You may be tired of mowing and welcoming the dormant winter lawn, but if you want a healthy, green, lush lawn next year, there are some things you need to do now.
At this time of year, late summer and fall, grasses are storing up energy, moisture, and nutrients to keep them going through the dormant winter. You will want to keep on mowing until it quits growing (you won’t have grass clippings after mowing). The last mowing should leave the grass two inches high. This helps keep grass from matting down under leaves and snow.
Continue watering once or twice a week in the morning if it doesn’t rain. One inch of water is a good amount for the fall lawn. Place an empty tuna can on the lawn and water until the can is full. This will give you about an inch of water.
If your lawn seems to be too thick or compacted, it will benefit from aerating. You can use spiked “shoes” laced onto your feet to punch holes through to the ground below the roots, or rent a gas-powered, walk-behind lawn aerator which removes plugs of grass and dirt to allow more air to the roots. Follow with a thin layer of compost or sand.
If your lawn is thin or has dead spots, fall is the ideal time to overseed. Select grass seed appropriate for your area and spread thinly over the entire lawn. Water with a light mist until seeds sprout, then continue as needed. If you have dead spots, remove some of the dirt and another three-quarters of the surrounding grass. Fill in with good soil, spread seeds, lightly cover according to package directions, and protect with straw or chopped leaves. Mist frequently until seeds sprout.
Fall is the ideal time to fertilize your lawn. Grasses that do well in the north, such as bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass benefit from feeding in early September and again in October or November. They will green up earlier in the spring.
You want to avoid heavy layers of leaves sitting on your lawn over the winter because they can smother the grass. If you have only a few leaves and a mulching mower, then leaves can add nutrients to the grass as they decompose. With masses of leaves though, it is best to remove them, shred them, and add to the compost pile.