9 Fall Lawn Care Tips for Indianapolis

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Yellow leaves on the ground that someone arranges to create a picture of a leaf on the ground

Now that there’s a chill in the air, it’s time to enjoy fall foliage, outdoor festivals, the Indianapolis Zoo, and backyard campfires. Just like you need time to transition from the sweltering summer heat to the upcoming bitter winter temps, so does your lawn. With just a bit of preparation and effort, you can have a great-looking yard you can admire.

Follow these nine fall lawn care tips to help prepare your lawn to endure the winter and grow abundantly in the spring. 

  1. Stay hydrated
  2. Keep your lawn neat
  3. Wait to overseed
  4. Dethatch for disease and pest control
  5. Aerate
  6. Take control of weeds
  7. Fertilize for growth
  8. Winterize your sprinklers
  9. Prepare your other plants

1. Stay hydrated

automatic lawn sprinkler on and surrounded by leaves in the yard
Victor Furtuna | Unsplash

Fall is the growing season for your cool-season grass types. For this reason, it is important to continue watering your lawn throughout the fall. This will ensure that your grass’s roots grow and are durable enough to survive the winter.

The standard recommended lawn watering schedule is 1 inch of water per week. Be sure to pay attention to the weather to avoid overwatering. 

When shouldn’t you water your lawn?

Once the ground has frozen and your grass has gone dormant, you won’t need to worry about watering again until the spring. In central Indiana, this is typically between mid-October and late April.

Pro Tip: Be careful not to overwater, which can lead to fungal disease, crabgrass, and increased levels of thatch. 

2. Keep your lawn neat

Be sure not to cut the grass too low or too high for the last mow of the season. In Indiana, it’s usually best to keep your grass at 2.5-3.5 inches year-round, depending on which type of grass you have in your yard. Experts recommend cutting to around 2.5 inches for your last cut of the season. At this height, the grass is tall enough to withstand cold weather, but not too tall to invite fungus or other diseases. 

Be careful with leaf removal, as well. Raking is vital for the health of your cool-season grasses. If you neglect to rake up leaves and other debris, it can block water and nutrients from reaching your grass, preventing growth. 

Letting leaves and debris pile up in your yard can lead to several issues:

  • Blocks light from reaching the plant, preventing growth and photosynthesis
  • Prevents water and nutrients from reaching the roots
  • Provides shelter to invasive pests and invites diseases

If your lawn is surrounded by deciduous trees, you should rake leaves every three or four days. Otherwise, aim for a weekly cleanup of leaves, fallen branches, and dead plants. 

3. Wait to overseed

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

What is overseeding?

Overseeding is a process where you plant grass seed amongst your living grass to fill in dead patches and thicken your lawn. This makes your lawn nicer to look at while preventing pest issues and diseases. 

When do I overseed?

The best time to reseed your Indy lawn is between mid-August to mid-September. This gives the grass enough time to get established after the heat of summer and before winter causes it to become dormant. Once the snow melts in the spring, your grass will emerge brighter and thicker than ever before. 

Pro Tip: Overseed after aerating, which will allow new grass to more easily establish and take root. Be sure not to overseed if you have recently or are planning to apply herbicide to your yard. Wait at least one month after applying pre-emergent herbicide to overseed, and wait until you’ve mowed your lawn two to three times if you’re applying post-emergent herbicide after overseeding.

4. Dethatch for pest and disease control

illustration explaining thatch on grass

What is thatch?

Thatch is a layer of debris that has built up over time in between the grass and the soil. A little bit of thatch is not a bad thing and can even make your lawn more durable. However, if your thatch is too thick, it will invite pests and diseases. 

When should I dethatch?

It’s best to dethatch cool-season grasses while they’re growing, so early fall would be the best time to dethatch your Indy lawn. If your grass builds thatch more easily, you should plan to dethatch annually. Otherwise, keep an eye out and schedule to dethatch once it becomes thicker than ½ inch. 

How do I dethatch?

If you don’t have much thatch, you can get away with using a rake to pull the thatch out from between the grass and the soil. You also can use a power rake (also known as a dethatcher and verticutter) that uses vertical blades to more easily remove excessive thatch. 

5. Aerate

Why is aeration?

Aeration is the process of poking holes in the soil to make more room for water and nutrients to seep into the soil. 

There are many advantages to aerating your lawn:

  • Reduces levels of thatch
  • Stimulates grass growth
  • Limits weed growth
  • Helps nutrients and water seep into the soil
  • Smooths out bumps in your grass
  • Helps establish newly planted grass

When should I aerate?

Similar to dethatching, your lawn should be aerated during your grass’s growing season. You shouldn’t need to aerate your lawn every year unless it receives a lot of activity and foot traffic. Aim to aerate every other year or so. 

