Fall Lawn Care Checklist for the Piedmont Triad

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As the leaves change, it’s time for your lawn care routine to change, too. Your grass needs your help more than ever in fall, when it’s recovering from the heat of a North Carolina summer and preparing for the oncoming frost of winter. 

What can you do to help your lawn through this tough transition? This fall lawn care checklist for the Piedmont Triad shows you all the most important lawn care steps to take this autumn and when to take them, whether you have a cool-season or warm-season lawn. 

Tips for mowing the lawn in fall

These are the most important things to know about mowing your lawn in fall:

  • Cut cool-season grass shorter than usual. If you leave your grass too long through winter, it will be more susceptible to fungal lawn diseases. But cut it too short, and you’ll leave the roots exposed to frost. The perfect height to cut your grass in fall is a matter of debate, but one popular recommendation is to lower your mowing height ½ inch shorter than the height you use in spring. 
  • Cut warm-season grass higher than usual. On the contrary, warm-season grasses are less likely to suffer winter injury if you keep them a little taller in fall. Raise your mowing height just slightly (¼ – ½ inch) taller than the height you use in summer. 
  • Keep mowing until the grass stops growing. Grass usually continues to grow until the daily low temperature consistently drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Most years, that’s late October or early November in the Piedmont Triad area. Keep an eye on your lawn, and when it stops getting taller, give it one final mow before winter. 

In this neck of North Carolina, you might have a cool-season or warm-season grass type. How much your grass grows in fall — and how often you need to mow it — depends on which type it is. 

Cool-season grasses — such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass — grow most actively in spring and fall. From the time temperatures start to cool down until the last mow of the season, you’ll have to cut cool-season grass frequently to keep it at the proper height. 

Warm-season grasses — such as bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, and carpetgrass — grow actively in summer and slow their growth in cooler weather. During fall, you won’t have to mow a warm-season lawn as often as you did in summer.   

Clean up leaves once a week

A sea of leaves coating the front yard might be a classic sign of fall, but it’s terrible for your lawn’s health. The leaves block sunlight and water from reaching the grass and encourage pests to take over your lawn.

To keep your lawn healthy through fall, clean up the leaves in your yard at least once a week. You may need to do it more often if you have a lot of trees in your yard that drop their leaves. 

You have a few options for getting rid of those leaves in your lawn:

  • Use a leaf blower to blow the leaves onto a tarp for easy removal.
  • Use a leaf vacuum to suck up leaves (only effective for a small quantity).
  • Rake the leaves into piles and bag them by hand.
  • Mow over the leaves with a mulching lawn mower that grinds them up into small pieces and returns them to the lawn, where they break down into the soil to improve soil quality.  

Fertilize on schedule for your grass type

Whether you have a cool-season or warm-season lawn, the best fertilization schedule is three times per year. The timing of the applications will vary by grass type, but both benefit from fertilizing sometime in the fall. The table below shows the best time to fertilize different grass types. 

Cool-season (i.e. fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass):

  • Fertilizer application 1 – April
  • Fertilizer application 2 – September
  • Fertilizer application 3 – November

Warm-season (i.e. bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass,
Zoysiagrass):

  • Fertilizer application 1 – April
  • Fertilizer application 2 – June
  • Fertilizer application 3 – September

A soil test will help you choose the best fertilizer for your lawn. Luckily for Piedmont Triad area homeowners, you can get a free soil test April through November from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. 

Amend soil for spring

Speaking of a soil test, your results might reveal that your soil pH or texture needs improving. You can add amendments to your soil to raise or lower its pH, improve drainage, add nutrients, or increase organic matter content. 

North Carolinians are generally pretty lucky when it comes to soil. The most common soil in the state is Cecil soil, which is fertile and well-draining. Even so, soil is highly site-specific, and you never know what problems might lurk in the ground beneath your lawn and garden.

Fall is the perfect time to add amendments to your soil because they’ll have several months to break down and work their magic before spring. Amend your soil now, and your lawn and garden will be ready to thrive next year!

Dethatch cool-season grass types

illustration explaining thatch on grass

September or October, the beginning of the fall growth period, is one of the best times to dethatch a cool-season lawn. You also can dethatch cool-season grass in March or April during the spring growth period. 

DON’T dethatch warm-season lawns in fall. Because they aren’t actively growing at this time, they may struggle to recover from the stress of dethatching. Instead, dethatch warm-season grass at the beginning of its own growth period in May or June. 

What is dethatching? Dethatching is the process of removing thatch, which is a layer of dead grass and other organic matter that builds up between the grass and the soil over time. If the thatch layer becomes thicker than ½ inch, it can choke your grass and prevent water and nutrients from reaching the roots. 

