Fall Lawn Care Checklist for Buffalo

When the Bills take to the field, it’s time for you to take to your yard to complete your fall lawn care tasks. From raking leaves to seeding the soil, to mowing and mulching, our fall lawn care checklist for Buffalo will help make for a picture-perfect lawn come springtime.

Let’s get started (and get raking and dethatching and aerating) in your fall Buffalo lawn: 

Man raking leaves
photosharing | Pixabay

1.  The right way to rake

Unfortunately that gorgeous display of leaves on the trees quickly transforms into a raking nightmare in your yard. You’ll need to be diligent and rake every three to four days throughout the fall season.

Reasons why you should rake leaves in your yard:

  • It helps the lawn breathe and allows water, light, and nutrients to reach the grass
  • Reduces thatch buildup
  • Prevents pests from invading your yard 
  • Prevents lawn disease from attacking your grass
  • Allows your cool-season grasses to grow strong and healthy
  • Makes your lawn look nicer and adds curb appeal to your home

Raking can be a back-breaking chore, so here are some suggestions to get you in shape to rake:

  • Stretch your back, arms, shoulders, and neck.
  • Maintain good posture.
  • Keep the rake close to your body.
  • Do not strain and reach for leaves not within your grasp.
  • Avoid twisting your back.
  • Knees should be slightly bent with one foot forward.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can occur even in cool weather.
  • Take breaks. Don’t overdo it in one day. Maybe rake one day and then pick up that pile the next.

Take advantage of those mounds and start a compost pile. Leaves contain carbon, one of the essential nutrients to nourish the compost.

illustration explaining thatch on grass

2.  Dethatch       

Thatch is a layer of debris composed of dead fallen leaves, stems, and roots. If the pile becomes more than ½ inch thick, it’s time to dethatch

That thick thatch layer masquerades as sunglasses for your lawn and will:

  • Prevent nutrients, water, and oxygen from penetrating the soil
  • Encourages pests and lawn diseases if allowed to remain and turn moist and spongy
  • Can make herbicides and fertilizers less effective

A layer of thatch less than ½ inch benefits the lawn by protecting it against temperature fluctuations.

Cool-season grasses respond well to dethatching from late August to early October.  

There are several methods for dethatching your lawn:

  • Manual dethatcher (thatch rake): Best for small lawns with mild thatch
  • Electric (corded) dethatcher: Best for medium-sized lawns with mild to medium thatch
  • Power rake: Best for large lawns with serious thatch problems
  • Verticutter: Best for large lawns with serious thatch problems

The debris from dethatching is great to add to your compost pile. However, be sure it doesn’t contain weeds, diseases, herbicides, or pesticides.  

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil

3.  Aerate

The health of your grass depends on the flow of water, air, and nutrients. Aeration creates a passageway for these important ingredients to penetrate the lawn.  

Accomplish this task yourself with a garden fork and create small holes in the lawn. Alternatively, use a small foot-press aerator that is pushed into the soil like a shovel.  

However, it is more effective — and less back breaking, especially if you have a larger lawn — with heavy machinery. You can buy or rent a powered core aerator similar to a lawn mower. Otherwise, contact a local Lawn Love pro to handle the aeration.  

Keep in mind that cool-season lawns prefer aeration between late August and early October.  Spring is the second best time to aerate your cool-season lawn.  

illustration showing the best time for overseeding on the US map,

4.  Seed the soil

Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass, are best suited to the local climate. They survive those frigid winters and are as hardy as Buffalonians.

However, come fall, August through September, plant grass seed to “feed” the existing lawn. Overseeding is spreading grass seed on your existing lawn to fill in bare spots and create a beautiful, lush, healthy lawn.

Overseeding can:

  • Improve grass density
  • Brighten the lawn’s color
  • Fill in bare spots
  • Ward off insects and diseases
  • Reduce erosion
  • Reduce weeds

Pro Tip: Buffalo’s fall weather primes the grass for efficient seeding. The combination of warm days, cool nights, and moisture in the air allow the seeds to germinate.   