How do I aerate?

There are two ways to aerate your lawn.

  • Spiking: Use spikes to poke holes in the lawn
  • Coring: Remove plugs of soil from the lawn

Coring is recommended by experts because this process enables more breathing room for the grass. With more room, water, and nutrients can directly seep into the soil. You can aerate your lawn by renting the proper equipment, or you can hire a lawn aeration expert to do it for you. 

6. Take control of weeds

close-up of crabgrass along the edge of a lawn
NY State IPM Program at Cornell University | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Fall is the best time to deal with broadleaf lawn weeds such as dandelions, clover, or thistle. 

Spot treat weeds leftover from the spring and summer with a post-emergent herbicide in September and October. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide between August and November.

The post-emergent herbicide kills a current weed problem, while a pre-emergent herbicide gets ahead of potential weeds. The pre-emergent herbicide will prevent weeds from popping up when the weather warms up next spring. 

Here are a few other winter weeds to keep an eye out for:

  • Catchweed bedstraw
  • Common chickweed
  • Prickly lettuce
  • Henbit
  • Purple deadnettle

7. Fertilize for growth

There are plenty of advantages of fertilizing cool-season grasses in the fall:

  • Reduces weeds
  • Boosts nutrients
  • Prevents diseases
  • Prevents bare patches
  • Encourages root growth
  • Makes your grass look greener

When is the best time to fertilize your lawn in the fall?

In Indiana, it is recommended to apply fertilizer in September and November to get your lawn ready for winter and promote strong root growth to last throughout the harsh winter. 

What’s the best type of fertilizer to use?

To determine which fertilizer to buy, you should test your soil. There are many different fertilizers available to suit your lawn’s specific needs, but you won’t know what your lawn is lacking without a proper soil test.

It’s best to test your soil once a year. You can do an easy, inexpensive at-home test, or you can contact the Marion County Purdue Extension office to learn more about how to get a complete soil testing analysis. 

Purdue’s turfgrass science program recommends the following fertilization schedule: 

  • September: Apply 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. 
  • November: Apply 1.5 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. 

8. Winterize your sprinklers

Close-up of a sprinkler head in the lawn
ryaninc | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Did you recently install a lawn irrigation system? This is an investment you’ll want to maintain. To protect your sprinkler system from winter damage, be sure to drain it of all water by early or mid-October (before the first freeze). If you don’t, you’ll be risking damaging the entire system. 

How do you drain sprinklers?

There are three ways you can drain your irrigation system: automatic drain, manual drain, and blowout. Check your user manual or contact the manufacturer of your sprinkler system to find out which method is best for you. 

  • Automatic drain:
    • Shut off the water supply and/or disconnect the sprinklers.
    • Run sprinkler heads for a couple of seconds.
    • Once the water pressure has dropped to a certain point, the automatic drain feature will turn on and drain itself.
  • Manual drain:
    • Shut off the water supply and/or disconnect the sprinklers.
    • Open the pipe valves and let the water run out.
    • Once the rest of the system has been drained, empty the backflow device.
  • Blowout
    • First, throw on some safety goggles because this method is a bit more dangerous.
    • Shut off the water supply and/or disconnect the sprinklers.
    • Assemble the compressor and coupler.
    • Use the coupler to attach the air compressor to the sprinkler pipes.
    • Find the sprinkler head farthest from the compressor.
    • Close the sprinkler’s backflow valves.
    • Gradually open the compressor valve, increase the pressure until water comes out of the sprinkler.
    • Wait until water stops flowing, then turn off the sprinkler head.
    • Repeat this process for each sprinkler head.
    • Disconnect the compressor and close all the valves.

9. Prepare your other plants

All of your plants are susceptible to winter-related damage. Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to protect your flowers, shrubs, and trees from cold and windy Indy winters.

  • Remove weeds
  • Get rid of dead annuals
  • Prune perennials that should be pruned in the fall
  • Add some mulch to insulate and protect your garden beds from the snow
  • Add soil amendments (compost, manure, fertilizer) 

Complete these simple steps and you’ll be setting up your garden for success for when the sun shines and the snow melts. Keep in mind that native plants handle the climate in Indianapolis much better than nonnative plants. 

Invest in your lawn

If you want an amazing lawn year-round, it’s going to take planning, preparation, and a bit of sweat. If you follow these fall lawn care tips, you will help your lawn successfully transition from one season to the next. 

Want to have a stunning lawn without giving up your time and effort? Enjoy the beautiful weather or get some rest in “Naptown” and hire an Indianapolis lawn care professional to get the job done right. 

Main Photo Credit: Stanislav Kondratiev | Pexels

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