The Morehouse Personal Fall Lawn Checklist
Ever want to know what the lawn care guy does for his own lawn?
If you ask the internet what to do for your lawn in the fall, you'll find every product, process, method, and philosophy ever thought up by a guy with a mower, an opinion, and something to sell.
The truth is, though, not everything works for every lawn, and lawns in our area of Upstate New York have very specific needs.
We have pretty typical Adirondack soil in our yard. It's sandy, prone to compaction, and has a hard time holding water. Our frost dates are different here than 10 miles down the road past the red barn. The people who live here know that the mountain behind our house splits thunder storms in two, but sucks snow storms right into the valley.
We've been here a while, and we have a lot of practice working with those conditions. While every lawn has its unique challenges (voles, fungus, teenagers), all lawns in our area share many of the same issues, and will benefit from a yearly routine built specifically for an Adirondack lawn.
Since it's just about fall, and we get a lot of requests for it, we thought we share our personal routine that we use every fall for keeping our lawn in pro condition. It's probably way more information than you care about, so we also have a handy PDF checklist that you can download for free!
See below for the full details, then click the link at the bottom to download the checklist. These are the processes that we actually do every year for our own lawn. It's designed to be simple, cost-effective, and easy on the environment.
And it works.
AUGUST & SEPTEMBER - Grow Grass
August and September are the perfect time to grow grass. The nights are cooler, but there is still plenty of time for the grass to get established before the snow comes. We always use these months to really work on the health of our lawn.
Aerate. Core aeration is the process of removing small plugs of earth and sod from your lawn, which allows water, oxygen, and important nutrients to reach the root system of the grass. It also creates space for the roots to grow into, which makes a healthier, greener, and stronger lawn.
Overseed. Aerating's best friend is overseeding. Overseeding is simply adding grass seed to an existing lawn. It helps to improve the density of the grass, and makes for stronger more durable turf. We overseed our lawn every year, although young or thin lawns will especially benefit from the process.
New Lawn Growth or Patch Repairs. When we bought our house it came with the world's worst lawn. We've done a lot of repairs, rehabs, and new turf installations. If we have an area of our lawn that needs some repairs, or even a major overhaul, this is the perfect time of year to do it. For small repairs, some grass seed, organic fertilizer, and a watering schedule may do the trick. For larger jobs, we'll bring in topsoil, compost, and set up a temporary irrigation system with an automatic timer.
You can see our step-by-step process for rehabbing a lawn here, complete with some pretty satisfying before & after pics.
SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER - Trim & Plant
Kyle has a problem that we don't talk about. He can't drive past a garden center or nursery without picking up a new plant. We are constantly changing out perennials and scrambling to find homes for the latest sad little tree (it was a really good deal!) (it will definitely come back to life) (it's a really rare breed!).
Plant Shrubs & Bulbs. Now is the time to plant all of the new shrubs, trees, and bulbs that your husband brought home and hid in the garage hoping you wouldn't notice.
Trim Dead Limbs. Near the end of October the leaves are pretty much gone from the trees in this area. We can usually see pretty clearly any dead branches, and we have better access to trim them. Trimming dead limbs not only is beneficial for the tree's health, but it also helps protect us from limbs coming down in the winter and doing damage to the property.
Prune Perennials. Most perennials should be cut back in the fall in order for them to grow back healthy in the spring. Pruning also helps prevent rot and disease. For flowering plants you can usually trim them back as soon as they are done blooming, although you may want to keep them full for the season if they have pretty foliage. By the end of October, we try to have all of your perennials pruned so that they can hunker down for the winter. Sometimes this ends up bleeding over into November if we're really busy (5 kids...), and that's OK too.
OCTOBER & NOVEMBER - Clean, Feed, & Treat
The end of the fall is all about cleaning up the dead stuff and prepping your yard for the long New York winter ahead.
Leaf Mulching. Don't leave the leaves on your lawn, but don't waste them either. Even a thin layer of leaves on your lawn can promote disease and invite unwanted pests. It can also choke out the grass trying to germinate in the spring. So you definitely shouldn't leave them as is, but there is a lot of awesome organic matter in leaves, including nitrogen, which is vital to lawn health. By mulching the leaves into the lawn you are getting a free (and totally organic) fertilizer application. Most lawn mowers (even push mowers) can have mulching blades installed on them, although they usually don't come with them and need to be purchased separately.
More questions about what do with with leaves?
Fall Feeding. Mulching leaves is great for the lawn, but we always give our lawn an added boost with a final fall feeding. We use a fertilizer with extra phosphorus in late fall which will encourage root growth and help the lawn survive the winter.
Weed Treatment. Many broadleaf weeds, like dandelions, germinate in the fall and then winter over to emerge in the spring. Fall is the perfect time to treat for these weeds to get a jump on next season. Just make sure that you are using a selective herbicide, and don't use any herbicides within 4-6 weeks of planting grass seed, or it can stop your new grass from germinating.
Shut Down Irrigation. Whatever type of irrigation system you have, don't forget to shut it down for the winter. Depending on your setup, you may need to shut off the water supply, timers, drain pipes, or remove and store hoses. Read the manual for your system, or contact the manufacturer for specific instructions.