5.  Fertilize

Summer heat and heavy foot traffic may have taken a toll on your grass. Mother Nature will soon cast a frosty spell over your Buffalo lawn. Early September is the optimum time to fertilize your lawn.

Before you fertilize, test your soil for nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus levels. A test will determine what kind of fertilizer you need. You might notice a set of three numbers on the fertilizer bag. For example, 30-5-20 means it contains 30% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 20% potassium. This is the NPK ratio of nutrients for your soil.   

The Cornell Cooperative Extension will measure the nutrient levels and provide the proper ratio for your lawn. An at-home test is also available for purchase.

To properly obtain a sample, follow these steps:  

  • Do not sample wet soil.
  • Use a garden spade.
  • Dig in approximately 6 inches.
  • Sample about a dozen places throughout your lawn.
  • Collect 2 cups

Pro Tip: Apply fertilizer before it rains. If not, you will have to thoroughly water the grass yourself. Also, it’s best to spread fertilizer when nighttime temperatures are in the 60s.

6.  Control weeds

Weeds, a nasty nuisance, test a lawn lover’s mettle. Tackle the problem head on and practice prevention. Weed treatments come in two varieties — pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides. Pre-emergent herbicides are used to prevent weeds from sprouting in your grass, while post-emergent herbicides attack weeds that are already in the lawn.

In Buffalo, fall is the best time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide. You usually want to apply pre-emergents between August and November. Broadleaf weeds won’t know what hit them!  

Often weeds “disguise” themselves as pretty little flowers. Although weeds in upstate New York might sprout in spring and summer, they could survive well into the fall.  

Some common weeds in upstate New York:

  • Bindweeds
  • Bull thistle
  • Canada thistle                  
  • Dandelion
  • Horsenettle
  • Yellow nutsedge

You can find yourself in a vicious weed-prevention cycle. But it’s best to be proactive and apply post-emergent herbicides before they make a grand appearance in the spring when weeds are more active.

Garden Grub in Grass
Grub | James Mann | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

7.  Eliminate pests

Grubs, chinch bugs, sod webworms, or weevils might make your lawn their home.  Unfortunately, they are not welcome guests. The best treatment plan is to be proactive in the spring or early summer. However, if pests have invaded your lawn you might need to construct a fall elimination plan.

Grubs: Grubs gorge on grass roots, and they especially crave cool-season grasses. Even though grubs are active in mid to late summer, their damage doesn’t show up until fall. If you have yellowing or dead grass, grass that pulls up easily or feels spongy, you need to test your soil.  

Chinch bugs: Chinch bugs are active from April to July and again in August to September. You’ll know if they’ve used your lawn as a breeding surface if your turf is wilting and casting a purplish hue.  Apply an insecticide which contains trichlorfon, bifenthrin, or carbaryl.

Sod webworms: Generations of sod webworms munch on grass leaves and stems from May through September. They house themselves during the winter in tunnels they build in the fall. Miniscule green fecal droppings and bald patches of grass are tell-tale signs your lawn’s infested.  

Pro Tip: Mix a solution of  ¼ cup of liquid household detergent and 2 cups of water. Douse your soil in scattered 3-square-foot sections around your lawn. Wait 10 minutes. If those pests are present, they’ll surface. Treat with a broad-spectrum pesticide.  

Weevils: The bluegrass billbug, a weevil species, attacks Kentucky bluegrass. Another weevil species, the Argentine stem weevil favors perennial ryegrass. Their invasion results in brown or yellow patches in the lawn. The best defense is applying pesticide in spring. However, if they haven’t been eradicated or left you tell-tale signs they exist, call a professional lawn service company.  

Happy woman mows learn and happy man sits and smiles at her
Gustavo Fring | Pexels

8.  Know how to mow

Time your last mow before the first frost and aim for your lawn’s final height. Always heed the one-third rule: Do not cut more than one-third of your grass’s length, it just might stress out!    

