Fall Lawn Care: How to Help Your Lawn Recover from Summer Stress and Prepare for Winter

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The summer rush-and-grow season is fading into cooler weather and a slower pace. Lawns grow like crazy in the spring and summer. They are played on and walked on, sometimes leaving wear damage or bare patches. They get overwatered and underwatered. Weeds, diseases and insects may have stressed them too. Fall is the time to fertilize, treat perennial weeds, aerate and overseed for healthier turf that can get through the winter in good shape. A healthy lawn will green up faster next spring, lush and beautiful.

It is a good practice to aerate lawns in the fall. Deep core aeration breaks up surface thatch and compaction. Afterwards water will penetrate deeper, soaking the roots and encouraging growth. Aeration is better than power raking and caused less damage to the turf. There are hand corers which look a bit like garden forks, but for deep aeration machines are best. Cores should penetrate to at least 2-3” depth, with surface spacing between cores of about two inches. Machines can be rented or you can hire a lawn service for the job. Leave the cores to dissolve into lawn, which takes about 2-3 weeks, or rake them up gently and put them in the compost pile.

Fall fertilizer helps the lawn grow a stronger root system before going into winter. The proper amount of fall fertilizer provides the nitrogen and other compounds the lawn needs without promoting rapid growth. It will produce denser growth and faster green-up in the spring, discouraging weeds. Apply fertilizer in October and November before Thanksgiving when the soil is moist and temperatures are moderate. Too much fertilizer will encourage thatch production and too much new growth.  Talk with the experts at City Floral for the right application for the type of lawn that you have.  Buffalograss does not need fall fertilization; other types may need more or less nitrogen so it is good to check.  We have fertilizer spreaders available for free loans with your fertilizer purchase.

Remember to water. Lawn growth is slower as the days shorten and cool, but lawns still need ½” to ¾” a week from rain or irrigation. Actively growing grasses produce tiller growth in the fall, sideways shoots that fill in sparse spots and traffic wear. To lessen winter damage water deeply once a month as weather allows. A quick note on mowing; you do not need to mow the grass shorter than usual before winter. Mowing at 2.5” to 3” is recommended throughout the year.  Leave the grass clippings on the surface to recycle into the soil.

Applications of herbicides in early fall will help control perennial broadleaf weeds like dandelion, clover, bindweed, plantain, mallow, and thistle. The weeds need to be green and growing to absorb the herbicide, so apply early in the season. You may find that spot spraying is all that is needed. Come spring there will be fewer weeds to worry about.

City Floral has a variety of grass seed for fall overseeding. You will want to match seed variety for close appearance to the existing lawn. Bring in a clump of grass from the lawn; our staff will identify the grass types and recommend the best seed blends for the project. Overseeding will fill in thin lawns, spots missed by sprinklers, areas damaged by disease or insects, and shaded spots. It is also a great way to renovate older lawns by introducing new drought and disease resistant varieties. The newer varieties will establish in the existing lawn and spread to create a stronger turf.

The best time for overseeding is September and October before frost arrives on mid-October. You can hand scatter seed for small areas. For larger areas, use handheld rotary or drop spreaders. Seed germination is greater after lawn aeration where the seed is protected in the core holes. Cover the seed with a light top dressing if desired and irrigate! Seed must be kept evenly moist for 21 days or more. Apply short waterings two or three times a day, more often if the weather is warm or windy.

The lawn grasses most commonly recommended for the Denver Metro are bluegrass, ryegrass, fescue and buffalograss. There are selections for rough wear and high traffic lawns, dwarf varieties to reduce lawn mowing, selections with lower water requirements or higher shade tolerance. Choose a seed variety that fits the way you use your lawn.

Bluegrass and bluegrass blends are the most commonly used lawn grass here. Bluegrass sod is available for quick installation. Bluegrass seed is usually a blend of five or more varieties. It will grow well in average conditions, but will be healthier with good soil conditions and regular care. Newer varieties have been selected for persistent dark green color and fine soft leaves that are easily mowed. Bluegrass turf is dense, with strong winter hardiness and high disease and pest resistance. It has heat, cold, drought and traffic tolerance. The lawn can recover from damage by spreading from sideway tillers. Bluegrass does need regular fertilizer and annual core aeration. It tends does not do well in shade.

Ryegrass and ryegrass blends are very attractive, fine-textured, soft, dark green grasses. They grow quickly and look similar to bluegrass so they are good addition to seed mixtures. Ryegrasses need more nitrogen fertilizer than other lawn grasses. They do not grow well in shade or heavy traffic areas, and may show more winter damage.

Fescue grasses are of two types. Tall fescues are selections from pasture fescues that have been selected for turf growing. In ideal soil conditions they may grow deeper root system than most other lawn grasses so sometimes they are recommended for water conservation. But in general they require as much water as bluegrass. They are shade and wear tolerant, unlike the bluegrasses and ryes. The grass blades are tough and fibrous and require sharp mower blades for clean neat mowing. Damaged areas will need overseeding because the grass does not fill in by tillers.

Fine fescues create the finest textured lawns, dense and soft. They have very good shade tolerance. Hot weather may push them into summer dormancy. If you would like to try a no-mow lawn grow fine fescue mixed with meadow flowers for a new look.

Buffalograsses are selections of native prairie grasses used for low-water lawns. They are shorter grasses that need less mowing. New lawns need to be sodded rather than seeded. Growth is thinner that the other lawn grasses which may lead to more weeds. Weed control requires special attention because the common weed control chemicals may damage the turf. Buffalograss has poor shade or traffic tolerance but excellent heat, cold, and drought tolerance. The growth season is short with the lawn going dormant at first frost. Fall overseeding is not recommended; wait until spring.

A beautiful lawn is a place to play, relax and enjoy your home. Our expert staff is here to help you keep it at its best.

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