Fall Turf Tune-Up

Evaluation and fertilization of turfgrass for Winter hardiness and Spring success.

By Jason McCausland
From the October 2023 Issue

Turfgrass maintenance is a critical aspect of maintaining lush and healthy lawns, and Fall presents a crucial opportunity to prepare turf for the Winter and promote vigorous growth the following Spring. The success of Fall lawn applications involves a comprehensive evaluation of factors such as: turfgrass species, lawn health, nutrient requirements, aeration, weed and pest control, mowing height, and local climate conditions.

A well-planned approach to Fall lawn care ensures the turf enters the Winter in optimal condition. Proper assessment and tailored treatments contribute to the long-term health and aesthetics of the lawn.

Turfgrass maintenance
(Photo: Weed Man)

Factors To Evaluate

Here are some of the key considerations when evaluating turfgrass for fall lawn applications.

Turfgrass Species & Variety. The choice of turfgrass species and variety plays a fundamental role in determining the success of Fall lawn applications. Different species have varying growth patterns, disease resistance, and cold tolerance. For instance, cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass thrive in cooler Fall temperatures, while warm-season grasses become dormant. Assessing the predominant grass type in the lawn helps tailor Fall treatments to its specific needs.

Lawn Health & Density. A healthy and dense lawn is better equipped to withstand Winter stresses and compete with weeds. Before applying Fall treatments, evaluate the overall health of the turfgrass. Look for signs of disease, insect damage, compaction, thatch buildup, and bare spots. Addressing these issues before the Fall season ensure the turf is in optimal condition to absorb nutrients and recover.

Nutrient Requirements. Fall is an ideal time to supply essential nutrients to the turfgrass. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are crucial for root development, energy storage, and overall plant health. Conducting a soil test helps deter- mine the nutrient levels and deficiencies in the soil, allowing for precise fertilization. Typically, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer with a higher ratio of potassium aids in root growth and Winter hardiness.

Aeration & Thatch Management. Compacted soil and excessive thatch accumulation hinder water infiltration and nutrient absorption. Fall is an opportune time for core aeration, which alleviates compaction and enhances air and water movement in the soil. This process also prepares the turf for efficient uptake of nutrients and encourages root growth.

Weed & Pest Control. Assess the lawn for weed and pest infestations that could disrupt Fall treatments. Weeds compete with turfgrass for nutrients, water, and sunlight. Applying pre-emergent herbicides in early Fall prevents the germination of Winter weeds. Additionally, addressing pest issues, such as grubs and insects, before the cold weather sets in can prevent significant damage during Winter months.

Mowing Height. Adjusting the mowing height in preparation for Fall is vital. Taller grass blades shade the soil, reducing moisture evaporation and weed growth. Gradually lowering the mowing height during the late Summer prepares the turf for Winter without stressing it. However, avoid cutting more than one-third of the grass blade in a single mowing to prevent shock and stress.

Climate & Weather Conditions. Local climate and weather conditions heavily influence Fall lawn care strategies. Consider the average frost date for the area, as well as the anticipated temperature fluctuations. Applying treatments too early can lead to excessive growth that is vulnerable to Winter damage, while applying them too late might not provide sufficient preparation.

Of course, each assessment and program must be tailored to the individual situation. Certain parts of the country will have different conditions generally determined by the agronomics and even more importantly, Mother Nature. The Summer conditions experienced in your area this year will have a direct impact in determining the best course of action. For example, if you’ve experienced abnormal weather conditions, you may see an increase in certain types of insect damage or turf diseases, which will require adjustments to your recommendations to clients for Fall applications.

Importance Of Fertilizers

One of the more essential aspects of fall lawn maintenance is the application of fertilizers. Fall fertilization plays a pivotal role in replenishing soil nutrients, enhancing root development, and fortifying grass for the colder months. There are various types of application methods and fertilizer types to consider for Fall lawn tune-ups, and each have their own benefits, which makes it difficult to decide which will be best for a lawn.

Fall fertilization plays a pivotal role in replenishing soil nutrients, enhancing root development, and fortifying grass for the colder months.

As most know, fertilizers can be broadly categorized into several types: slow-release fertilizers, both synthetic and organic; rapid-release fertilizers; and organic fertilizers. Then there are water-soluble, etc. and even specialized blends, like Winterizing fertilizers, which contain higher levels of potassium to enhance cold tolerance and disease resistance. Each type presents distinct advantages, making it crucial for users to select the most appropriate option based on specific growth objectives, soil conditions, and environmental considerations.

Overall, slow-release granular fertilizers stand out as the optimal choice for Fall lawn applications due to their unique benefits tailored to the seasonal demands of the grass. As temperatures begin to cool and grass growth slows, the gradual nutrient release aligns perfectly with the reduced growth rate of the turf.

This controlled nutrient delivery ensures the grass receives a consistent supply of essential nutrients over an extended period, avoiding the rapid growth spurts associated with quick-release fertilizers. Additionally, slow-release granules break down gradually, reducing the risk of nutrient leaching and runoff, which can be a concern as heavy rains become more common in Fall. By fostering steady growth and nutrient uptake, slow-release granular fertilizer promotes stronger root development, bolstering the grass’s resilience against the harsh Winter conditions and setting the stage for vigorous Spring regrowth.

Fertilizer Timing

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The timing of the slow-release granular fertilizer for Fall applications is a crucial consideration in ensuring the lawn’s Winter readiness. Generally, it’s recommended to apply slow-release fertilizer during the early to mid-Fall period. This timing takes advantage of the grass’s still-active growth while allowing it to gradually absorb nutrients as temperatures cool. Applying the fertilizer at this point provides the grass with the necessary nutrients to strengthen its root system and store energy for the Winter. By avoiding late Fall applications, you prevent stimulating excessive growth that could be vulnerable to frost damage.

Fall fertilization is a cornerstone of effective lawn maintenance. A healthy and dense lawn better withstands Winter stresses and competes against weeds. First, address any existing issues before applying Fall treatments. Adding aeration and thatch management will enhance soil structure, facilitating nutrient absorption and root growth.

Remember that flexibility is key, since individual situations and unusual weather patterns may necessitate adjustments to the Fall care plan and provide crucial context for timing applications correctly. In the end, a well-executed Fall turfgrass assessment and care plan lays the groundwork for maintaining a lush lawn throughout the seasons.

Jason McCausland, Weed Man, Turfgrass maintenanceMcCausland is the national technical coordinator for Weed Man. For more than 25 years, he has been an integral member of the Weed Man family and the Green Industry. Following college graduation, he started his professional journey as a lawn technician, accumulating expertise in all facets of the Weed Man franchise system. He has successfully managed smaller locations and, in recent years, has overseen the operations of one of the largest branches in North America. With his extensive knowledge and hands-on experience, he is now a part of the Head Office team, where he plays a vital role in offering valuable support to franchisees throughout North America.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at cmenapace@groupc.com.


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