Fall Lawn Maintenance Tips For Beginners {2019}

 15 Steps To Autumn Yard Care Success – The Ultimate Guide On How To Treat Lawn In The Fall for Dummies And First-Time Homeowners 

In this post, I’m going to show you 15 fall lawn maintenance tips.

Your grass will go dormant during the cold winter months!

If that’s the case, why bother to care your lawn in the fall?

Autumn always lower temperature and bring occasional rains.

This is when your grass store moisture and nutrients for winter survival.

No wonder it’s a great time to spruce up your yard.

So, the end of summer doesn’t mean you can relax!

Follow the simple steps below to prep your grass for the winter, and also the next spring.

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#1 Identify Your Grass Type

Before you start any autumn lawn care step, find out if you’ve cool-season or warm-season grass on your yard.

Cool-Season Lawns vs. Warm-Season

Cool-season grasses thrive the best when temperatures drop in early fall.

These grasses include northern favorites such as

  • Kentucky bluegrass,
  • Red Fescue,
  • Perennial Ryegrass,
  • Annual Ryegrass,
  • Bentgrass, and
  • Tall And Fine Fescues.

Fall is the ideal growing period for new and existing grass. Thanks to the warm days and chilly nights.

It’s a different story for warm-season grasses.

They enjoy their most productive growth in summer.

The southern favorites are

  • Bermuda, Buffalo,
  • Carpet,
  • St. Augustine,
  • Centipede,
  • Zoysia, and
  • Bahia.

When fall arrives, their growth starts to slow down.

They also enter dormancy following the first killing frosts in late fall.

So, cool-season turfgrasses need more maintenance during autumn than their warm-season counterparts.

You need to choose the right regimen, depending on your type of grass.

Regardless of the grass types, the autumn lawn care still applies, for example:

  • Soil Test
  • Rake The Dead Leaves
  • Remove Broadleaf Weeds
  • Lawn Equipment Care

#2 Test Your Soil

Some grass species, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, favor acidic to neutral pH ground.

Other varieties, like Bermuda, prefer more acidity.

If your lawn is barren, pale, or weedy, the pH may be too low.

Test your soil using LusterLeaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit.👈

Compare the results to the ideal pH range of your lawn.

To reduce the acidity, apply lime.

You can choose either pulverized or pelletized lime.

You need a broadcast spreader to apply the pelletized lime. The only drawback is that it takes a long time to restore the pH balance in the soil.

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Pulverized lime works faster in the soils than pelletized ones.

To reduce the alkalinity, add sulfur.

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#3 Rake The Dead Leaves

Whether you’ve warm or cold season lawn, allowing leaves to cover your grass over the winter is a no-no.

In the fall, homeowners usually rake tree leaves as part of the lawn maintenance.

What Happens If You Don’t Rake Leaves Before Snow?

Isn’t it breathtaking to see the vibrant bursts of colorful autumn foliage?

Unfortunately, these piles of dead leaves

  • prevent your grass from getting the sunlight. You’ll have dead spots in your lawn in the spring. Pretty soon, the weeds will occupy those spots and start flourishing.
  • trap moisture. Mold will grow and damage your grass.

That is why you’ve to remove the heaps of leaves before winter.

Also, it’s easier to rake them when they’re dry.

Should I Rake Leaves Or Leave Them

Either way is fine.

You can rake the dead leaves and drop them into a compost bin.

Once they’ve decomposed, you’ve organic compost in hand to fertilize your lawn.

I know raking leaves is no fun.

So, use a leaf vacuum with a shredder to mulch them.

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Or use a mulching lawnmower, especially if you own a large yard.

It’ll leave behind shredded organic matters on the surface of your lawn. It’s like top dressing.

As these bits and pieces break down during autumn, the soil improves. And it also retains more moisture.

How Often Should You Rake

For best results, rake as soon as the leaves are falling.

Even after your trees are bare, you still need to rake as the wind blows leaves into your yard.

If you can’t do it so often, then at least remove the fallen foliage once a week.

