Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Getting ready for the Fall growing season

Happy Lawn Days are here again!

Wet, humid conditions in our Southeast corner of Pennsylvania have resurrected our Summer-baked lawns with damp air and plentiful rains.  A quick look around your neighborhood will reveal lawns much greener than should be expected for mid-August, especially if you followed the rules for helping your lawn beat the heat.  Those of us, who value the work and money spent on keeping our lawns green and vibrant, appreciate what a bit of Summer rain and the prospects for cooler temperatures will bring.

Now is the time to set up your lawn for the Fall growing season!

The biggest advantage September will bring are cooler nights.  Even when temps hit the 90s during Indian Summer, the cooler nights allow for substantial dew falls that effectively water your lawn ever so slightly every day.  This combination of warm days and cool, dewy nights are perfect conditions for grass growth.

Here are several things you can do to get the maximum benefit out the September to mid-November growing season:

Dethatching rake

1. Clear dead matted grass where it exists in large patches.

For this I recommend a good dethatching rake; although if you have significant dead grass issues, you may want to look into renting a dethatching machine (a.k.a. lawn comb).  Using the dethatching rake, look for those areas where the dead grass is thick and covering the ground.  Then use your mower to mulch the dead growth into the soil.  Removing dead grass will provide a good bed for dropping seed and will allow existing grass plants to spread and fill in bare spots.

2. Aerate

Most home owners probably aerate in the Spring, many in the Fall.  Some aerate twice a year.  Aerating is an important step in

How core aerator works

lawn health by reducing soil compaction caused by foot traffic and normal settling.  Aerating allows air and nutrients to penetrate the soil, helping roots grow deeper and healthier.

Use a core aerator as opposed to a spike aerator.  The core aerator removes a plug of soil each time it penetrates, whereas a solid spike aerator simply compresses the soil even further, defeating the purpose of aerating.  For maximum effectiveness wait for wet weather to soften up the ground.  Plugs that result from aerating will naturally decay and provide additional food for the lawn.

Personally, I will aerate only once every other year, since my lawn no longer gets the foot traffic (i.e. kids) it used to.  I never got around to doing it in this past Spring, when the wet weather makes aerating easier.  Hopefully, I’ll get to it weather-permitting this Fall.

3. To “Weed & Feed” or “Seed and Fertilize”?

Do one or the other, not both!

If you experience a lot of brown or bare spots that need attention, overseeding after you clear out dead growth and applying a Starter fertilizer would be the way to go.  Make sure you this happen no later than mid-September (Labor Day weekend is ideal.) to take maximum advantage of favorable Fall weather.  If you decide to put down new seed, DO NOT apply a Weed & Feed product.  The weed portion of the weed & feed treatment will prevent new grass seed from germinating.

Weed & Feed is the way to go however, if you decide not to overseed.  Even if you applied a Weed & Feed in the Spring, another application in the Fall will give your lawn a boost in growth, and provides weed-free momentum to your lawn that will help keep weeds away next Spring!

4.  Water

Man's other Best Friend

Man’s other Best Friend

Yes, the weather has been delightfully wet recently.  But all we need is a stretch of 7-10 days of dry, hot days and all our work could be undone, especially if you decided to put seed down.  So keep an eye on the forecast; be mindful of your lawn’s condition; and drag out the hose and sprinkler, if you’re not fortunate enough to have an in-ground irrigation system.

5. When the leaves start falling

Make sure you get excess leaves and debris off your grass as much as is practicable.  Ensure your lawn isn’t covered by a choking layer of dead leaves when the weather turns cold.  Dead leaves left to blanket your grass – especially once the snow starts falling – can destroy what grass plants are there underneath.

I have several large trees on neighboring properties, but only a small one in my front yard.  I have learned my lesson from Falls past, and worry about removing dead leaves only after most – if not all – the trees have lost their leaves.  Otherwise, you will be out there all Fall long.  Work smart, not hard!

6.  Winterfeed

The last step for the Fall, is a Winter feeding that should be applied no later than mid-November.  The Winter feed goes right to the grass roots and is stored there over the Winter.  Once Spring arrives, the root-stored nutrients will give your lawn a growth boost to start the season off right.

Now get to work; and Good Luck out there!

(Cautionary Tale: These tips are based on my experience alone.  I offer no illusions of formal turf training or professional experience.  This is solely what seems to work for me and my Southeast Pennsylvania lawn.  Always proceed with caution and be mindful of conditions in your specific region.)

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