Fall Lawn Care - Here’s Where To Start

By Allyn Hane "The Lawn Care Nut"

Can you believe it’s Labor Day Weekend already? The warm days will soon be fading as day lengths decrease and before you know it, the fall season will be upon us. In my last post here on the Milo Blog, I gave you some; “nearing the end of summer, early fall lawn tips;” and this post will be a quick and concise continuation of that.

But first, some encouragement for the beginners and the procrastinators. You see, you’re both in the same predicament - facing a lawn that may be coming out of summer in rough shape. And believe me, I understand the apprehension and fear you face staring down a front lawn full of dead spots, a parkway blanketed with crabgrass and a back lawn compacted and cracked from the summer slip-n-slide party. Where to start?

Answer: small bites.

Hand holding a plug after aerating the lawn

Image: Plug after aerating the lawn

You see, I want you to “get a win” this fall. I want to see you go all in with a full mechanical aeration, overseeding and fertilizing with my good friend Milo. I want you to learn from success so you can translate that into future success, and the way to do that is to choose a small, easily manageable spot in your lawn to tackle this fall. Find a spot that is 5,000 square feet or less. That way you can cover most of it with a single sprinkler. Hit that with a double pass aeration, overseeding at 3-5lbs/1000 and a full shot of Milo right on top. Then get ready to irrigate, every day, twice per day minimum, hope for some clouds/shade and rain help!

Aerator in the lawn

Image: Mechanical aeration machine

And that’s where I lose a good many of you -- the irrigation portion. It’s easy to get distracted this time of year with school back in, fall sports gearing up, etc. Moving sprinklers around takes some thought and time. You may not be home in the early evening to get that second watering done. And early morning meeting means only time to get a half-cycle in. Whatever the reason the watering gets skipped, the seed may not germinate as expected and before you know it, weeds are invading, you are missing mowings, you may even stop edging and trimming and you know when it gets to that point you’re defeated. Thanksgiving is here then, and the lawn is heading into winter slumber. Ugh!

But if you choose a smaller area you can manage and set up one sprinkler, things will suddenly be much easier. Get your family involved. Have each member of the household in charge of a day to water. Take part in the success together.

Of course, you are renting the aerator, so go ahead and aerate the entire lawn, even if it’s not a focus this fall. Same with the Milo - go ahead and get that full application down across the entire lawn and watch the results. Your existing turf will definitely respond and the more fall rains we get, the better.

Now, back to that manageable area you chose; here are the secrets to getting the best possible seed germination and therefore, the thickest possible result before winter:

a) Consider the Temperature - ideally, for Kentucky BlueGrass, Fescue, Rye we want daytime temps under 80 and night time temps over 50. (SOIL TEMPS around 60-70F) You also have to watch as winter approaches because of freeze risk down the road. In NW Indiana (near Chicago, IL) where I used to live, they have a window of time for fall seeding that lasts from about mid-Sept (temps falling) until early November (risk of freeze). If your seed takes 10 days to germinate, and will be fully “hardened off” after 2 mowings… that’s probably going to need 30-35 days total to be safe. You’ll have to do your own calculations based on where you live… but the idea is to plant your seed and have it grow inside of that seeding window for your area. Hitting the sweet spot is something that you’ll have to guesstimate. My advice: start earlier in the window rather than later.

b) Get Maximum Seed to Soil Contact - we use aeration as a way to help that function. I recommend a double or triple pass. In some cases, you may have some larger, completely bare areas where there is no existing turf. In these spots, you may consider covering your seed with some peat moss to help hold it down. I like peat moss because it’s clean - no foreign seeds to introduce into your turf.

c) Water Water Water - this is the one that is the most difficult, and the one that contributes most to the failures we see. Again, let’s hope that we get some rain help but if we don’t, you will be required to keep the seed wet! Challenge yourself and your family to keep your chosen area wet, all the time, for at least 15 days or so. Once you see the growth, the success will motivate you to greater heights.

Watering the lawn with hand sprinkler

Looking at my soil temperature calculator, I’d say the window is about to open for a good portion of you across the Midwest. Let’s get after it and be sure to watch me and my good friend Jake The Lawn Kid as we take on a project in St John, IN starting later this month. I’ve got 10 bags of Milo ready to go for this 30,000-sq. ft. beast.

I’ll see YOU, in the lawn.