Complete Fall Lawn Care Guide: Tips To Have A Better Autumn Yard

Lawn And Garden Fall Maintenance

The fall is the perfect time to do lots of tasks that we are tempted to do in the Spring and Summer.

Of course there are obvious tasks that occur in the Fall too and I have a lot of published articles covering different tasks that should be done after summer comes to an end.

Let’s quickly summarize the most important things you need to do to your lawn in the fall…after that we’ll go over the optional fall lawn chores that can take a good looking yard and make it look amazing.

1. Apply Balance Fertilizer in Late Summer or Very Early Autumn – Early fall is the second annual rooting phase of your grass; it’s when grass plants grow new roots to replace those that were shed or those that died off through summer stress. To support recovery and rooting you should apply a balanced fertilizer in the early fall. The Nitrogen will push new healthy growth which can help relive disease pressure, the Phosphorus will aid in the formation of healthy root tissues, and the Potassium will allow the cellular level to be as strong as possible which will result in grass that is more resilient.

2. Apply Subsequent Low Rate Fertilizer Applications Until Late Fall – With a balanced fertilizer applied at the end of summer the rest of Autumn you should be applying a low rate Nitrogen & Potassium heavy fertilizer every two weeks. I prefer applying only natural and/or organic products early in the fall before switching over to faster Urea based products later in the fall. If you are applying anything with soil temps under 50 degrees late in the Fall then it may be best to switch over to Ammonium Sulfate as your source as it won’t rely on microbial activity to make it plant available. This last application may be considered your winterization application if it’s late enough in the season.

3. Overseed & Bare Spot Repair – The early Fall is the best and easiest time of the year to seed a lawn. If your grass has thinned out over the summer you can easily thicken it up by applying an application of new seed to the lawn and watering it a couple times a day for a week to ten days. If you choose to overseed it can be very helpful to run a dethatcher, power rake, or scarifier over the lawn first to remove debris that has collected on the soil surface. When seed sits on dead grass clippings instead of soil it is far less likely to germinate. You should also take the time to identify the grass types you have in your lawn if you don’t know that way you can choose the right type of grass seed to apply to match your existing lawn. In the northern states the most common types of turf grasses grown are Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye, and Turf Type Tall Fescue. Areas that get a lot of shade frequently have a lot of fine fescue mixed in. In the hotter Southern states Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bahia are most common but these grass types aren’t typically overseeded due to their spreading nature.

For bare spot repair I have a full video and written guide to getting that job done that I recommend checking out. It should apply to all grass varieties and all locations however you should note that bare spot repair with warm season grass types in the Fall are not always as successful as cool season grass types because warm season grasses grow their best in the summer when the heat is greatest. Again, matching grass seed to your surrounding lawn and environment is important. You wouldn’t want to seed a bare spot with tall fescue in a full lawn of perennial rye; it wouldn’t look good unless evenly mixed throughout the entire lawn.

4. Aerate The Lawn – One of the best times of the year to aerate a cool season lawn is in the early to mid-fall when soil temps are still warm and grass root growth is still at it’s peak. Aeration is one of those jobs that few people ever actually do but those that do aerate tend to have the best lawns in the neighborhood. Soils regularly get compacted over time leading to anerobic environments in the soil. When there is a lack of air in the soil microbes that need CO2 and Oxygen aren’t very active and their slowdown affects the lawn negatively. Not only that but grass roots are affected by soil compaction, nutrient uptake is affected, and water penetration is also affected. By hiring a local service provider to aerate your lawn (or doing it yourself) you can introduce airflow back into the root zone of your grass and stimulate the healthy soil biology needed for a great looking lawn. I have full guides to lawn aeration in both written and video form; I suggest you check them out for more information. This is a practice recommend to all lawns at least once if not twice a year.

5. Apply Winter Weed Pre-Emergent – September and October is the time of the year to apply a pre-emergent to the lawn to stop the germination of winter annuals like Poa-Annua, Henbit, Bittercress or any one of the many other winter annuals that emerge in lawns across the country. In the warm southern states Poa Annua, annual bluegrass, is probably the most common nuisance grass because it makes for a really bad looking lawn in the late winter and early Spring because it starts growing well before your grass comes out of winter dormancy. Lawns infested with Poa will have lots of tiny little patches of fast growing lime green grass sprinkled throughout an otherwise dormant lawn.

