Why Is Fall Lawn Care Important?
If you want to offer the best fall lawn care techniques without damaging tender grass or overworking your soil, follow a specific schedule. Some things you can do to take care of your lawn in the early fall include fertilizing it, removing any thatch, and controlling weeds. You can keep doing many landscaping tasks into mid-fall, like mowing and watering as needed, aeration, and overseeding. Late fall lawn care tasks are generally things you do to get your yardready for winter. This can include winterizing your lawn, removing debris, and mulching.
Your Step-by-Step Guide to Fall Lawn Care
- Remove the Leaves
It’s a common misconception that leaves that have fallen will protect your lawn from the cold weather in winter. This isn’t true. Having a lot of leaves covering the ground prevents sunlight from getting through, hold in moisture, and doesn’t allow air to move around. There are various tools you can use to manage leaves, depending on how many leaves you have and how much time you’re willing to invest. Use the leaf blower if you want to save time, or grab a rake to pile the leaves. A thin layer of leaves can be chopped up into small pieces and left where it lies.
- Test Your Soil
Your soil needs nutrients to grow healthy grass. A soil test will let you know what nutrients your lawn needs in order to prepare for winter. Testing your soil will help you determine the pH level and nutritional content. Testing soil before adding nutrients or fertilizer can help ensure that the right amount is used.
- Keep Mowing
Many homeowners stop mowing their grass when it starts to growth slower in the fall. Mowing to the correct height is an important step in your fall lawn care routine for winter hibernation. Although it may seem counterintuitive, grasses that are common in northern climates, such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and many types of fescue, actually need to be cut shorter in the fall. If grass is left too long during winter, it can become moldy and encourage disease. Reduce the length of the grass a little bit each time you mow until you get to a mowing height of 3 inches or even 2.5 inches.
- Remove Thatch
Because it is summer and people are mowing their lawns more often, there is a build-up of organic matter between the soil and the grass. This thatch can help improve thin lawns but can cause problems for healthy turf. An excess of thatch buildup can prevent water from seeping through and encourage disease. Excess thatch can be removed using a handheld rake, vertical mower, or a dethatcher. You need to cut into the thatch layer to remove it effectively.
- Loosen the Soil
Aerating your lawn is essential to allow air to circulate through compacted soil. Soil that is not aerated can cause growth problems for roots and make it difficult for water to penetrate deeply. The tools used for aeration can range from manual footwear with spikes on the soles to machines known as core aerators, which remove plugs of soil. Aerators leave holes in the soil to allow for better airflow and water absorption. If you aerate your soil before you fertilize it, the nutrients in the fertilizer will be able to get directly into the soil.
- Feed Your Lawn
Dormancy for grass is similar to hibernation for animals. Adding the right nutrients to your grass before winter’s first frost prepares it for a healthy hibernation and increased spring growth. For example, potassium in lawn fertilizer helps your grass survive cold temperatures. Soil tests will help identify what nutrients your lawn is lacking so you can take appropriate measures to improve the health of your lawn. Always apply fertilizer as directed on the package.
- Overseed and Repair Bare Spots
Many people wait to spread seed in the spring, but the fall is actually a better time for grass to germinate. If you thin out your lawn and overseed it in the fall, you will have a thick, healthy lawn come spring. A dense lawn is also effective in preventing weed growth. You should overseed your lawn at least 45 days before the first frost to make sure that the new grass has time to take root. You can protect Seeds until germination by covering your lawn with a thin layer of mulch or hay.
- Keep Watering
Although increased rainfalls can reduce the amount of watering your lawn needs, it is important to remember that a healthy lawn requires an inch of water each week. You should use a rain gauge to track how much natural water your lawn is receiving, and supplement that amount as necessary into October. Watering new grass growth from overseeding is essential to keeping your existing grass healthy.