Should You Wait Until All Leaves Fall?

You think it’s better to wait for all the leaves to drop from the trees before start raking.

But here’s the problem:

Your lawn become patchy and will die.

When you let the dead leaves pile up, they’ll become wet due to the rain and morning dew.

They’ll clump together and form a soggy mat that will suffocate your grass.

Also, it’s a perfect condition for the fungus to multiply.

Bottom line: Keep your lawn free of fallen leaves. Don’t let them turn into a soggy, suffocating mat.

#4 Keep Mowing

The grass will continue to grow until the first frost.

So, don’t stash your lawnmower yet.

You still need to cut your lawn for more sun to reach the crown of the grass.

It also prevents snow mold or winter fungal diseases from forming.

So, your grass will not turn brown in the coming spring.

How Low Should You Cut Your Lawn In The Fall?

Setting the right mowing height can save you from raking or bagging the clippings.

For warm-season grass,

  • Increase the mowing height by 1/2 inch.

For cool-season lawns,

  • When your grass is about 3 to 3-1/2 inches tall, start mowing.
  • Never trim more than 1/3 of the leaf surface at any one time. In other words, cut only about 1 inch off the top of your grass.

Pruning this way will keep the volume of the grass clippings low.

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What Happens If You Cut The Grass Too Short?

The grass root depth corresponds to the cutting height.

Cut the grass too short? The root will absorb fewer nutrients.

Your lawn will be vulnerable to the cold and dryness of winter.

How To Adjust The Height Of A Lawn Mower

Drop the wheel height.

It’ll lower the cutting deck, allowing shorter cut.

For an even cut, adjust all the wheels.

And I have great news:

If you’re using a mulching lawnmower, you don’t have to fret yourself with the mowing height.

Because it shreds clippings into tiny bits

I bet you don’t walk around with a measurement tape on your belt.

As long as you keep the bulk of waste small, leaving mulched clippings on the yard will benefit your lawn.

Here is the bonus:

You’re mowing and feeding at the same time, completing two fall lawn maintenance jobs.

Mowing Tips For Fall

It’s easier to mow

  • when your grass is dry. It doesn’t clog your mower. So, no clumps of grass on your lawn.
  • in the evening when the sun is down. Your lawn has enough time to recover before the next day’s heat.

When Should You Stop Mowing Your Lawn In The Fall?

Continue to mow until the grass stops growing.

It should be late fall or early winter.

#5 Aerate The Soil

What Causes Compacted Soil?

Throughout the summer, the scorching heat may harden the ground.

When the soil becomes compact, it’ll have fewer air pockets.

The roots will receive fewer nutrients and water.

So, your grass will stop growing.

New blades of grass will stop replacing older, dead ones (leaving you with brown or thinned grass.)

How Can You Tell If Your Lawn Is Compacted?

Thrust a spade in the ground.

If you have a hard time doing so, you’ve compacted soil.

How Do You Break Up Compacted Soil?

If it only affects the surface of your lawn, aeration is the solution.

It loosens the soil and improves drainage.

It doesn’t need aggressive digging that will upset your grass.

Only aerate the lawn with cool-season grass in the early fall.

And before fertilizing (thanks to the holes made by the core aerators in your turf).

Do Lawn Aerator Shoes Really Work ?

Forget about aerator or spiked shoes with solid tines.

They only punch holes.

By pushing the soil to the sides, these shoes intensify the compaction.

Are Plug Aerators Any Better?

It’s better to use a gas-powered core aerator.

It’s the best equipment to use for aeration.

The hollow tines of the aerator pull plugs of dirt out of the earth and create deep holes.

These holes allow oxygen, nutrients, and water to reach the grassroots.

How To Aerate Your Lawn With A Plug Aerator?

  1. Set the aerator to pull out cores about 3 inches long.
  2. To perforate your whole yard, make two passes with the second at a 90-degree angle to the first.
  3. Space the holes 3 to 4 inches apart.

