Fall Lawn Care and Preparing Your Lawn for Winter

As the temperatures start to dip and the days get shorter, it’s clear that summer is gone. It’s time to start thinking about what comes next. For many, the autumn months mean warm fires, fall sports, and holiday cheer. But if you’re the proud owner of a grass lawn, this time of year also means switching from summer to fall lawn care and preparing your lawn for winter. If you thought that fall means you’re off the hook for lawn care, think again. Here are some of the best ways to keep your lawn healthy in the fall and prepare for the colder months ahead.

Raking the Leaves: Yes or No?

As the weather cools, it triggers trees to start dropping their leaves. If you have a lawn, that could mean lots of yellow, orange, and red leaves all over your once-green lawn. Many homeowners assume that it is their duty to rake up all those leaves into a big pile. But before you break out the rake, let’s take a moment to talk about whether all the effort is really worth it.

How Harmful Are Fallen Leaves?

You’ve probably heard all the warnings about why you need to rake up every last leaf: The leaves will smother your lawn! A thick layer of leaves will prevent new grass from growing! Leaves will hold in moisture and cause disease!

While those are all true in some contexts, it’s not so simple. If your entire yard was covered in a very, very thick layer of leaves, and you did absolutely nothing about it, there is a chance it could harm your grass. But that’s a long way from the admonition that you must rake up every last leaf. Instead, consider thinning out the leaves with a quick raking and leaving whatever you don’t pick up with a simple once-over. There are plenty of very good reasons to leave most, if not all, of the leaves where they are. And there are some equally good reasons why raking up your leaves could be a bad idea.

Fall Lawn Care and Preparing Your Lawn for Winter [infographic]

The Benefit of Leaving Fallen Leaves

In nature, no one rakes up all those fallen leaves. And yet you don’t see a dead forest floor come spring. That’s because falling leaves are part of the natural cycle of growth and decay. All summer long, trees are hard at work converting light, air, water, and nutrients into new foliage. In the fall, when all that foliage plunges to the ground, it brings with it some hard-earned nutrients. Think of autumn leaves as free fertilizer.

If you want to get the benefit of fallen leaves for your lawn, all you have to do is take a pass or two over them with your mower. The goal is to mulch them up into pieces no larger than a dime. The mulch will insulate the soil and turf roots, as well as provide fertilizer for your lawn.

An added bonus from leaving some of the leaves intact is that they provide vital habitat for many types of caterpillars. The caterpillars are food for songbirds, who will brighten your lawn all winter long. The remaining caterpillars will, of course, become butterflies. And who doesn’t want a yard full of butterflies in the spring and summer?

Don’t Trash Those Leaves

The worst thing you can do with fallen leaves is to rake them into bags and put them in the trash. Leaves are easily compostable, and sending them to a landfill wastes space. Our landfills are expanding, and it’s critical that we don’t make them any larger than they have to be. Even worse, as leaves decay in a landfill, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide! If your city has any type of municipal composting center, send your leaves there. If not, consider reusing the leaves as mulch. It is also best to avoid burning leaves as the smoke pollutes the air, and there is a significant risk of the fire spreading into an uncontrolled burn.

Watering Your Lawn in the Fall

Many homeowners assume that they can stop watering their lawns in the fall. But the timing of when you stop needs to be carefully considered. As long as the grass is still growing, it needs water. That water can come from rain or irrigation, so there’s no point in irrigating after an autumn shower. But if it doesn’t rain at least an inch a week, make sure you make up the difference with irrigation.

Once the grass goes dormant, it is no longer necessary to water it. Normal precipitation should be enough to keep your grass fed through the winter. Typically, grass will go dormant after the first frost of the season.

Fall Fertilizing

Lawn care experts recommend fertilizing your lawn at least twice a year—once in the spring and once in the fall. But homeowners need to be careful about when they fertilize. Typically, it is best to fertilize a few weeks before the first frost is expected. A bust of nitrogen and other nutrients can help your grass kickstart photosynthesis and store up critical carbohydrates to power it through the winter. But fertilizing too late can inhibit dormancy. Going dormant at the right time allows your grass to shut down new growth and focus on maintaining the roots, so preventing on-time dormancy can be harmful.

Aerating in the Fall

If you plan to aerate your lawn, do it early, at least 4-6 weeks before the first frost. Aerating is a great way to break up compacted soil and expose the turf roots to air, water, and nutrients. In fact, one of the best times to fertilize is right after aerating. But aerating your lawn tears up some of the grass and puts stress on the plants. That’s fine when the grass has time to recover, but it’s not a good idea if you are too close to dormancy. If you haven’t aerated your lawn by now, consider waiting until spring.

Partner With Professional Lawn Care Experts

Many homeowners don’t think of fall as a time to hire professional lawn care experts. But now is actually a great time to form a relationship with a reliable company like these TrustDALE certified lawn care professionals. Many lawn care companies get extremely busy in the spring, and by then, you’re already playing catch-up with your lawn care. Instead, partner with a lawn care company now, in the fall, to help prepare your lawn for the winter and set it up for a fantastic spring green-up. Remember, when you work with a TrustDALE certified company, you benefit from Dale’s 7-point investigative review, and you are protected by Dale’s trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.

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