Whether you have a robust, healthy, established lawn, a new lawn, or a declining lawn, late summer and early fall is the best time of year to work on maintaining and improving it. Grass will go dormant in early to late November, so this is the time to de-thatch, overseed, aerate, fertilize, and spread weed killer. If your lawn is plagued with problems, adjustments to your mowing style, coupled with some basic TLC, should be enough to bring it back from the brink.
Know Your Grass Type
There are many popular species of turf grass grown in the United States, but only two basic types: cool season and warm season. Cool season grasses grow best at temperatures between 65°F and 75°F (15.5°C to 24°C), while warm season grasses grow best at temperatures between 80°F to 95°F (27°C to 35°C).
Cool season grasses include tall and fine fescue, creeping bent grass, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and annual ryegrass, while warm season grasses include St. Augustine, Bahia grass, carpet grass, zoysia grass, and Bermuda grass. Throughout a large swathe of the country, temperatures are such that neither type of grass grows particularly well; it gets too hot in the summer for cool season grasses, and too cold in the winter for warm season grasses. You can usually tell which type you have by whether the grass browns in the summer or winter.
Mow the Right Way
Even homeowners who aren’t obsessed with their lawns must cut it regularly, if only in response to peer pressure from the neighbors. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to cut your grass, and incorrect mowing is the root of most lawn problems.
That’s not to say that mowing is bad for your lawn. In fact, mowing can encourage your grass to grow thicker and spread more, which is great for your lawn! But never cut off more than one-third of the total length of your grass’s blades. If you’re growing cool season grasses, cut them to a longer length of about three inches during the hottest months of the summer, and lower your mower deck about half an inch to an inch during the cooler months of spring and fall. If your grass is newly seeded, wait until it reaches three-and-a-half inches high, then cut to a height of two-and-a-half inches.
De-Thatch and Aerate
De-thatching removes the layer of dead plant matter that forms between the foliage and the surface of the soil. You won’t need to de-thatch every year, but if your lawn feels spongy, it may be time. Cool season grass should be de-thatched in early fall, when there are at least 45 days left in the growing season, and warm season grass should be dethatched in the early spring, when it’s just getting revved up. De-thatching at the right time helps grass recover from the procedure.
Aerating removes plugs of soil from your lawn, so that your lawn’s roots can get more oxygen. This, too, won’t be necessary every year, but it can help heavily used areas recover. You can de-thatch and aerate yourself, but they’re big jobs, and while they can be done with hand tools, it’s easier if you rent equipment. Many homeowners simply choose to leave de-thatching and aerating up to their lawn care specialists.
You can mitigate the browning of cool season grasses in the summer by overseeding with a warm season grass. Overseeding is also a good way to correct thin spots in your yard. It’s best done in the fall, between mid-August and the end of September, and before fertilizing. Before overseeding, cut your grass shorter than normal and loosen the top layer of soil with a rake. Afterward, spread fertilizer and keep the soil moist with light, daily watering.
Nitrogen fertilizer gives your lawn the nutrients its needs for a healthy, lush appearance. Late fall is the best time to fertilize, after overseeding. Apply one to two pounds of a nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.
Kill Those Weeds
Perennial broadleaf weeds, like dandelion, store nutrients in their roots in the late fall, as they prepare for winter. If you apply a broadleaf herbicide in the fall, the weeds will store that in their roots, too, making fall weed control much more effective than spring or summer application. Apply it sometime between mid-September and the beginning of November, preferably after you’ve finished with vegetable and flower gardening for the year.
Is your lawn struggling? Are you wondering how to maintain a thriving lawn? Late summer and early fall is the best time of year to nurture a ragged lawn back to life, or give a strong lawn the support it needs to keep flourishing. With the right lawn care at the right time of year, your lawn could soon be the pride of your neighborhood.
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