If your lawn is small, you can use hand aerators with hollow tines (look like a pitchfork).

They’re affordable.

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What Do You With The Plugs After Aerating Your Lawn?

If your lawn looks messy after aeration, you can leave the plugs on the ground.

Allow them to decompose in about two to four weeks, releasing nutrients back into the ground.

Or let the plugs dry, and they’ll crumble the next time you mow. Or pound them with the back of a rake.

The organic matters will enrich your soil. 😉

Is Your Soil Wet Enough For Aeration?

It’s best to wait until the ground is damp. After rain would be great.

Imagine aerating dry, hard ground with sweats streaming from your forehead!

Or, you can mow your lawn and water it the day before aerating.

How Often Do You Need To Aerate Your Lawn

If you want to prevent your lawn from compression, aerate every year.

It also takes care of minor thatch problem and prepares your lawn for dethatching .

#6 Dethatch Your Lawn

What Is Thatch

Thatch is a condensed layer of living and dead organic matters between the lawn and the soil.

It blocks water, oxygen, and nutrients from reaching the soil.

So, it can choke your lawn and keep it from thriving.

Thatch happens naturally.

But certain factors can speed up the thatch buildup.

  • Regular application of pesticides and high nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Compacted soil.
  • Aggressive spreading grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, Zoysia and Bermuda grass.
  • Inconsistent mowing or too much mowing in one direction.
  • Frequent watering.

Thatch tends to accumulate in your yard during the summer.

When autumn arrives, it’s a good idea to check the amount of thatch.

How Do You Check Your Lawn Thatch?

  1. Use a pocket knife or a shovel.
  2. Dig a two-inch deep plug from the lawn.
  3. Look for a reddish-brown, felt-like mat between the grass and the soil.
  4. Measure the cross-section of the plug.
  5. If the thickness of the thatch is more than 1/2 inch, you’ve to aerate your lawn.

How Do You Get Rid Of Thatch In Your Lawn?

Don’t dethatch warm-season grass in the autumn. You may damage their stolons (above ground runners), making them weak in winter.

Only dethatch them in the spring or early summer.

Remove thatch in early fall for cool-season grass.

Here is how you do it.

  1. You can use power rakes or vertical mowers to remove excess thatch.
  2. These tools will cut through the thatch layer and rip out the debris.
  3. After the tools pull out the thatch, use a hand rake to remove it from the lawn.

#7 Feed Your Lawn

The weather turns cool when autumn comes.

The grass will grow slower, but the roots and rhizomes continue to thrive.

When you apply fertilizer during the fall, it

  • rebuilds damaged roots and worn-out grass. Blame the heat, drought, and heavy foot traffic during summer.
  • strengthens roots to resist winter stress.
  • gives energy to the green and nutrients for storage. A good headstart next spring, don’t you think so!

Now you know why autumn is the best time of year to fertilize.

Your lawn (from grassroots to blade tips) needs nutrients to flourish.

For best results, fertilize after aeration.

What Is The Best Fertilizer To Use On Your Lawn In The Fall?

Feed your cool-season grass about 6 weeks before the first frost.

Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer.

NOTE: The numbers on the packing represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Potassium improves root growth, disease protection, drought tolerance, and cold resistance.

For warm-season lawns, skip fertilizing.

They are going into dormancy during fall to prepare for winter.

If you add fertilizers, it may disrupt the hardening-off process. So, harsh winter will threaten your lawn.

How To Fertilize Your Lawn In Fall?

If you don’t want to miss any spot, use a broadcast or drop spreader.

For uneven ground, you need more time to cover.

But it’s the most effective way to apply an even, consistent layer of fertilizer.

  1. Fill the spreader on the driveway, not on the lawn. Overspilling is bound to happen. So, you may kill your grass.
  2. Check the coverage setting on the bag (1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn).
  3. Set half the recommended setting on your broadcast spreader. It’s better to under-fertilize than over-fertilize.
  4. Make a header strip around the lawn borders.
  5. Fertilize the whole lawn first in one direction.
  6. Then repeat in the opposite direction.
  7. Shut off the spreader when approaching the strip. You don’t want to over-fertilize the grass at the end of each pass.

