Mowing Your Lawn
It's important to keep your grass 2 to 2-1/2 inches tall throughout the fall. If your grass gets much longer (more than 3 inches) it will mat, leading to winter lawn disease problems such as snow mold(That white stuff you see on the grass after the snow melts). If you cut it shorter than 2 inches, you will severely limit its ability to make and store food for growth in the spring. Keep your blades sharp too. Mowing with dull blades can shred the ends of the grass blades leaving them open to dehydration and entry of disease and give them a brown or white appearance. Honing them a little bit before each mowing will help keep them in shape without having to resort to grinding. If you hit rocks or debris and take chunks out of the blades, replacement or heavy grinding may be required.
Lawn raking in the fall removes excess organic debris, and can help maintain water quality. In winter, freezing and thawing can cause leaves, dead grass, plants, and other organic debris to release soluble forms of phosphate (and nitrates). If these chemicals run off frozen ground during spring snow melt and early spring rains, they can end up in surface water causing algae blooms and pollution that could eventually make it into the water table. Keep grass clippings, leaf litter, and other organic debris off driveways, sidewalks and streets. Raking can be tedious and painful work. Hire some one to do it or do it a little at a time, so you don't get bored, tired or injured. Some rental companies have leaf vacuums and many of the newer mowers mulch the leaves into the lawn. Mulching mowers work good but, you don't want to do huge piles of leaves with them.
You have several options when it comes to disposing of fallen leaves. The preferred way is to compost them, because composting keeps leaves out of streets and storm sewers. You can also use fallen leaves, whole or chipped by a power mower, as winter mulch around rose bushes and landscape plants. Leave fallen leaves on your lawn and make several passes over them with a power mower, chopping them into a thin layer fine enough to stay on the lawn without causing damage while providing nutrients for the grass. You can also bag leaves for disposal by municipal authorities. Many progressive towns now require compostable plastic bags for curb side pickup of yard debris. You can compost them yourself if you have the space. you'll need to layer them with straw, house hold garbage and/or manure to get them to break down efficiently. Leaves tend to mat and can lay in a pile for a long time without breaking down if not layered or stirred up occasionally. The can be a great place for mosquitoes and other pesky bugs to breed so, definitely layer them and stir the pile once and while.
Watering Your Lawn
Even though temperatures might be cooler than in summer, your lawn still needs water as do all your landscape plants too. Late summer and fall can be very dry. Since lawn grasses continue to grow throughout the fall, watering is still important to sustain growth. Go ahead and water as needed until the ground is cold and beginning to freeze. If you have an automatic irrigation system, avoid damage by having it blown out with compressed air before water freezes in the pipes and sprinkler heads.. If it happens to rain a lot, you can skip this step. Fall watering is best done in the morning. Evening watering can work if that's what time you have to do it but you'll need to pay attention to what's going on out there. Fall nights tend to be cooler and longer than in Summer and that can cause fungus to grow on the soil if it doesn't get a chance to dry out once and a while.
Fertilizing Your Lawn
Apply a final dose of lawn fertilizer in mid September - to late October depending upon what zone you're in. You'll provide your grass with nutrients that will be absorbed and stored until needed for spring growth. Lawns that have received late-season fertilizing are often the first to begin growing in the spring. Some lawns require fertilizer in November too, depending on how long your season is.
“Winterizing” types of fertilizers containing high amounts of phosphorus are only necessary if a reliable soil test indicates a shortage of phosphorus. If you need extra potash or phosphorous it can be supplied by using rock phosphate and natural jersey greensand available here. Synthetic varieties of these nutrients tend to be very soluble and leach from the soil too quickly to be of much use to the plants and the cause pollution. We recommend you use an organic lawn fertilizer like those sold here. Neptune's Harvest liquid organic fertilizer works great on lawns too. One 5 gallon pail can be enough for most people's needs for a full year and you can use it on everything else out there too. Keep it out of harms way and you can use it next year too. Just shake up the bucket before each use. It doesn't go bad. You can apply it with a sprayer or a watering can on small lawns and landscape plants.
Broad Leaf Weed Control
I really don't like the terms like broad leaf weeds. Fall is a good time to control perennial broad leaf weeds such as dandelions, plantain, clover, and creeping charlie(ground ivy) (If they bother you. I suggest you leave the clover at least). A number of weeds can be removed by hand. Plantain is one of the easiest weeds to pull by hand when it's small and/or you have nice loose soil. The roots are shallow and if you grab the whole plant, leaves and stems at once, it usually comes right up in one piece. If your weeds are few and scattered—or confined to a few small areas—spot-treating them with herbicide is usually sufficient. Weed-control products sold in ready-to-use spray containers make spot treatment easy. Be sure to complete treatments when temperatures are above 50 degrees—your herbicide needs time to do its job before winter cold sets in. (Organic BurnOut II and GeenMatch work almost immediately)
Don’t choose your weed-control strategy without a careful evaluation of the number and types of weeds in your lawn. Remember—you don’t need to apply herbicides over your entire lawn unless there’s extensive weed infestation, in which case, you might want to have a soil test done and check the pH and find out what's out of balance. Crab grass control can be accomplished by using nature and nurture. If it's really bad, tilling up the existing lawn and starting over may be your best strategy. you won't need to till 6" deep like a harden. A couple of inches of depth for most old lawns is enough. If you have compacted soil, a deeper tilling might be a good idea. Applications of compost and fertilizer before tilling is a good way to incorporate them into the soil. Don't apply corn gluten products when seeding new lawns or overseeding. corn gluten kills all seeds, including the ones you want.
The first hard frost will kill annual weedy grasses. What you have left is the seeds that will be left to come up in the spring. If your lawn is small you should try to pull up, by hand, as much of the crab grass as possible and put it in a long term compost pile that's active or if you're in the city use biodegradable bags and put it out by the curb for collection. Many progressive cities have free curbside pickup or free drop off points for compostable waste from the yard and kitchen. Contact you local street department or sanitation department or city hall to find out about these programs. If one doesn't exist, no time like the present for them to get on it!
Our organic fertilizer programs use corn gluten as part of the fall fertilizer treatment. If you stick with the program year after year you will see a noticeable decline in the amount of crabgrass and other weeds in the lawn after the first two years of application. For new lawns and overseeding projects choose the program that's right for that application.
Seeding and Sodding Your Lawn
Fall is the best time of year to establish or repair lawns by over seeding or sodding unless you live in a very warm climate. Call your local extension agent for advice on what time of year is optimum for planting new grass. (lawn Tip) Seeding should be completed by mid-September in northern climates. Cool temperatures usually make fall seeding or sodding successful. Be sure to complete your sodding before very cold weather sets in. Rake the lawn area before you over seed to remove debris and dead grass. Raking also scarifies and loosens the surface of the soil a little bit, giving the lawn seeds a nice little place to find shelter and grow. Those little divots can be the whole world to a tiny seed. It's where the moisture from dew collects and they provide shelter from the wind and foot traffic while the seed germinates. When you seed a lawn for the first time or overseed an old lawn, save a little of the seed for applying later. There will always be trouble spots that are hard to get started so, saving a little of the seed for later will allow you to go back out there and repair any problems that come up using the same species of grass the rest of the lawn has. Keep foot traffic to a minimum while the new grass is establishing itself.