Fall Lawn Care Checklist for Providence

eye-level with grass and leaves

Autumn in New England is like no other place on Earth – the colors are magical! But soon it will be winter, and you won’t be able to do much in the yard when the ground freezes. For your Providence or Warwick area home, prepare the grass before it goes dormant in the fall. 

Here’s a list of chores:

  1. Water the grass
  2. Rake and dispose of leaves
  3. Dethatch
  4. Aerate
  5. Overseed for a thicker lawn
  6. Test the soil
  7. Fertilize
  8. Control weeds
  9. Perform one last mow of the season
  10. Prepare gardens for winter

It does take some muscle power to put the lawn to bed for winter, but the good news is, you’ll have a head start on spring yard care.

1. Water the grass

small boy standing over a sprinkler, getting sprayed by water
Allan Lee | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Your Rhode Island lawn needs watering throughout the fall, just like in spring and summer. Cool-season grasses like fescues, Kentucky bluegrass (KBG), and ryegrass grow thicker during autumn as their roots spread into the soil.

The amount of rain varies, but Rhode Island’s average October rainfall is just under 4 inches. Water your lawn during dry periods – about an inch per week is standard. Be careful not to drown roots or create puddles in areas where the soil isn’t draining quickly.

2. Rake leaves

Leaf raking seems like a tedious and useless chore, but it’s vital to making sure your grass stays strong and healthy. Your Rhode Island or Massachusetts lawn is most likely growing KBG, fine fescues, perennial ryegrass, or a combination of all three. Thick piles of dead leaves will suffocate the grass.

Too many leaves:

  • Keep water from reaching plant roots
  • Provide a home for pests
  • Block sunlight (and preventing photosynthesis)
  • Encourage fungi and snow mold

Rake the grass at least once a week during fall, more often if you want the exercise. 

3. Dethatch

thatch on grass
Matthew Paul Argall | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Thatch is an intermingling organic layer of dead and living stems, roots, and shoots that develops on top of the soil but underneath healthy green vegetation. Thatch occurs when sod produces organic matter faster than it can break down. Crowns, fibers of vascular tissues, and stem nodes make up the bulk of the matter.

Dethatching during autumn’s active yard growth helps grass roots stay strong. (You can thatch during spring, too). Dethatching isn’t (necessarily) a yearly thing – only when the mats are thicker than a ½ inch.

Using a special rake with vertical tines, dethatching (also called verticutting) scrapes up the debris between soil and grass. 

4. Aerate

Similar to removing a cork from a wine bottle to let the wine “breathe,” aerating grass turf loosens the soil to improve air and water circulation. Core aerators of various sizes punch holes in compacted soil (and remove the cores), allowing water and nutrients to reach grass roots. You can do this yourself with rented equipment or a small hand-held aerator, but large yards are best left to lawn care professionals. Unless the lawn has a lot of heavy foot traffic, you won’t need to aerate every year. 

Pro Tip: Dethatch before aerating so the puncher doesn’t hit a vegetative carpet before getting to the soil. You want to make sure you have good access to the soil to loosen it so the water and nutrients can penetrate it.

5. Overseed for a thicker lawn

lush, green grass
Hans Braxmeier | Pixabay

Overseeding is the term for adding new grass seeds to your established lawn, mainly in dead or thin patchy areas. Planting grass seed in fall keeps everything cool for growth in the spring. Overseed with cool-season blends about 45 days before the first fall frost in Rhode Island, which is typically around the third week in October.

6. Test the soil

Soil testing indicates what – if any – kind of fertilizer and supplements your grass needs. On the pH scale, Rhode Island lawn soils usually test between 6.0 and 7.0. Test once a year (either fall or spring) to determine if the soil needs a boost of potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, or something else.

7. Fertilize

Analyze before you fertilize. Before adding any type of nutrients to the lawn, find out what it needs. Once you have got that pH test squared away, you can hit the garden store and then take out that broadcast spreader. Fertilize a cool-season lawn in early September, taking care to reduce stormwater pollution (to reduce pollution risk, do not apply fertilizer after the second week of October). The proper application for the products needed will be noted on the packaging. 

8. Control weeds

white clovers dotting a grass landscape
NY State IPM Program at Cornell University | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Weeds in lawn grass are unavoidable, but they are (mostly) controllable. Pre-emergent herbicides are helpful when applied between August and November because they kill germinating seeds. In Rhode Island and its neighboring section of Massachusetts, pre-emergent weed killers may help prevent unwanted and invasive plants like common reed, garlic mustard, horseweed, moneywort, crabgrass, and those dreaded yellow dandelions. Post-emergent herbicides are often needed in summer and fall for weeds that have already sprouted. 

9. Perform one last mow of the season 

You have been looking forward to it all summer – that last cut of the season. Before tearing down the mower for its twice-yearly maintenance session, run it over the lawn. Depending on your grass type, KBG, for example, cut the grass so it’s about 2 to 3 inches high. Closely trimmed lawns invited frost damage, mold, and disease.

10. Prepare gardens for winter

person working in a garden with a garden tool laying next to them
summa | Pixabay

Having prolific summer gardens start with a little attention the previous fall. Put those gardens to bed before the ground freezes.

Remove “spent” vegetation, weeds, and other debris. Rake and fine-till the soil. Repeat. And repeat again until the dirt is broken up, soft, and weed-free. Tilling gardens in fall helps you cut down on muscle power needed for spring tilling. 

For flower and shrubbery beds, prune perennials as needed, remove weeds, and add straw or mulch over the soil to protect roots from harsh winter weather.

When landscaping your Rhode Island home, consider using native plants like mountain holly, red columbine, marsh blue violets, and anemone. Besides feeding birds and other wildlife, native plants don’t need as much water, are generally disease-resistant, help control erosion, and promote biodiversity.

Get busy before it gets too cold!

Autumn lawn care chores await! Before hunkering down in front of a winter fireplace, it is time to get busy. Prepping the yard in fall cuts back on spring work and gives you something to look forward to after shoveling snow all winter. Yes, it’s a big list … don’t want to DIY? Hire a lawn care professional in Rhode Island.

Main Photo Credit: Free-Photos | Pixabay

Teri Silver

Teri Silver is a journalist and outdoor enthusiast who spends her weekends mowing her 5-acre lawn and puttering around in 3 gardens. The best parts of the year are summer and fall, when home-grown veggies are on the dinner table.