With the long summer days waning, fresh tomatoes coming out of the garden (finally!) and the flowers looking exhausted from the summer weather, the big ramp-up to fall gardening has begun.
While this might bring about thoughts of pumpkin picking and raking, it is – in fact – the best time to help improve your lawn for next year. The more temperate weather of fall is preferred by turf grass, plus it has nice warm soil not found in springtime. Lay out your plan for upcoming months: repair, renew, rest.
Late August is the best time to repair bare patches in the lawn, with the warm soil germinating the seed quickly. For best results, add some organic matter or fresh soil to the bare patches and work into the top 2 inches of the existing soil along with some balanced starter fertilizer, such as 10-10-10. Spread seed lightly, and cover with straw (lawn patch kits work well also if convenience is more of a factor). Keep the surface damp, and germination will occur quickly. Tread lightly on new grass and mow after several weeks have passed.
Take heart! All of those lawn duties you never got to this summer actually are best done in fall. September is the best time to manage broadleaf weeds, including dandelions and creeping Charlie, as they are now actively drawing nutrients from the surface and storing them in their roots. So, an application of weed killer applied in fall will be far more effective than one done in spring, when the weed’s process is reversed.
Thatch control and aeration help renew the soil and root structure of the turf by relieving compaction, allowing air to reach the roots, and opens up new passageways for nutrients and water to reach the roots. Repeated annual aeration will also help alleviate bumpy lawns far more effectively than with a roller. Do not forget the critical application of fertilizer in September, which helps to give that last bit of growth before finally going dormant. If desired, an additional application around Halloween helps the grass prepare for the end of the season.
Finally, rest. Clean the last of the leaves off of the lawn and retreat into the house. Your hard work this fall will pay out huge dividends in spring when your lawn is greener and healthier.
• By Jim Stendler is an University of Illinois Extension master gardener. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for information.