- Stay Ahead of Weeds
Although the growth of grass slows down during the fall, weeds continue to grow at the same rate. Weeding in the fall can help get rid of annual and perennial weeds that are a problem in your yard and garden. Many common problem weeds like dandelion, clover, crabgrass, and other broadleaf plants are more prevalent in the fall. The most effective way to get rid of invasive plants is to use a herbicide that treats them before they emerge from the ground and after they have already grown. You may need to use targeted spot treatments to get rid of tough weeds.
- Cleanup and Storage
It is essential to take proper care of your lawn furniture, decorations, and tools as part of your lawn care routine. To extend the life of your outdoor furniture, you should clean it and store it properly when the weather is no longer suitable for using it. Rinse away dust and dirt with a water hose. Use a sponge or cloth to clean any hard surfaces, and wash the cushions or cushion covers as directed by the label. Make sure that your furniture is totally dry before you put it away for the winter.
Common Fall Lawn Pests: How to Identify and Eliminate Them
Many different species of beetle lay their eggs in the soil, resulting in grubs. Japanese beetles and European chafers are just two examples. C-shaped beetle larvae have a worm-like appearance and legs. The bodies of these creatures are milky white with brown heads. Most species are only around one inch in length.
Adult beetles usually lay their eggs in the summertime. The grubs that hatch from these eggs then proceed to feast on the roots of your grass during the fall season. Most lawn damage occurs during the months of August and September. Since grubs feed on plant roots, you won’t see them on the surface of the soil.
Signs you have grubs
- Irregularly shaped brown patches of dead turf
- Spongy material around grassroots
- Turf lifts from the soil easily
- Animals like moles, skunks, and crows digging for food in your lawn
How to get rid of grubs
Before treating a possible grub infestation, it is important to test the soil to ensure that grubs are the actual problem. Dig up soil in a few locations across the affected area of the lawn to see how deep the rooting is. Look for tiny C-shaped white grubs in the soil and thatch.
If your test indicates there are five or more grubs per square foot in your lawn, you will need to treat it.
A natural solution to getting rid of grubs is to use beneficial nematodes such as Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp. Most hardware stores or online retailers sell beneficial nematodes, which can be applied to the lawn following the package instructions.
If you want to get rid of grubs, pesticides that contain carbaryl or trichlorfon are your best bet. You should be cautious when handling chemicals and read the directions on the product before use. Applying these chemicals to your lawn yourself is an option, but it requires taking proper safety measures.
- Chinch bugs
Chinch bugs are small, winged insects that are mostly black with some white on their wings. They are about 0.13 inches long when fully grown. They have two breeding seasons in a year, one from April to July and one from August to September.
The second generation of adult chinch bugs will continue to feed on your grass until temperatures drop and winter sets in. They feed by secreting a substance that clogs the grass’s vascular tissue, which blocks water from reaching the leaves and eventually kills the grass.
Signs you have chinch bugs
- Irregular patches of yellow grass that gradually grow larger and turn brown
- Wilting grass
- Grass turning a purplish color
Chinch bugs damage grass by causing dehydration, so the signs of an infestation look like regular drought stress. If you water your lawn regularly but still notice symptoms like these, the problem might be chinch bugs.
How to get rid of chinch bugs
Test for chinch bugs using a tin can. Cut the top and bottom off the can, then press the bottom into the soil where the dying grass meets the healthy green grass. Fill the can with water. After 10 minutes have passed, check to see if any chinch bugs have surfaced.
Once you’ve confirmed that chinch bugs are the culprits of your lawn’s demise, here is how to fix the problem.
If you’re looking for a natural solution to get rid of chinch bugs, diatomaceous earth can help. This substance will dehydrate and kill any chinch bugs that come into contact with it, providing you with a way to get rid of these pests without using harmful chemicals. DE will usually remain in the turf for a while after you apply it, so it kills current chinch bugs and nymphs when they hatch from their eggs later.
The most effective chemical solution for chinch bugs is a broad-spectrum insecticide. Pesticides that contain the chemicals trichlorfon, bifenthrin, or carbaryl are effective at killing fleas. Use chemicals with caution as they can be harmful if not handled properly.
