It can be easy to fall into the same routines season after season and see the same results. But what if you could do better?
New practices and products are making it easier to deliver healthier and better-looking turf each year—greener color, more drought and disease resistant with less fertilizer and chemical inputs.
To help you finish the year strong, check out our fall turf care guide for 2019 with some easy ways to upgrade your routine for better results.
In this guide:
Cool Season Turf Zones
In cold climates where turf is likely to be covered by some snow, your job is all about preparing for winter and early spring.
Basic Fall Turf Care for Cool Season Climates
- Aerate, fertilize and mow the lawn before the first freeze of the season.
- Winterize the irrigation system.
- Rake up leaves to avoid wet spots that can become mossy or moldy.
Tip: Don’t forget to add marking stakes to your turf boundaries and other landscape features—anything you don’t want a snow plow to hit!
If the lawn looks thin or patchy, you’ll probably want to reseed the existing lawn. Often the best time to do this is in late summer or early fall, when weeds and insects are less active, and the weather is cool.
After you’ve reseeded, be sure to apply a low-nitrogen starter fertilizer with phosphorus (P) to encourage strong root growth, followed by a fall fertilizer application about a month later.
Warm Season Turf Zones
All across the southern U.S., fall is prime time for overseeding warm season grasses with perennial ryegrass or other cool season grasses.
Preparing the Lawn for Overseeding
- 3-4 weeks before – Stop fertilizing existing turf.
- 2 weeks before – Reduce irrigation by 30% and raise mowing height slightly.
- 1-3 days out – Stop all watering.
Timing Your Overseeding
One of the best things you can do is seed your turf at the right time. Overseeding conditions are best when nighttime lows are consistently in the low to mid 60s, so there’s little risk of the new seed getting too cold or too hot.
If you overseed too early, you can experience poor germination due to heat. If you overseed too late, when night time temperatures are too low, it’s likely to increase germination time and decrease germination rates. If you time it right, you’ll minimize competition from existing turfgrass and optimize germination and establishment of your overseeded lawns.
Wait… Don’t Aerate (or Dethatch)
Beware of aerating or aggressive dethatching during the fall or you may end up with trouble later on. While aeration can be great for compacted soils, it is best done in summer, so there’s time for the soil to fill in.
Dethatching Bermudagrass right before overseeding also used to be common practice, but it isn’t a recommended anymore during the fall because it can remove too much of the turf and cause a difficult spring transition.
A light raking should be enough to improve your seed-to-soil contact. For heavily thatched turf, shallow verticutting can be helpful as well.
Basic Overseeding Steps
- Scalp the existing turf to about ¾-inch.
- Lightly rake or verticut.
- Apply your seed in two directions.
- Top with a light layer of seed cover mulch.
- Apply a starter fertilizer about a week after overseeding.
- Lightly water 2-4 times a day for first 7-10 days, gradually decreasing, to prevent seeds from becoming dry during establishment.
Why should you fertilize in the fall?
Fertilizing in the fall is a great replacement for early spring fertilizing, so you can get early green-up without excessive growth.
Where winter weather is mild, it also promotes deeper root growth, better disease and drought resistance and greener winter turf.
Be sure to use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to avoid nitrogen leaching, especially where there are sandy soils. Fertilize well before the first freeze and find a recommended nitrogen rate for the turf type. Your local Ewing can help you find some good options for your region.
Within about 10 days of fall seeding, you should apply a starter fertilizer to ensure the new turf becomes as healthy and green as possible before it gets too cold.
Starter fertilizers should be lower in nitrogen (N) but high in phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to establish healthy plant growth and roots. Something like a 5-20-10 or 6-24-24 fertilizer profile would be ideal.
Follow up with your preferred turf fertilizer about 3-5 weeks later.
Improving Your Fall Fertilizing Routine
Whether you’re seeding or not, using a prebiotic fertilizer like Holganix’s PreBiotic 2-10-20 or Blue Sky 21-0-0 can help improve root and shoot growth, color, nutrient uptake, soil quality and seed germination in the fall.