Aerate cool-season grass types

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil

Fall is the best time of year to aerate cool-season lawns. They’re actively growing during this time, and there’s a lower chance of weeds sprouting in the holes leftover from aeration than in spring. You should always dethatch the lawn before aerating. 

As with dethatching, fall is not a good time to aerate warm-season lawns because their growth is slow in the cooler weather. If you have a warm-season grass type, the best time to aerate is late spring. 

What is aeration? Aeration is the process of poking holes in the soil, either manually or with a core aeration machine, to loosen the soil and create channels for water and nutrients to reach grass roots. Aerating your lawn once a year prevents your soil from becoming compacted. Compacted soil can turn your lawn threadbare and patchy. 

Overseed cool-season grass types 

Have you noticed the pattern here? Because fall is one of the most active growth periods for cool-season lawns, it’s a good time for many treatments — such as overseeding. 

Overseeding means spreading new grass seed over your existing lawn to fill in bare patches and make the lawn all-around thicker. Overseed cool-season grasses in late August or early September so the new grass has plenty of time to establish roots and sprout before winter comes. 

Once again, you shouldn’t overseed warm-season grass types in fall because it’s not their active growth season. Overseed these grass types in late spring instead. 

Pro Tip: Aerate your lawn before spreading grass seed for better and quicker germination and establishment. 

Manage weeds before winter 

You may think you already got rid of all the weeds in your lawn this summer, but some common North Carolina weeds, such as chickweed, are only lying in wait for cooler weather to make their triumphant return. If you see any weeds in your lawn this fall, pull them up (roots and all) or apply a post-emergent herbicide to kill them ASAP so they don’t steal limited water and nutrients from your grass during winter. 

You also can apply pre-emergent herbicides any time between August and November to prevent weeds that would germinate over winter and sprout in early spring. Pre-emergent herbicides keep weeds from ever growing in the first place. 

WARNING: Don’t apply pre-emergent herbicides if you’re overseeding your lawn this fall. Just like they keep weeds from growing, the herbicides can keep your new grass from growing, too. 

Winterize your sprinkler system 

“Winterize” is a fancy-sounding word that just means to prepare for winter. Winterizing your sprinkler system entails draining all the water from your sprinkler pipes and pumps so they don’t freeze and burst when the temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  

When to winterize sprinklers: You should winterize your sprinklers as soon as temperatures drop below 40 degrees (usually November in the Piedmont Triad area) or when your grass stops growing for the year and no longer needs irrigation, whichever comes first. 

How to winterize sprinklers: You’ll use one of the following three methods depending on what specific system you have. 

  • Automatic draining method: If your sprinklers have an automatic drain system, all you’ll have to do is shut off the water supply and run the sprinklers, and the auto-system will do the rest. 
  • Manual draining method: Without an automatic drain system, you’ll have to find the manual valves in your lawn and open them to drain the water. You’ll have to manually drain the backflow device, too. 
  • Compressed air method: This method involves blowing out the pipes with an air compressor. It’s a little more complicated (and more dangerous) than the others, so you may want to leave this method to the pros. 

Prep lawn care equipment for storage

After the last mow, trim, prune, and weed-whack of the season, it’s time for your lawn care tools (and you) to take a break for a few months. But before you put everything away, be sure to winterize your lawn care equipment so it’s in top-notch condition when you start it up again next year. 

Complete these steps before storing gas-powered tools:

  • Spray and thoroughly wipe down all equipment to remove caked-on dirt and grime. 
  • Empty the gas tank or add a fuel stabilizer. 
  • Replace the spark plug.
  • Clean mower blades and undercarriage. 
  • Sharpen mower blades.
  • Check the oil and change it if necessary.
  • Check the air filter and change it if necessary. 
  • Refill the string in your weed eater so you don’t have to worry about it in spring.

Complete these steps before storing electric tools (notice there’s a LOT less work to do here):

  • Thoroughly clean the equipment to remove dirt and grime.
  • Clean and sharpen mower blades. 
  • Check power cords and extension cords for signs of wear-and-tear or damage and replace them if necessary before you need to use them again. 
  • Charge batteries fully, then remove them from the charger and bring them inside a heated space for winter. 

Year-round healthy lawns in the Piedmont Triad

Seasonal lawn care is a never-ending cycle, just like the seasons themselves. If you follow this fall lawn care checklist now, your lawn will stay healthier through winter and be easier to take care of in spring. 

Come next spring, check out our spring lawn care tips for the Piedmont Triad to start your lawn off right in the new year. Then, it will be lush and green (or alive, at the very least, if you have a cool-season grass type) through summer, and you’ll have less work on your hands when you come back to this checklist next fall. See, it really is a never-ending cycle!

The work that goes into a healthy lawn is never-ending, too. Let Lawn Love’s Piedmont Triad lawn care pros take care of your grass for you at any time of year so you can spend your time on better things. 

Main Photo Credit: Scott Webb | Pexels

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