Just because the weather is getting cooler doesn’t mean you have to stop maintaining your lawn. Local experts share tips to help your lawn survive the harsh winter and flourish in the spring.
Summer might be coming to a close, but that shouldn’t mean the end of your lawn care regimen.
With fall quickly approaching and winter following closely behind, your lawn might be one of the last things on your mind. But the cooler temperatures and constant rainfall at this time of year create ideal conditions for maintaining your lawn.
If you give your lawn a little TLC now, you’ll be rewarded with a healthy, plush yard in the spring that’ll make your neighbors green with envy.
Since fall brings plenty of additional rainfall, it’s an opportune time to apply fertilizer to your lawn.
Tim Cooling, owner of Joe Cooling & Sons, 4400 Wheeler Road, Cherry Valley, Ill., says putting down a fertilizer in the fall gives your lawn the nutrients it needs to grow roots deep into the soil, which will create a healthy lawn in the spring.
Working with fertilizer is all about timing, he adds. If you apply it when it’s still warm outside and the ground is dry, the fertilizer will burn your lawn. Apply it too late in the season, around November, and it’ll create a snow mold – a type of fungus that can end up killing your lawn once the snow melts.
“Right around September is when you want to put the fertilizer down,” Cooling says. “That way in October, the grass will be growing well and it’ll eat the fertilizer. By the time the snow comes in November, you’ll be fine.”
Cooling says there’s not a lot of difference between various kinds of fertilizers, so it’s hard to go wrong.
Calcium sulfate, typically sold as gypsum at your local lawn and garden center, will help to supplement the fertilizer you choose. Gypsum helps to loosen the soil and enables grass roots get proper nutrients.
“The calcium sulfate gets in the soil and opens it up, which allows air and water to move through soil,” Cooling explains. “The fertilizer produces nutrients, and the calcium sulfate gives the soil structure. It gives the soil platelets, which allows water and air to go up and down the soil. You won’t see a reaction on a plant because the product is designed to work on your soil.”
Fall is also an ideal time to lay down new sod, Cooling adds. The sod will get all the hydration it needs this time of year.
“You can lay down sod until it snows,” Cooling says. “You can lay it down and it can snow the day after and it’ll be fine. It won’t kill the grass, and it’ll stay green all winter because the snow and cold won’t bother it.”
It’s important to water the sod into the ground and not let it freeze dry, which prevents the roots from planting into the ground.
“You just have to water it once or twice and you’re done,” he says. “In the spring, you’ll get even more root growth because of all the rainfall.”
Maintenance Past the First Frost
Don’t stop cutting your grass around Halloween. Mark Walter, owner of LawnCare by Walter, 4235 S. Perryville Road, Cherry Valley, Ill., says your grass will continue to grow into November, so it’s important to continue mowing.
During the summer months, cutting your grass to about three inches high will help to shade out sunlight and reduces weed growth, says Walter. Once the cooler months come around, grass should be cut a little shorter.
“We want to keep the lawn shorter going into the winter months because it’ll help with snow mold and other fungus diseases,” Walter says.
The fall is also a good time to aerate your yard, since the root systems will continue to grow until the ground freezes. An aeration machine helps reduce soil compaction by pulling soil plugs from your lawn so water, air and fertilizer can reach the grass roots much easier.
Walter recommends aerating the lawn in the fall to help develop those root systems.
“Core aeration is extremely important with the soils that we have in this area,” he says. “We’re trying to stimulate root development, which will help lawns over the winter.”
The fall months also bring plenty of falling leaves. While the leaves might look pretty, they block precious sunlight from getting to your yard. The leaves can essentially suffocate your lawn, and the additional moisture left behind can lead to lawn fungus.
That’s why Walter says it’s very important to rake your yard regularly.
“You don’t want your lawn going into winter with leaf cover because it’s going to end up matting your grass,” he says. “Doing that fall cleanup and keeping your leaves picked up before that snow hits is critical. If you leave those leaves on your lawn and you try raking them up in the spring, you’ll pretty much just have dirt underneath those leaves instead of grass.”
If you have pesky weeds in your lawn, now is also a good time to kill them, especially dandelions.
“In the spring, you can spray the dandelion flower and it may die, but it doesn’t always kill the body because dandelions have a root system that’s eight to 10 inches deep,” Walter says. “If you use a herbicide, it pushes the plant through the growth cycle at an accelerated rate and it’ll grow itself to death. So, anything you can do in terms of weed control in the fall will get you off to a better start in the spring.”
Help Is Right Around The Corner
The best way to relieve the stress of keeping your lawn in tip-top shape is to seek out professionals. The staff at Joe Cooling & Sons and LawnCare By Walter each have decades of experience in the lawn care industry.
“Right now, a lot of these lawns are suffering because they’re drought-stressed,” Walter says. “We want to take the rest of the season and get them built up so they’re as healthy as they can be going into winter.”