Step 12 – Get the Most Out of the Fall Growing Season

Many people spend a lot of time thinking about and working on their lawns in the spring as things start greening up after winter. However, they are often out of a lawncare mindset by the time fall comes around. But fall is not just the time to rake leaves and put away lawn furniture. It's the most important growing time for cool season grasses, and boosting your turf in fall will give you a jump-start on next spring's lawn. Fall is the best time for getting your lawn in shape.

Because fall is the best time to fertilize and seed, late summer is a good time to start making plans. August is a good time to test your soil, survey your lawn for weeds, bare, thin or browned-out areas, and to make a shopping list of the materials you are going to need, such as fertilizer, compost or grass seed.

Fall Overhaul
Fall is the best time to give a major renovation to a poorly performing lawn: by dethatching if necessary, core aerating, topdressing with compost (See Step 7) and overseeding (See Step 2). Starting around Labor Day, and running through the fall, we will be launching a new Long Island Organic Lawncare Trailblazers Project.  This exciting initiative will guide Long Islander homeowners through the lawn overhaul process in more detail, explaining how and when to take each step, and providing individualized advice from an expert "Green Team" panel.

We're looking for homeowners who will join this effort, document what they do and the results they achieve, and take before and after photos. If you're interested in getting more information on how to become one of our 'Organic Lawncare Trailblazers,' email us.

Fertilize between Labor Day and Halloween.
Step 12 – Get the Most Out of the Fall Growing SeasonIf you decide that your lawn needs nitrogen, around Labor Day is the best time to apply fertilizer. You can get better results and minimize runoff, by splitting the amount of fertilizer you add into two applications at half the annual amount (around Memorial Day and Labor Day), or three applications at one-third the yearly amount each (Memorial Day, Labor Day, and early to mid-October) Remember, don't apply more than 1 lb of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in one application. Low-maintenance fescue lawns should not need more than 1 lb per 1,000 square feet of nitrogen in total for the whole year. Don't fertilize after October 31; by then the ground is becoming too cold for the nitrogen to be taken up by soil life and plants, so it will run off or leach into groundwater, causing environmental harm to drinking water, bays, ponds, and lakes. Suffolk County, Nassau County and New York State all have laws restricting the use of nitrogen fertilizers in winter. (See Step 5 for more details on fertilization.)

Remember, if your lawn looks good to you, it doesn't need fertilizer. Thin spots and weeds like crabgrass and plantain, or having more clover than grass, indicate you probably need more nitrogen. On the other hand, poa annua, also called annual bluegrass is an indicator of too much nitrogen. It's best to test your soil in order to know if additional nutrients are needed. To get a more comprehensive test of your soil, including levels of organic matter and nutrients, along with Cornell recommendations from AgroOne, visit this website. AgroOne charges $17 for their home lawn and garden 'Troubleshooting Maintenance' test. (See Step 4 for more about soil testing.)

Repetitive Overseeding
If you think your lawn is not in terrible shape, but you want too thicken your turf and crowd out some weeds without doing a complete renovation and losing the use of your lawn for weeks, try repetitive overseeding. (See Step 2 for more details and links with resources on repetitive overseeding.)  Starting around Labor Day, put down 3 lbs of grass seed per 1,000 square feet every week, after normal mowing, for 3 to 8 weeks. Water only if there is less than normal rainfall.

Mulch Autumn Leaves
As much as possible, mulch leaves into your turf by just running them over with your lawn mower. If there are so many leaves that the resulting chopped up leaf mulch would end up sitting on top of the turf instead of working into it, leaves should be raked up and removed instead.

Long Island Organic Landscapers
Although it's easy for the average homeowner to maintain their lawn organically, some may too busy and wish to hire a professional. In that case there are thousands of landscapers on Long Island to choose from, but only a small but growing number of experts who can maintain your lawn and landscape without the use of chemical pesticides. They can be found here.

To see all the previous steps in the series, please visit 12 Steps to an Organic Lawn