Lawns across the United States are killed by several species of armyworms. In their larval stage, armyworms are about 1.5 to 2 inches long. This is the stage when your lawn needs to worry about them. The stripes on their bodies can be any combination of red, brown, yellow, or green. Armyworms get their name because they move in masses like armies. They destroy lawns and crops.
Armyworm larvae feed on bluegrass, fescue, ryegrass, and Bermudagrass. The leaves are stripped away, leaving brown patches. A new wave of larvae hatches in the spring (April or May), summer (late June or early July), and fall (late August or early September).
Signs you have armyworms
- Tips of grass blades appear transparent
- Brown spots amidst otherwise green and healthy grass
- Completely bare spots on the lawn
How to get rid of armyworms
The Armyworm Soap Flush Test is used to determine the presence of armyworms in an area. To treat your lawn, mix dish soap with water at a ratio of 3 tablespoons per gallon, then pour it over the affected area. If armyworm larvae are present, they should come to the surface.
If your test confirms that you have an armyworm infestation, here are a few effective treatments to try.
Natural solution: Release beneficial nematodes into the soil. They’ll feed on armyworm eggs, pupae, and larvae. Many garden supply stores sell a natural bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which is effective against armyworms.
There are insecticides that cankill caterpillars without harming other animals. Halofenozide is an example.
Cutworms feed on turfgrass in their caterpillar stage. Cutworm caterpillars are usually around 2 inches in length. They are mostly a gray or brown color with stripes or spots of other colors.
Cutworms can have two to six different generations in a year. This means that you can find caterpillars in your lawn at any time of year, but they are most common in the spring.
Signs you have cutworms
- Small pockmarks dotting the lawn (the cutworms’ burrows)
- Grass sheared down to the base
- Wilted grass
How to get rid of cutworms
To find cutworms, look for them in your lawn in the evening when they are active. If there are cutworms in the lawn, you should be able to find them by sifting through the soil in the affected area.
There are several methods you can use to get rid of cutworms.
A natural solution to killing cutworms is using diatomaceous earth. Cutworms come in contact with the diatomaceous earth and die as a result. Sprinkle DE around the roots of the affected area to reduce the cutworm population. Instead of using pesticides, you could release the nematode Steinernema carpocapsae or the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
To ensure that your pesticides are effective, apply them to the affected area in the late afternoon or evening, when they will be most active. Before purchasing a pesticide, look at the label to ensure that it will be effective against cutworms.
- Sod webworms
Sod webworm larvae eat grass leaves and stems. There are three generations of larvae that feed on grass. The first generation feeds from late May to early June, the second generation feeding in July to early August, and the third generation feeds through late September.
The larvae grow to just less than an inch during their feeding stage. They have a brown head and their bodies can be any color from brown to green, but they always have dark spots. The spiders build silken tunnels during late fall to survive the winter.
Signs you have sod webworms
You should check your lawn for sod webworms if you notice these symptoms:
- Irregular patches of brown grass that gradually grow larger
- Silk webbing and tiny green fecal pellets in the thatch layer or top inch of soil
- Grass scalped down to the base
How to get rid of sod webworms
To check for sod webworms, mix 1/4 cup of household detergent with 2 gallons of water. Apply the solution to the soil in sections of 3 square feet. After 10 minutes have passed, check to see if any larvae have surfaced.
If you find 15 or more sod webworms in one section of your yard, you need to treat it immediately.
If you want to get rid of sod webworms, you can buy parasitic nematodes that will eat them.
The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis can be used to kill sod webworm larvae in some cases. Make sure that the formula you are purchasing is effective for the species of pest you are trying to get rid of.
Pesticides should only be used if the infestation of pests is extremely bad. Pesticides should be applied in the evening when sod webworms are active in order to be most effective. Cut the grass and take out the thatch before applying chemicals so they can reach the ground, where the caterpillars live underground.