Before putting it away for storage, wash the spreader with a garden hose. It’ll protect the metal parts of the spreader from rust and frost.

#8 Apply A Top Dressing

Top dressing adds organic matters to the soil.

It also reduces thatch and fertilizing costs.

  1. Dethatch or aerate before you spread a top dressing on your turf.
  2. Lay a thin layer of 40% sand, 40% topsoil, and 20% organic compost (the most 1/2 inch) over the existing grass.
  3. Avoid using leaf compost as it’ll throw off the pH balance of your soil.
  4. Brush the grass with the back of a rake. It’ll work the top dressing into aeration holes and low spots.

#9 Repair Bare Patches In Lawn

During summer, the grass tolerates heat, foot traffic, and dog urine. So, bare spots appear on your lawn.

Early fall is a great time to fix dead patches in cool-season lawns.


Because the ground is warm and moist with cooling temperature.

It’s a perfect time for reseeding.

The seed will have the time to germinate and to grow throughout the winter.

How To Reseed Patches Of Lawn

  1. Rake the treated area to remove dead grass and loosen the topsoil. It allows the seeds to germinate without worrying about the wind blowing the seeds away!
  2. Spread a thick layer of the lawn repair mixture over dead spots. For small areas, use Scotts® EZ Seed® Patch & Repair while for big sites, try Scotts® Turf Builder® Grass Seed.
  3. Use the back of the rake to press the mixture. It increases the seed-to-soil contact.
  4. Water the spots.
  5. Keep the soil moist by watering every day until the new grass reaches the mowing height.

Using a ready-to-use lawn repair mixture is the quickest method to fill in bald spots.

It makes reseeding easy. It contains everything you need, such as

  • grass seeds,
  • a quick-starter lawn fertilizer, and
  • organic mulch.

Repair Lawn With Sod

If you have a few dead patches to treat, laying sod in fall is the instant solution.

The autumn condition gets sod off to a quick start.

How Do You Plant Sod In A Bald Spot?

  1. Cut a patch from a roll of thick, weed-free grass sod using a sharp shovel.
  2. The patch should extend at least 2 inches beyond the edges of the bare spot.
  3. Rake the dead and healthy grass surrounding the bare patch.
  4. Pull out any weed.
  5. Dig a layer of soil that is deep enough for the patch to be at the same level as your lawn.
  6. Use the rake to loosen the soil. It helps the roots in your sod to sink into the ground.
  7. Crush soil lumps that are bigger than 2 inches in diameter.
  8. Fill low areas with good quality topsoil.
  9. Lay sod over the treated area on a cool, cloudy day to reduce plant stress.
  10. Walk over it a few times to press it down into the ground. It’ll reduce air pockets.
  11. Water immediately.
  12. Over the next few days, keep watering two or three times a day until the sod patch starts growing.

#10 Overseed A Thin Lawn

When your lawn gets older, the grass reproduction drops.

If your lawn looks thin, fall is the best time to overseed it.

Leaving it untreated will make it easier for weeds to take over.

Overseeding a thin lawn will have a higher survival rate against weeds.

How To Thicken A Thin Lawn

  1. Overseed at least 45 days before the first frost, so the grass gets established before winter.
  2. Reduce the mowing height until you can cut the grass at the height of 2 inches or less.
  3. Bag the clippings.
  4. Use a rake to remove the dead grass and loosen the topsoil.
  5. Fill the spreader with the grass seeds.
  6. Sow grass seed over the mowed area, making two passes at right angles to each other.
  7. Start with frequent light sprinklings.
  8. Increase the interval between watering over time. It’ll encourage the roots to grow deeper into the soil.
  9. Spread a starter fertilizer such as Pennington UltraGreen Starter Fertilizer over the new lawn.

For warm-season lawns, overseed with annual winter ryegrass (not perennial) .

