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Ashleigh Smith

Sep 6
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raking leaves
Written By Lara Wadsworth

Whether you are a first-time homeowner or are just now deciding that your lawn should get a little more attention, this simple guide will point you in the right direction. Although many yards are composed of different species of grasses, these tips apply to all major lawn types throughout the United States.

Fall Mowing

Although it is generally suggested to mow a lawn to 2 inches high during the summer, keep it mowed to 3 inches high throughout the fall. This helps the grass to retain the necessary moisture and build up strength before the winter season. The last time you mow your lawn will set its trajectory for the coming months. Ensure your mower blade is sharp before making this final cut to avoid damaging the grass. Cut it just slightly lower, about 2.5 inches tall; this ensures that it won't be too tall if it grows a bit more before going dormant.

Grass Clippings

After the final fall mowing, leave your grass clippings in place if you don’t usually do so. This will reduce the amount of fertilizer you will need to use and increase the organic matter in your soil.

Fertilize

Fall is generally considered the best time of year to fertilize a lawn to make way for a healthy, green spring. The best thing to do is to have your soil nutrient levels tested by your local extension office to determine how much fertilizer is needed. Too much fertilizer is more damaging to your lawn and to the environment than not enough fertilizer. Various fertilization schedules are available depending on how deficient your soil is. Either way, if you are only going to fertilize once or twice, fall is the time to do it! The ideal fertilizer should have little to no phosphorus, contain slow-release nitrogen, and be pesticide and herbicide free.

Using Pesticides or Herbicides

Leaves

If you usually rake up your leaves in the fall, consider leaving some of them on the lawn. By leaving leaves on the grass, you can run over them with a mower or mulcher, further adding to soil nutrient density. Avoid leaving too many leaves on the grass, even if they are mulched, as this can suffocate the grass in the springtime if they haven’t all decomposed yet. There should be a light layer of mulched leaves, but the grass should have plenty of room to see the sunlight.

Aeration

Just as you and I need air to breathe, so does a healthy lawn! Fall is the best time to aerate. You can rent an aerator or have a lawn care company come out and do it for you. Most of the time you don’t need to purchase a whole program with a company in order to get them to do this one service. Aeration will allow air back into the soil and reduce heavy matting that the grass can develop when it is older. Aerating is different from dethatching. Dethatching should only occur in the springtime.

Got Patches?

Fall can be a great time to sod or seed in bare patches of your lawn. Be sure to start this process at least six weeks before your predicted first frost of the winter to allow the grass time to establish before winter sets in. Filling in fall patches can reduce soil erosion and make spring maintenance easier. Grass overseeding, sod, and other types of seed typically establish better when started in the early fall, as they have much more time to grow before encountering heat or pest stress.

Now you’re ready to take on the fall lawn management! If you heed these tips, your lawn is likely to be greener and come back to life quicker in the spring. In addition, it will be stronger throughout the summer. After completing these practices, you can sit back and relax knowing that many summer parties and games can be played on your newly-tended lawn.

Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer

I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!

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