Expert Advice

Best Practices for Fall Lawn Care

Authored by:

Allen Pyle

Though often overlooked, Fall is a critical time for lawn care. By taking the proper steps in fall, lawn performance will be improved in the following spring.

Fall Fertilizing

  • Fall is the most important time to fertilize cool season grasses. If you make just one fertilizer application a year, apply it in Fall for best results.
  • Fall fertilizing helps grasses to establish strong root systems, improving winter survival and growth the following spring.
  • We recommend applying no more than 0.8 pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet of lawn with any single fertilizer application. Using higher fertilizer rates is wasteful and can lead to loss of nutrients in runoff.
  • For optimal fertilizer efficiency, slow-release nitrogen sources are best. These include organic nitrogen sources and coated urea products. Slow release nitrogen is more likely to be taken up by plants and used to fuel vigorous growth, instead of being wasted in runoff.

Weed Control

  • Healthy, vigorous lawns have fewer problems with weeds, as vigorously growing lawns can out compete weeds. This makes these lawns less likely to need active weed control.
  • We do not recommend the routine use of herbicides over entire lawns, particularly pre-emergent herbicides.
  • If weeds are a problem in certain parts of the lawn areas, consider spot treatment of just the area with a weed infestation. Timing is important when using selective herbicides on lawns. Fall applications are generally the most effective. Make applications warm, sunny days when no rain is expected for at least 24 hours.

Overseeding and Patch Repair

  • Proper timing is an important key to success for lawn overseeding, repairing bare patches, and establishing new lawns.
  • Cool season grasses are best sown during periods of cool, moist weather. Early fall is the best time to sow cool season grass varieties.
  • Earth Science 1-Step Lawn Thickener is a combination fertilizer and grass seed product, allowing a single application to both fertilize and overseed for a thicker, greener lawn. Each bag contains premium grass seed, lawn food, and natural soil improvers.

Fall Leaf Management

  • Fallen leaves do not have to be raked and removed from lawns. Instead, they can be mowed and used as a natural lawn mulch.
  • To utilize leaves as a mulch, set the mower to its highest setting to chop leaves. Allow the chopped leaves to remain in place after mowing. Don’t allow leaves to accumulate to over about 6 inches thick before mowing.
  • Using leaves as lawn mulch adds nutrients and organic matter to soil. It also serves as mulch for bare spots to reduce weed seed germination. Trials at Michigan State University show that the practice of leaf mulching on lawns can nearly eliminate crabgrass and dandelions after just three seasons!