Fall Lawn Care Steps to Take Now

Fall is the absolute best time of year for aeration, overseeding, adding compost, and fertilizer if necessary. Lawn care at this time of year is crucial for the success of your lawn the following spring. Warm days and cool nights provide ideal conditions for grass seed germination for our region’s fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass lawns. When the weather cools down, growth happens in the soil with the grass roots, instead of on top of the soil with the grass blades. Turf grass roots store food during the winter months. When spring rolls around, your lawn has the nutrients it needs to produce a lush green hue. There is usually no need to fertilize in the spring

The first step in improving your lawn should always be a soil test. This very cost-effective diagnosis of your soil’s fertility and pH status is quite often the answer to the question of why your turf is failing. Soil test paperwork can be picked up at several major plant nurseries in the area. It costs $10 to mail your sample to Virginia Tech (VT). Or you can contact the Prince William Master Gardener office and request a Master Gardener come to your home and collect the sample for you. This costs $40 with all of the funds going to VT. The soil test will tell you if your lawn needs more compost, fertilizer, or lime. Most of the soil in our area is very acid, and probably requires supplemental lime. Fall is the ideal time to make a lime application because it takes weeks to months for your lawn to fully realize the benefits of the treatment. You should only add fertilizer if the results of your soil test specifically state your turf needs fertilizer. Otherwise you are wasting your money and that fertilizer you put on your grass is just going to run off and end up in our local ponds/creeks and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, and the Chesapeake Bay is where most of our drinking water comes from.

You should also think about aeration every few years. This helps with the natural compaction of our Virginia clay lawns. Overseeding is a great option after aeration. Some homeowners even spot overseed in specific locations every year. I think adding compost is the absolute best thing you can do for your lawn at any time. If you don’t have time to do anything else – add compost. It is like dessert for your lawn. It builds soil structure and provides slow release nutrients for your grass. Compost compost compost!

Fall is also a great time to plant some Virginia native shrubs as it’s when we usually have dependable rainfall, cooler weather, and fewer disease problems. In addition, many shrubs are on sale at nurseries, which makes fall planting better for your wallet. Some favorite native Virginia recommendations that will look awesome next year include: Virginia Sweet Spire, Buttonbush, and Winterberry.

Get outside, enjoy one of nature’s most beautiful seasons, and take care of some lawn care now to ensure you have a beautiful lawn next spring. To get more information or answers to any gardening issues, please call or contact the Prince William Master Gardeners at 703-792-7747 or master_gardener@pwcgov.org. They offer gardening classes and lectures – usually free to the public.

Janene Cullen, PhD
About Janene Cullen, PhD 4 Articles
Janene Cullen has lived in Haymarket for 16 years. As a retired military officer, this is the longest she has ever lived in one location. She works full time for the Aerospace Corporation as a satellite engineer. She has been a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer since 2006 and volunteers with the Master Gardeners of Prince William.

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