Spring is when most homeowners concentrate their efforts and outdoor maintenance budgets on their lawns, but the autumn season is a prime time to spruce up the look of your lawn as well as get it ready for winter dormancy. Regardless of whether your climate zone has mild or harsh seasonal changes, fall is a great time to keep your yard looking great.
You should give your lawn a boost of nutrients at the end of summer, especially if you have a yard that has seen a lot of activity over the summer months. Bagging grass clippings or raking is like harvesting a crop, and the grass needs food to maintain growth. Mulching grass clippings does return some nutrients to the soil to be reused, but lawn fertilizer is specifically formulated to feed your lawn what it needs. Your second feeding should be around the time pumpkins are being harvested and sold in stores. This feeding prepares and strengthens your lawn for winter dormancy and allows nutrient reserves for rapid growth in the spring. Regular top dressing with compost is a great alternative to synthetic fertilizers.
Cut Your Lawn Lower
It seems a bit counterintuitive to cut back a plant’s height to protect it for the winter. It would seem that longer blades of grass would better protect the plant to endure winter weather. However, the opposite is true. Never cut more than one-third of the grass blade height at one time, but do adjust your mower to a lower height for the final two lawn cuttings before winter dormancy. The roots of your lawn are where the energy for next spring’s growth is stored, and shorter blade height leaves less plant above the surface to be damaged by winter weather.
Poke Holes in Your Lawn
Aerating seems like an odd practice, but you need to keep in mind that you are managing a crop rather than letting grasses grow wild. You work hard to remove dandelions and prevent crabgrass to keep your lawn uniform and green. It is just like caring for a vegetable crop you will harvest for your table, but this crop is managed for its looks. Aerate using a machine that pokes holes through the thick mat of turf into the soil. The machine will pull up soil plugs that you can compost. Lawn soil compacts to limit nutrient and water absorption. Aeration opens up the soil.
Rake or Mulch Leaves
Leaves are not a protective blanket for your lawn for the winter. Leaves form thick mats that produce fungi as they break down. These leaf mats stop sunlight, water and nutrients from reaching your lawn. If you have ever left something lay out on your lawn for a couple of days to see yellow grass underneath it when you move it, this same lawn killing principle can happen with a blanket of leaves. Rake the leaves as they fall rather than waiting until the trees have dropped all their leaves. If you mulch leaves, make sure it is evenly distributed down to soil level and not built up over the grass blades.
Reseed Your Lawn
In the early fall you can plant some new grass seed into your exiting lawn. If you do it right after aerating, some of the seeds will enter the holes made for aerating, further assisting with new growth. The reason you want to reseed is that your lawn never gets the opportunity as a decorative crop to grow to its full potential to make seed. In the wild, your lawn grasses perpetuate their life cycles by producing seeds to enhance each new season of growth. Since you interrupt this cycle by mowing, reseeding manually is stepping in to complete nature’s growth cycle for your lawn.
Kill the Weeds
If you do not object to synthetic herbicides contaminating your soil and nearby waterways, then getting a head start on next year’s weed growth by killing weeds in your lawn now is the way to go. If you fertilize, aerate and reseed annually, you will find that you need less and less weed killer applications to keep your lawn looking great. When the growth of your lawn is steady and strong, it will choke out weeds before they get a chance to become established. You may, after an initial whole lawn weed killer application, be able to just spot treat troublesome areas thereon out.
Keeping your lawn looking great requires time and effort. Those stunning lawns you see in your neighborhood do not happen accidentally. It is done by planning and the implementation of a lawn care routine that spans the seasons from spring to winter dormancy.