  • Lawn equipment care: make sure to drain old gas out of lawn mowers after last mowing 

Fall lawn care for cool season grasses includes ensuring that lawns receive enough fall water to carry them through the long winter. Don't think that because the temperatures outside are no longer consistently high, you can totally forget about watering in the autumn. Overall, you won't need to water nearly as much as in summer, but during hot, dry spells in autumn, remember to provide sufficient water.

Another fall lawn care tip that applies specifically to the maintenance of cool season grasses is fertilization. Apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Or purchase a product that has a low middle number for NPK for example, Scotts' "WinterGuard" Turf Builder has an NPK of 32-0-10.

Conversely, avoid fertilizing grasses in autumn that are composed of warm season turf grasses. The latter undergoes a hardening-off process during this time of year to prepare it for winter. Fertilizing warm season grasses in the fall may interfere with that hardening-off process.

So what fall lawn care tasks should you be performing for warm season grasses? By overseeding with annual winter ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), homeowners whose lawns are composed of warm season grasses can enjoy a green carpet during the winter, instead of having to look at a brown lawn. But when you buy the seed, be sure to ask for the annual, not the perennial. Annual winter ryegrass will die back when summer's heat returns, turning over the lawn once again to the warm season grasses. This exit is a timely one. The problem with the perennial winter ryegrass is that it doesn't go away, competing with your warm season grasses for sunlight, water and nutrients.

Lawns composed of cool season grasses can also profit from overseeding. But in this case, the motivation behind overseeding is not winter cosmetics, but to fix bare patches -- with an eye to next year's lawn.

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