Grass too high? You’ve left your lawn wide open to matting and disease. 

Cool-season mowing heights in the fall

Grass TypeHeight
Kentucky bluegrass2.5-3 inches
Fine fescue1.5-4 inches
Perennial ryegrass1-2.5 inches
Tall fescue1.5-4 inches

Keep in mind, these are basic mowing height guidelines.  For more specific information, contact The Cornell Cooperative Extension.  

Pro Tip: Do not continually mow in the same direction: Doing so can result in ruts and soil compaction. Also, keep those blades sharpened for a nice, clean, even cut.  

Frozen pipes
GWizUK | Pixabay

9.  Winterize your irrigation system

If you have an irrigation system it’s important to shut it down for the winter. Once temps start to dip between 35 and 40 degrees, it is time to winterize it to avoid breaking lines when the ground freezes. Adjust the water flow or completely shut down your irrigation system.

The three methods of winterizing your irrigation system:

  • Manual drain
  • Automatic drain
  • Blow out method

The correct method depends on your irrigation system and how it operates. Check your manual — or the company’s website — to determine which is right for you.

Manual drain:

  • Turn off water supply
  • Drain excess water
  • Open cocks on backflow
  • Drain sprinklers
  • Close drain valves

Automatic drain:

  • Turn of water supply
  • Drain excess water
  • Turn on cocks on backflow
  • Allow sprinklers to drain

Blow out:

Wheel barrel filled with soft mulch
manfredrichter | Pixabay

10.  Mulch around

Mulch in the fall to help prevent weed growth. Mulch also keeps the soil temperature stable and prevents repeated freezing and thawing. (You also can mulch in the spring.)  Apply a layer 2-4 inches deep, but extend it 3-4 inches away from the base of a tree or plant.   

Mulch also adds a decorative touch to your landscape. The choices seem endless — rubber, wood, straw, pine needles, leaves, rocks, gravel. And then you can buy it by the bag or in bulk. Another option that might be available in your community is to check with your local municipality to see if they gove away free mulch.  

Leaved in gutter
123switch | Pixabay

11.  Clean the gutters

It’s an icky, messy job but someone has to do it! You certainly don’t want those gutters to back up with frozen snow, now do you?

There are many reason why cleaning your gutters is important:

  • Prevents water damage to your yard and home
  • Reduces the chance of cracking your home’s foundation
  • Protects your roof and gutters
  • Prevents pest from making your gutters a home

Here are some tips to assist with this task:              

  • Grab a gutter scoop or a child’s sandbox shovel.
  • Start with a sturdy ladder.
  • Spread a tarp underneath your workspace.
  • Recruit a neighbor to steady the ladder.
  • Dress properly: long sleeves, work pants, and rubber gloves.
  • After all the gunk is removed, flush out the gutters and downspouts with water.
  • Make any repairs such as new gutter fasteners.

Pro Tip: While the gut must go, balancing on a tall ladder, wielding a garden hose, screams danger for an unskilled homeowner. You just might want to consider a call to a local professional gutter cleaning crew.

Fall leaves in front of a waterfall
James Wheeler | Pexels

Buffalo bucket list

A Buffalonian might reap great satisfaction from tackling a Bills football game instead of tackling lawn chores. Depending on the size of your lawn, it can be daunting. Raking, fertilizing, and mulching consumes precious time and involves hard work.   

If you prefer to check off items on your Buffalo bucket list instead of raking the lawn, call a Buffalo lawn care pro who will happily assist with all of your lawn care needs.

Main photo credit: lilartsy | Pexels

Liz Chojnacki

Liz Chojnacki is a multimedia writer -- blog posts, radio scripts, bios, photo captions, catalogs, and much more. She also enjoys putting pen to paper. She has had the privilege and pleasure of gardening in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, New Mexico, South Africa, and now Florida. Liz resides in Florida with her husband and three dogs.