With the arrival of fall, warm season grasses (Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, and St. Augustine) begin entering their season of dormancy and little work is required of those who have these types of lawns.
Fall Lawn Care Basics
By Joe Lamp’l
But just the opposite is true for those with cool-season turf, namely fescue and bluegrass. You are about to prepare for the busiest time of year, including maintenance, renovation, and establishment.
Because cool season grass has an active growing season during the autumn months, this is the best time of year to do whatever work is necessary to have a great looking lawn by spring, and one that will be better able to endure hot humid summers.
In fall, cool season grass has plenty of time to establish by spring. And by summer roots should be strong and deep. By preparing cool-season turf in fall, you create the best chance of success for serious establishment by next summer.
Fall is also the perfect time to check your soil for optimum nutrient levels. This includes lime, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. A good soil test (one done through your County Extension Service) will tell you this important information and more.
A practice I like to use is to always aerate my fescue lawn in the fall, just prior to overseeding. This has several benefits. By aerating with a “core aerator”, I am invigorating my root zone, by increasing oxygen in the soil, and creating openings in which compost or fertilizer has a place to go. The cores, which get pulled from your soil, are only unsightly for a short while. Any rain or irrigation you do will quickly cause these cores to break down and wash back into the ground.
Overseeding vs. Starting Over
A general rule is that if you still have about 50% of your lawn growing, than you can overseed with good results. However, if more than 50% has died, than you may want to consider starting over. This includes killing the remaining grass and weeds with a non-selective herbicide. Then seven days later, you can safely seed or sod your entire lawn area.
Once the seed is down, good seed to soil contact is critical for good germination. I like to rent a water filled roller to go over my newly seeded lawn area to ensure good seed to soil contact. After seeding, you might also want to mulch with wheat straw. This will help keep the seeds moist, and keep the birds away. Be careful to buy good quality straw. Otherwise you may end up with Hay, and end up with a bail full of seed heads that will quickly sprout and be unsightly mixed with the fescue.
Once all this is done make sure you keep your seeds moist until germination. This may mean watering briefly several times a day. Once you get germination, start to taper off you watering, until the lawn is getting about an inch each week.
Fescue lawns should be fertilized twice in the fall, ideally in mid-September, and again in mid-November. Although I use compost, you may not have ready access to a suitable quantity. You will find many fertilizer options at nurseries and garden centers. If selecting a synthetic formulation, be sure to use only as directed and keep the product on target by avoiding over or off-target application onto sidewalks, driveways, roads or watersheds.
Fescue lawns admittedly are the most labor-intensive turf types, but to many, the bit of extra work is worth it! They are rewarded with year round, beautiful green lawns.