When summer returns, the annual winter ryegrass will die. Then the warm-season grass can take over.

But, the perennial winter ryegrass will survive throughout summer. It will compete with your warm-season grasses for sunlight, water, and nutrients.

For cold-season grass, overseed using Pennington Smart Seed.

If you overseed every year, your effort will pay off with a lush, weed-free lawn.

#11 Kill The Weeds

If you still have some weeds in your lawn by fall, then you should get rid of them.

It’s getting difficult to deal with weeds once the leaves and snow cover them.

Furthermore, the growth of your grass starts to slow down.

It’ll allow the aggressive weeds to take over.

Dandelions, clover, and other broadleaf weeds also prepare for winter.

During the fall, they’ll shift the nutrients from their leaves to their roots.

So, they have a better survival rate for the next spring.

How To Deal With Weeds During Fall

Use a weed & feed fertilizer such as Pennington UltraGreen Weed & Feed on cool-season grass to kill existing weeds.

There’s only one catch:

Don’t apply it to newly seeded areas.

You can distinguish weeds in dormant warm-season grass without much effort.

Treat them with a post-emergent herbicide. The chemical travels from leaves to roots, killing the weed.

IMAGE All-in-One Weed Killer handles a broad range of troublesome weeds. It helps keep your lawn pristine.

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If you notice any brown spot where the weeds were, let nature takes its course. The grass will fill in the area in due time.

If you have a large area of weeds to deal with, use Pennington’s UltraGreen Weed N Feed.

For spot treatments or small areas, Bonide’s Weed Beater Ultra or Bayer Advanced All-in-One Lawn Weed and Crabgrass Killer should be enough.

#12 Get Rid Of The Lawn Pests

Pest can cause severe problems to your lawn after winter.

If you’ve kept mowing, raked the leaves, and pulled out the weeds, half of your battle has won.

It’s a good idea to manage any surviving pests in early fall.

Otherwise, they’ll return to haunt you next spring!

Care for your yard now and fend off bugs and rodents with pesticides.

#13 Keep Watering

The weather gets chilly in the fall.

It rains more and evaporates less during autumn.

That said:

It doesn’t mean your watering can take a break.

Grass needs water every season, especially when it’s dry.

The water may not be enough for the grass to get through winter.

How Much Water Does My Lawn Need?

Healthy lawns need 1 inch of water every week.

Use a rain gauge to keep track of how much water your grass is getting.

Cool-season lawns need more water for active growing than warm-season counterparts.

  • As fall approaches, stretch out the regular watering schedule and let rainfall help.
  • They don’t need as much water as in summer. They need enough to carry them through the long winter.
  • But, if the dry spells persist into fall, soak the soil several inches deep (water at least twice a week).

Keep watering warm-season lawns as long as they’re growing.

Then leave it to the rainfall.

For overseeding, continue a regular watering schedule.

Is It Better To Water Lawn In The Morning Or At Night?

In the early morning, the water evaporates less due to the light winds. So, water your lawn in the morning.

Don’t water at night as it’ll invite fungal diseases.

#14 Keep Your Tools For Next Spring

When the fall is ending, it’s time to put your power tools away.

Clean and oil them, so they don’t rust.

Do your winter maintenance for your lawnmower before storing.

  • Drain the gas out after the last mowing of the season.
  • Sharpen the blades with this tool.
  • Change the oil, filter, and spark plugs.

#15 Stick To The Schedule

You’ve to do every step in the fall lawn maintenance at the right time.

If not, all your efforts will flush into the drain.

Say you overseed at the late fall. The seedlings will not survive throughout the winter.

You aerate the soil in the spring because you miss the opportunity in the fall.

The bad news is that the weeds will grow first.

Final Thoughts On Fall Lawn Maintenance Tips

Follow these simple steps like clockwork with your grass today.

And you’ll enjoy a thick carpet of green grass next year.

You’re MORE than welcome to follow me on Pinterest here, and of course, pin this photo if you like!

Fall Lawn Maintenance Tips
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