Turf Tips for Mid Fall

When summer turns to fall, cooler temperatures, more frequent rain storms and a few other changes follow along.  In order to maximize turf performance and recovery from summer stressors, consider these management actions:

Fall Fertilization – Fall is a great time to fertilize the lawn to help it recover from summer stress and pests.  Most of the volume of product should be applied in early September in the form of a quick/slow release blend, about 0.75 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft.  If the lawn is still a bit lackluster or thin in mid-October, applying another light dose, in the 0.25 to 0.33 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. range in a quick release form will increase vigor and help reduce stem rust as well.

Fall Watering – In summer, the evapotranspiration rates are much higher than in fall.  Fall watering to replace water used by the plant and lost to the atmosphere should be reduced to reflect this change.  The key to both summer and fall watering is to check the soil for moisture and keep it in the mid-range – moist, not soggy or dry.  Checking with a probe such as a long screwdriver will help determine soil moisture levels.

Fall Leaf Management – Regular lawn mowing is still required to maintain overall health.  If the landscape contains any deciduous trees, the addition of tree leaves to the grass blades adds another dimension for mowing.  The good news is that university research indicates that up to 2 inches of tree leaves can be chewed up and mowed into the turf with no damage as long as a modern recycling mower is used.  The added nutrients from the tree leaves will benefit the turf as well.  Picking up tree leaves with a bagging attachment and adding them to the compost pile is another good option.

Fall Weed Control – Mid-fall is a great time to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, plantain, clover and bindweed.  It’s also a good time to control winter annuals such as shepherd’s purse, speedwell and henbit.  If you’ve had trouble with these weeds, now is a good time for a herbicide application.  Read and follow all label directions.

Fall Scouting for Pests – While all of the above practices are being tended to, it’s wise to take a little time to look closely for pests such as grubs, sod webworms, powdery mildew and rust.  It’s a great fall activity, wandering around the yard with a cup of hot apple cider, looking for lawn problems!

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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