In northern states pre-emergents for winter annual weed can be applied in the early Fall but this is more commonly a practice for warm season lawn owners in the southern regions of the country.

You should also note that weed pre-emergents shouldn’t be applied if you plan on overseeding a lawn as the pre-emergents will interfere with the germination of your grass seed as well. You can apply pre-emergents to your lawn if you are only seeding bare spots just be sure to not apply weed control to the areas where you intend to grow new grass from seed.

The type of pre-emergent you use will differ depending on what grass type you have in your lawn. Once you identify the grass variety you are growing make sure to see my guide to lawn pre-emergents to choose the best option for your yard.

6. Kill Off Grubs, Armyworms, If You Like – I regularly recommend lawnowners to apply grub preventatives in the late Spring to early summer because they are much better for the environment and they stop grub damage before it starts…but if you didn’t do that and you don’t want to deal with grub damage in the mid-fall and mid-spring then applying a grub killer now is your best defense against grub problems in subsequent years. Grubs that aren’t killed now will lay eggs in the Spring resulting in a continuation of the lifecycle and additional dead spots in your lawn that will need to be repaired at a later date. Armyworms and other nuisance pest can be killed this time of year as well before excessive damage is done to a lawn. I don’t recommend everyone apply these products though, only those dealing with active problems in the lawn.

7. Fall Weed Control – The fall is the best time to try and kill the perennial dandelions and other perennial weeds in the lawn because they are starting to prepare for winter just like your grass. Many of these weeds, especially dandelion have a second resurgence in the fall, growing new leaves and flowers and if we can kill them before they seed then we’ll have a better season next year. Luckily it’s easier to fully kill many of these weeds to the root this time of the year because the plants are starting to pull a lot of their energy out of the foliage and flower and into the winter for their more vigorous season in the Spring. If we apply a weed killer either chemical based or natural the plant will absorb the product and pull it into it’s root zone more efficiently resulting in a more likely long-term die off. When the product makes it into the root the whole plant is less likely to bounce back. This time of year if you see a weed in the lawn you shouldn’t have any issues with excessive heat so it’s almost always safe to spray it and watch it slowly die off, never to return again. Depending on your grass type there are different products that work best and are safest and in the organic/natural space there are a few different options as well. I’ll provide guidance as to which weed killer sprays I recommend for different situation in a dedicated video and/or article on my website.

8. Clean Up Leaves Early & Regularly – As leaves start falling from trees in the fall it’s important to deal with them as early as you can. This can be as simple as running over them with the mower and bagging them like a vacuum, mulching them back into the lawn if they aren’t on the lawn in an overwhelming volume, or it could be the physical removal of the leaves through traditional raking. The same can be said for pine needles or other debris that trees shed in the Fall. The problem with leaving leaves on the ground, especially in late Fall is that they will accumulate in areas of your yard and mulch down the turf as it enters dormancy for winter resulting in unwanted bare patches in the Spring. If you only have a few trees dropping leaves you can usually just mow under the trees a little more frequently during the fall to mulch them or bag them more regularly leaving you with less of a headache later in the Fall or the early parts of Spring.

9. Keep Watering The Lawn – In Fall it can be tempting to shut the irrigation off too early because evaporative loss is lower and heat stress is a thing of the past. Unless you are getting very regular and reliable rain however you have to keep watering the lawn regularly throughout the fall until the lawn finally goes dormant. I recommend deep watering sessions spaced out every 5-7 days so long as you are averaging around an inch of water on the lawn every week. This may be less water than a lawn needs during the summer but it’s just as important to keep the grass vibrant and prevent drought stress during the lead up to winter. I don’t usually turn my irrigation off in my yard until mid-to-late November unless we are starting to get regular snow during the later parts of Fall.

10. Start Cutting Your Lawn Shorter By Late Fall – Regardless of your grass type it’s good practice to start cutting your lawn shorter before the lawn starts wanting to go dormant. In all states dormant grass is going to emerge in the spring looking better when the grass was short over the winter and in the northern states where snow and ice cover are common for the winter snow mold and other compaction problems will be lessened when the grass is short over the winter. It’s best to start stepping the height of cut down starting in mid-Fall so that mulched clippings have time to break down in the soil while soil microbes are still active so that by late November the lawn has already acclimated to a shorter cut height and you don’t have to cut excessive amounts of grass off all at once just before winter.

