ASK MARTHA: FALL LAWN CARE PROJECTS
After the stress of punishing summer heat and use, your lawn may be looking less than green and lush. If your grass has seen better days, devote an afternoon in early fall to lawn rejuvenation. Take advantage of cooler autumn days with these tried-and-true tasks. Come spring, you’ll be rewarded with a lawn that’s lush and green and wonderful for bare feet (and paws).
Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Miracle-Growing by Martha Stewart partnership.
Q: Hi Martha: I take care of my lawn during the spring and summer seasons, but when fall arrives I'm not sure what to do. I've heard that fall is a good time for lawn care. What projects should I do now?
1. DETHATCH YOUR LAWN
Thatch is a layer of decaying material that accumulates between grass and the soil surface. It hinders oxygen and moisture from reaching the roots and increases the risk of pests and diseases. If your lawn is suffering from a thatch problem you will see thick layers of dead material between the grass and soil, a soft, spongy lawn, or water pooling on the surface. Thatching rakes and vertical mowers are great tools to effectively loosen and manage the debris. Note that while this step is not required, it can go a long way in giving your lawn a boost this fall.
2. FEED YOUR LAWN
Fertilizing in fall helps your lawn begin rebuilding grass roots that were damaged during the hot, dry summer and will help your grass store energy for next spring. It's best to water your lawn well a day or two before fertilizing, applying after the soil has had time to dry but is still moist. Fall is an ideal time to address several types of lawn weeds, including clover and dandelion. To make the task easier, use a product that tackles two jobs at once, like Scotts® Turf Builder® WinterGuard® Fall Weed and Feed.
If you live in the south and have a St. Augustine, zoysia, or centipede grass lawn, use Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Triple Action instead. It not only kills weeds and nourishes the lawn, but also kills and prevents fire ants.
Fertilize the lawn near flower beds; lawn fertilizer has more nitrogen and can inhibit flower and shrub growth. Feed your flowers a fertilizer that's higher in phosphorus to encourage fall blooms like Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Bloom Booster Flower Food.
Feed with care: Nitrogen is the key ingredient that encourages lush new growth, which is vulnerable during hot spells. Do not apply fertilizers when the temperature is 90°F or above.
3. MULCH OR COMPOST YOUR LEAVES
Like the leaves of plants, shoots of grass need the rays of the sun in fall to replenish and prepare for spring. Clearing your lawn of leaves exposes the grass to air, which helps prevent fungus and mold. When fertilizing or reseeding your lawn, you’ll need to clear the area of dry grass and leaves to ensure maximum soil contact.
Mulch leaves with your lawnmower to dime-sized pieces; this, along with fertilizer, will help the soil microbes break down the leaves. You can also rake the leaves and use them in your compost pile - they make excellent “brown” material
4. MOW YOUR LAWN SHORTER
As temperatures drop, grass growth slows. However, this doesn't mean you should stop mowing entirely; in fact, you should continue to mow until your grass stops growing in early winter. Mowing your grass also helps protect it from diseases since it allows more air to reach the soil. If your usual mowing height for your lawn is between 2.5 to 3 inches, we advise maintaining it at that level. In case your lawn's height is over 3 inches, we recommend lowering it to 3 inches in late fall. If you decide to decrease the mowing height, make sure to do so gradually by mowing at this height several times before winter.
5. RESEED THINNING AND BARE PATCHES
After summer heat and activity, you may have unsightly burned out or thinning patches in your yard. Fall is the time to address these spots: the soil is still warm enough that newly laid seed will germinate quickly, and the grass seedlings thrive with the cooler temperatures and higher levels of moisture associated with fall weather.
If you are planning to apply a weed control product, ensure you are only doing so in areas that you do not plan to reseed. Weed control products will inhibit the growth of new seed.
Apply using a Scotts® Turf Builder® EdgeGuard® Mini Broadcast Spreader; this ensures the most even distribution. Use a product specifically formulated for repairing bare spots like Scotts® EZ Seed® Patch & Repair Sun and Shade which is guaranteed to grow grass anywhere (with proper care). To thicken up a thin lawn,use Scotts® Turf Builder® Thick'R Lawn® Sun & Shade which is a 3-in-1 product uniquely formulated to help turn weak, thin grass into a thicker, greener lawn.
Cover with a ½-inch-thick layer of soil or compost and add Scotts® Turf Builder® LawnSoil™ to help retain moisture and protect the seed from predators. Mark the newly seeded areas with bamboo stakes or bent twigs. To maintain the areas, keep the soil surface moist: aim for a gentle watering once a day or as needed until the seedlings have reached mowing height.
Fall is also a good time to maintain your mower and tools. Give them all a thorough cleaning so they’ll be ready next spring.