It’s fall, the evenings are getting a little darker, the mornings a little chillier, and for the lawn that’s given so much pleasure over spring and summer, the winter season of recovery is around the corner. But before your lawn heads for hibernation, this is the moment to ensure it’s comfortably tucked in and ready for that well-earned rest by making sure you’ve completed the ten tasks on our fall lawn care checklist.
So, if any of these important seasonal grounds-keeping jobs aren’t already on your to-do list, it’s time to turn over a new leaf this fall and give your prized lawn the best chance to return to even lusher green glory next year.
Follow Our 10-Point Fall Lawn Care Checklist:
- Remove fallen leaves
- Eradicate broadleaf and grassy weeds
- Soil test to determine pH and nutrient deficiencies
- Dethatch / scarify
- Aerate and top dress
- Overseed cool grasses
- Fertilize your lawn to increase soil potassium levels
- Apply preventative fungicide (if necessary)
- Adjust irrigation schedule
- Decrease mowing to align with slower grass growth
By the end of summer, especially when conditions have been particularly hot and dry, lawns can look a little tired and worse for wear. Follow these processes and you’ll give your lawn the TLC it needs to look its best.
Related reading: Fall Lawn Care Guide and Tips
Remove Fallen Leaves and Debris
For many, cleaning leaves off the lawn can feel like fall’s biggest yard chore, but leaving leaves on your lawn over winter can have two detrimental effects. Firstly, it can smother your grass and inhibit that important fresh new growth next spring. Secondly, it can encourage outbreaks of the fungal disease Microdochium nivale, better known as snow mold, which enjoys soggy decomposing debris and will leave ugly areas of dead turf grass after winter’s thaw.
Rake fallen leaves by hand, use a leaf blower, or better yet, if you have a modern lawnmower with a leaf mulch setting, run it over your lawn to collect and shred fallen leaves for compost.
It's also essential to remove other debris, such as sticks, branches, and other clutter, from the lawn. This debris can smother the grass and create dead spots.
Eradicate Broadleaf and Grassy Weeds
There are two basic types of lawn weeds: broadleaf and grassy. Broadleaf weeds that commonly take root in turfgrass include dandelion, white clover, broadleaf plantain, ground ivy, and common chickweed. They can be removed from your lawn by hand year-round, but if any pesky broadleaf weeds remain in your lawn, fall is good time to go after them with herbicides.
To prevent broadleaf weeds from establishing over the winter, apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Always check that the product you use is suitable for your specific grass type. For warm-season grasses (such as Bermuda Grass, Zoysia Grass, and Centipede Grass), the Golf Course Lawn Store recommends Specticle Flo Pre-Emergent Herbicide.
For cool grasses (e.g., Fescues, Ryegrasses, Kentucky Bluegrass, and Bentgrass), we recommend Prodiamine 65 WDG. Follow instructions for application, wait until the soil temperature has dropped to the low 70s°F, and water in the pre-emergent with ½” of water for best results.
Fall is also a suitable time to address winter annual grassy weeds like poa annua. Applying a pre-emergent herbicide is the best way to prevent grassy weeds from becoming a problem in your lawn.
Related reading: Fall Weed Control Guide
Soil Test to Determine pH and Nutrient Deficiencies
Fall is an excellent time to measure the condition of your soil and, importantly, discover its pH levels, which indicates how acidic or alkaline your soil is. The results aid in planning the right fertilization program for your particular lawn. The pH scale ranges from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline), with pH 7 being neutral.
Most turf grasses thrive in slightly acidic soil conditions, preferably pH levels between 6 and 7. You can test soil pH yourself by purchasing a Home Soil Test Kit. Using the soil probe included in the kit, retrieve a soil sample from your lawn turf, add it to the sample pot, seal it tightly, and then send it to the lab in the pre-paid envelope. In about a week, you will receive precise soil test results and recommendations for treating your lawn.
If your turf soil pH is lower than 6, its alkalinity needs raising, which can be done with lime applications or with Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal® Plus for Lawns in Acidic & Hard Soil. If the pH is above 7, your soil needs to be more acidic, which can be achieved with a fast-acting sulfur, or by using Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal® Plus for Lawns in Alkaline & Hard Soil. Regular fertilizer applications can also have an acidifying effect on soil pH over time.
Dethatch or Scarify
Dethatching and scarifying are important lawn care practices that involve removing excess dead organic matter, such as small grass clippings and moss, that collect between the stems and blades of your grass.
Thatch is the layer of dead and dying grass clippings that can gradually accumulate eventually becoming too thick to decompose quickly. This condition prevents water, nutrients, oxygen, and sunlight from reaching the soil, suffocating your lawn’s healthy growth.
Dethatching and scarifying are both options for removing this dead thatch layer. Scarifying, however, is a gentler process using flexible metal tines to remove a light layer of thatch and can even be done by hand with a metal rake, while dethaching is a mechanical raking using metal blades to cut into deep thatch beds (over an inch thick). Decide whether you need to dethatch or scarify and treat your lawn accordingly in the fall. Scarifying is what most people should opt for.
Aerate and Top Dress
Top dressing will help your lawn recover from the stresses of summer and improve its overall resilience and drainage. It’s also the preferred method for leveling unsightly dips or depressions that may have developed in your lawn. For cool season lawns, it’s a task best undertaken in the fall after lawns have been thoroughly aerated and dethatched or scarified.
Aeration involves removing small plugs of soil from the lawn at regular intervals to help it breathe and improve soil quality. You can simply aerate small lawn areas with the tines of a garden fork, while larger areas can be worked over using a power aerator with coring tubes that turn around a drum or shaft.
Top dressing is the process of spreading soil blended with materials like sand, loam, and peat. When possible, it should be mixed to closely resemble the consistency of your existing soil. A quality top dressing that works well with all soil types is CarbonizPN™ Top Dressing Soil Enhancer with Biochar.
Related reading: How to Core Aerate Your Lawn
Overseed Cool Grasses
Early fall is a good time to overseed cool grasses. Overseeding is the practice of sowing new seed over existing lawn areas to thicken worn patches, repair bald spots, and improve the general thickness of your turf. Although Bermudagrass can be overseeded with perennial ryegrass, it's primarily cool-season grasses that are overseeded in the fall. Common cool-season grasses include Kentucky Bluegrass, Bentgrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Tall fescue, and Fine Fescue.
Before overseeding, ensure your lawn has been slightly thinned out with scarifying / dethatching, then mow at a low setting of around 2 inches and collect all clippings. Broadcast your grass seed evenly while ensuring not to miss thin and worn patches. Water regularly but lightly throughout the day. The idea is to ensure the seed stays constantly damp without getting saturated or washed away. After about a week, apply a quality starter fertilizer, such as Complete 14-7-14.
Related reading: How Long Does Grass Seed Take to Grow?
Fertilize Your Lawn to Increase Soil Potassium Levels
Lawn fertilization is an important task on the fall lawn care checklist, helping your lawn sustain and stay resilient over winter. High potassium fertilizer helps turfgrass come back healthier next spring.
Take care not to apply a spring/summer fertilizer, as these tend to be more nitrogen-rich and will overstimulate grass growth, making it susceptible to winter cold damage. Instead, select a low-nitrogen fall/winter fertilizer since it will be more beneficial for your lawn’s specific demands in the fall.
An ideal fall/winter fertilizer is low in nitrogen but high in potassium to protect plants from severe winter weather. Low nitrogen fertilizer provides just enough to assist late-season growth without overstimulating your turf, creating a hardier sward next spring.
Related reading: The Best Lawn Fertilizers to Use This Fall
Apply Preventative Fungicide
This preventative measure is cheap insurance against fungal diseases like snow mold. As the name suggests, snow mold most often occurs during the colder months of fall and winter and can be exacerbated by snow melt in early spring, which leaves thawing ground saturated.
If your lawn suffers from snow mold, red thread (another fungal disease that’s prevalent in winter), or any other fungal disease during colder, wetter weather, it’s a great idea to protect your turf with the application of an appropriate broad spectrum fungicide, such as Pillar SC or Headway G. Fall fungicide applications also help prevent lawn diseases in warm-season grass like spring dead spot.
Adjust Your Irrigation Schedule
It’s time to adjust your lawn watering schedule to account for the changing season. However, unless you live in a region where fall weather is particularly wet, it’s not time to stop watering your lawn completely.
Lawn watering usually only ceases after the first ground frost, and for cool grasses, which spread their roots and repair this time of year, it’s essential to continue to water over the fall. The idea is to keep the soil moist without saturating lawns or leaving them water-logged. Continue to water in the early morning to give lawn turf the chance to gently dry out during the day.
Decrease Mowing as Grass Growth Slows
Even though lawn growth begins to slow in the fall, it’s advisable to continue mowing around once a week until your turf grass has stopped growing completely. As necessary, keep adjusting your mower blade, gradually lowering the height to ensure you're always removing roughly the top third of the grass until it’s reached a height of around 2 to 2.5 inches. Lawns cut to this height before winter are less susceptible to fungal diseases such as snow mold and the cold weather damage that can afflict longer grass.
The Grass is Greener on The Other Side (of Winter)
By following the fall lawn care checklist and taking the time to winterize your equipment, you're not only safeguarding your investment but also setting the stage for a thriving lawn in the seasons to come. Remember that a little extra care now can go a long way in preserving the beauty and vitality of your lawn. Even if you only choose do to a few of the practices in this fall lawn care checklist, you'll be in better position next year when warm weather returns.
Related reading: Winter Lawn Care Guide for Protecting Your Turf in Colder Months
Shop now for all your fall-season lawn care products from the Golf Course Lawn Store.