11. Apply Winterization Fertilizer – This is typically applied to a lawn at the end of Fall, just before the grass goes dormant. You can time this almost perfectly by checking soil temps in your lawn with a soil thermometer or by using online tools that track regional soil temps. You can be nearly as accurate by watching the growth pattern of your grass as mid-Fall turns to late fall between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The grass will probably still be green but will start growing slowly just before soil temps drop low enough to trigger dormancy in the lawn. Winterizer fertilizer is usually a higher Nitrogen application with adequate amounts of Potassium as well. You don’t apply this to push growth now, you apply it so that the lawn can uptake the nutrients and hold on to them in the roots over winter for use in the early part of Spring when dormancy breaks. We don’t want to apply fertilizer to a late winter or early Spring lawn so we apply it in the late Fall as a work-around.

Lawn Care in the Fall

The fall can be one of the busiest times of the year for lawn care if you want to prepare for the next growing season. Not only do cool season grass varieties go through another surge in top growth during the fall their root systems must also prepare for the dormancy state they are about to enter in the winter.

With fertilization, over-seeding, and watering schedules, and the cleanup of leaves and pine needles all wrapped around your regular chores of mowing and trimming it can be hard to stay on top of it all.

Below is a list of articles on this site each dedicated to many different Fall lawn care topics. Each should help you better understand what you need to be doing in the fall and how to get it done right.

When to Stop Watering the Lawn in the Fall
We water our lawns all season long to ensure our grass gets the necessary water to stay alive, growing, and green. In the Spring watering is typically less necessary because growing conditions are ideal, especially for cool season grass types. In the summer a watering schedule can keep your grass from going into dormancy but during the fall we expect winter dormancy to arrive so when do you turn the sprinklers off? Here I discuss this topic and all the related factors that come into play.

Leaf Litter Isn’t All Bad
In the fall when the trees shed all of their leaves the social norm dictates that we rake the leaves up and remove them from the lawn before winter truly takes hold. Although there are obvious reasons to keep of the leaf litter from the yard there are also a handful of good reasons to leave some of it behind. A little bit of leaf litter isn’t all that bad, here’s why.

Autumn Yard Cleanup

One of the main chores that comes with autumn is cleaning up all the debris that your nearby trees shed. For the most part this consists of leaves, pine needles, and bark.

The Best Rated Rakes for Pine Needles
If you have evergreen trees in your yard then you know how much of a pain pine needles can be come fall and winter. Although the trees stay green throughout the year they still shed a lot of debris that must be cleaned up in the fall and late winter before the spring growing season gets going. Rakes tend to do great for leaves but pine needles are harder to deal with. Here is my list of rakes that are best for dealing with this specific type of debris.

The Top Yard Vacuums for Pine Needles
Some pine trees drop long pine needles that can be easy to rake up and bag but many others drop tiny needles that are nearly impossible to rake up. Left untouched they make it very uncomfortable to walk on or play on and over time the needles that break down can make your soil acidic which can be detrimental to plant or lawn growth. For areas under pine trees that drop tiny needles yard vacuums can be a necessity. On this page I have reviewed some of the best yard vacuums and selected my favorites for picking up pine needles and other yard debris.

The Best Ways to Pick Up Pine Needles
If you have pine needles in your yard there are different ways to clean them up every season. In most cases the best way to pick them up will depend on the type you have and the amount of debris you are dealing with. On this page I give you my thoughts on cleaning up your yard in the fall after the pine needles start hitting the lawn.

Leaf Blower FAQs

Leaf Blower CFM vs MPH
When shopping for your first leaf blower the specs can be misleading unless you already know a bit about these types of garden tools. Some leaf blowers are stronger than others and just because a blower has a high MPH spec doesn’t mean it’s the best or most powerful. CFM is actually a better measure of a blowers capabilities but it’s less easy to understand. In this article I explain the differences between the two specs on the side of the leaf blower’s box.

More to follow.