University of Illinois Extension

Don't Forget Fall Lawn Care

The summer of 2013 has been so much better than last year when you consider the amount of rainfall this spring and more mild daily temperatures, said Richard Hentschel University of Illinois Extension horticulturist.

"The lawns have had a good year to recover, and yet there are always going to be some areas in the lawn that could be improved," Hentschel said. "With hot dry summers come stressed lawns that allow weeds to move in. Lots of weeds had the opportunity to sprout or spread late in the season last year and those weeds can still be out there.

"Fall is a good time to consider a weed control program while the grass is still growing vigorously and can fill in those spots as the weeds fade away. The added benefit of a fall treatment is that you get any new weeds that have sprouted this year as well as those already present in the lawn."

If you have areas that are so thin that they needed to reseed, then prepare those spots as if you were seeding for the first time. Often those areas are thin for reasons like soil compaction or that area is a bit lower than the rest of the lawn and water stands after a rain.

Compaction is often the cause next to the drive apron where the car tire misses the drive or where we always step out of the car to go into the house. Sometimes it is the path the family uses to go from the back door to another spot in the yard. Just putting soil on top of compacted soil to get the seeds to sprout will be disappointing just a few weeks later. Working the soil to six to eight inches deep will relieve most of the compaction. Using some good topdressing material will also help the soil from returning to its former state.

Hentschel noted that if the lawn is thin in an area that water stands in an otherwise flat lawn and compaction is not part of the concern, then lightly working the soil and adding in additional organic matter to raise the depression is suggested.

"Sow those areas using a high quality hybrid grass seed that exhibits good disease resistance," he said. "Once the new seed receives water, keeping the soil evenly moist is the key for good seed emergence and development."

Fall is a time when the grass begins to grow more rapidly as it did in the spring. You may need to step up the mowing again to more than once a week. Mowing the lawn more often will keep it more competitive. Consider raising the mower deck up a notch, leaving the lawn slightly longer.

A longer grass blade can make more food for better overwintering and shades the soil, keeping a number of different weeds from sprouting. While you are adjusting the mower deck, take a look at the mower blade. If the last time you sharpened the blade was way back in the spring, then it is time again! Any mower will leave a better looking cut with sharp blades.

"Fertilizing the lawn can be an important part of keeping the lawn actively growing and healthy," he noted. "The amount of fertilizers you apply is directly related to the amount of time you are going to spend taking care of the lawn throughout the whole season. If the decision is to only fertilize once a year with an inorganic fertilizer, fall is the preferred time.

"If you are caring for your lawn using organic products, then the grass plant has the opportunity to get the nutrition throughout the year and you will not see the big flush of growth so often associated with an inorganic fertilizer. If you need a mantra to take care of your lawn, it should be 'mow high, mow often with a sharp blade.'

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