9 Fall Lawn Care Tips for Milwaukee

leaves and an apple laying in the grass

As summer comes to an end in Milwaukee, it’s time to help your lawn recover from all those backyard family gatherings and prepare for a blanket of snow.  

Being in the Great Lakes Region, cool-season grasses are in their growth season. Autumn is the best time to care for Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, and turf-type tall fescue. Check out these nine fall lawn care tips to help your yard successfully transition into those colder months.

Our fall lawn care tips for Milwaukee:

  1. Rake the leaves
  2. Dethatch
  3. Aerate
  4. Overseed
  5. Fertilize
  6. Apply herbicides to control weeds
  7. Mow for the last time
  8. Keep watering your lawn
  9. Winterize your lawn equipment

1. Rake the leaves

Close up of a green rake with leaves trapped in the rake
congerdesign | Pixabay

They call it “fall” for a reason. Once the temperatures start to drop, so do your trees’ leaves. A few leaves are good for your lawn, but once they start to pile up, it is time to rake them up. You should rake them every few days, especially if you have a lot of shedding trees.

An excessive amount of leaves in the yard can: 

  • Prevent photosynthesis
  • Invite pests and diseases
  • Kill your turf

2. Dethatch 

So what is dethatching? It’s like giving your lawn a facial. