- Remove the leaves. A carpet of colorful autumn leaves may look nice and be fun to play in, but they’re no good for grass.
- Keep cutting, but to the correct height. Don’t put that mower away yet.
- Continue watering.
- Add fertilizer.
- Stay on schedule.
- Planting Spring Bulbs.
1. Remove the leaves.
A carpet of colorful autumn leaves may look nice and be fun to play in, but they’re no good for grass. They block the light and trap moisture, potentially fatal knockout punches for the unlucky turf underneath. So when the leaves are falling, blow or rake them away as often as you can. Even after the trees are bare, continue raking out the corners where the wind piles leaves up. If you don’t, come spring the grass under that soggy, decaying mat will be dead.
2. Keep cutting, but to the correct height.
Don’t put that mower away yet. Grass continues to grown up to the first hard frost, and so will need regular cuts to keep it at an ideal 2½- to 3-inch height. If you let it get too long, it will mat and be vulnerable to fungi like snow mold. Cutting grass too short is just as bad, because it curtails the root system—root depth is proportional to cutting height—and impedes the lawn’s ability to withstand winter cold and dryness. Regular mowing also gets rid of those pesky leaves, chopping them up and leaving behind a soil-enhancing mulch.
3. Continue watering.
Frith says that people tend to let up on watering in the fall as the weather gets cooler. “They figure that nature will take care of things for them,” he says. While it’s true that there’s more rain, more dew, and less evaporation at this time of year, that may not be enough to keep the grass roots well hydrated and healthy going into the winter. If your lawn isn’t getting at least an inch of water a week—a simple rain gauge is a useful way to keep track—then keep the sprinklers or irrigation system running until the end of October. By that time, you’ll want to disconnect hoses and flush the irrigation system to avoid frozen pipes and spigots.
4. Add fertilizer.
Just as grass roots need water to last the winter, they also benefit from a shot of the plant sugars that protect roots from freezing and give the entire plant the energy to bounce back in the spring. Those sugars are produced by chlorophyll, which grass produces in abundance when there’s enough nitrogen. That’s why we recommend a late-fall application of a slow-release granular 24-0-10 fertilizer. The numbers indicate the percentage by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. Potassium is also important at this time because it aids in root growth, disease protection, drought tolerance, and cold resistance. (A soil test can tell you how much of each nutrient your lawn actually needs.)
5. Stay on schedule.
Each of the steps above has to be done at the right time for best results. Otherwise, it’s wasted effort. For instance, overseed too late and the seedlings will be too tender to survive. Fertilize too early and the grass will send up tender blades that will get hammered by the cold. Fertilize too late and the grass roots won’t be able to absorb all those nutrients you’re feeding them.
6. Fall Planting – Spring Bulbs
All spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold dormancy to bloom. Plant bulbs in fall to ensure a beautiful spring display.