CarbonizPN Soil Enhancer is another great product to pair with your fertilizer to improve water retention, aeration and reduce the amount of fertilizer and chemicals needed to maintain the turf.
Fall Weed + Pest Control
Fall may be the best time to combat dandelions and other broadleaf weeds plaguing your turf. That’s because the plants’ growth will be focused at the roots, making herbicides more effective this time of year. (Be sure to follow up with a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring as well.)
Be aware that many herbicides should not be applied less than a month before and after laying new seed, so it doesn’t impact new turf growth. Always read the herbicide label for proper use and directions.
There can also be turf diseases that more commonly seen in the fall, so look for any spotting, color changes and other signs of turf disease or fungus.
Plants have different water needs on different days, months and even years based on the climate and weather they’re in.
In cold climates, most plants will go dormant until spring and irrigation systems will need to be winterized. Most overseeded lawns and plants in warm climates will still need supplemental irrigation throughout the fall and winter.
In the past, irrigation schedules might only be adjusted twice a year in spring and fall, but this would be a disservice to your turf and clients today.
A better rule of thumb is to adjust the irrigation schedule monthly or use a smart irrigation controller to do it with automatic seasonal adjustments—this can often save more water than anything else you do.
Checking for Seasonal Irrigation Adjustments
The seasonal adjustment (or water budgeting) feature in most modern controllers may either be automatic for weather-based controllers or programmed manually.
The seasonal adjustment setting (often indicated with a % symbol) can be used to globally adjust all of the system’s run times or specific programs. Check to ensure each program has appropriate settings for the season based on the landscape water needs.
The hottest month of the year (usually June or July) is typically programmed with a Seasonal Adjustment percentage of 100% and other months range between 0% to 100% depending on water needs for that time of year.
For example, lets imagine a station that is set to run for 10 minutes per watering session during the peak watering month set at a 100% seasonal adjustment. If the October seasonal adjustment is set at 70% the station will then run for 7 minutes per session in October. That three minute difference can save a lot of water.
Keep in mind, irrigation needs can vary year to year, depending on weather conditions. In a prolonged drought or heat wave, you may need to increase the seasonal adjustment settings in hotter months to more than 100%.
During the cooler months you will probably need to adjust your water days as well. You may only need water about once every 7-10 days, when you may have been watering every two or three days during the summer. Reducing your watering days can be important because you’ll be watering less in the winter. By combining three shorter run times into one, you’ll achieve deeper watering that can reach the roots of the plants.
Check the watering day settings and adjust as needed.
Automatic Seasonal Adjustments
Many smart irrigation controllers also have an automatic seasonal adjustment available. This feature automatically schedules runtimes based on local historical or real-time weather data.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to review the settings to make sure the controller has been set up correctly and is performing well. Even a smart controller can be “dumb” or ineffective if it isn’t programmed correctly for the site. Plant type, soil type, slope, emitters and other factors should all be accurately entered for each zone for proper smart controller performance.
Rain and Freeze Delays
Check to see if the controller on site is set up with a weather-based or sensor-based rain/freeze delay. This feature will stop scheduled runtimes if there was sufficient rain and will prevent irrigation from running during or too soon after a rain or freeze.
Tip: Wrap backflow devices in a backflow blanket for the winter or year-round. Even in places like southern California or Florida where freezing temperatures are rare but can occur, this practice is becoming more common prevent freeze damage.
Upgrade to a Smart Irrigation Controller
Hopefully you’ve seen firsthand how smart controllers can help save water and irrigate responsibly, but not everyone has. Talk to your clients who haven’t made the switch to a smart controller, so you can help them water the right amount in the fall and every season.
Finish the Year Strong
We hope this guide was helpful as you help prepare your properties for the colder weather.
For anything you need this fall—a fertilizer recommendation or even ideas to generate new income—reach out to your local Ewing. We’re here to help!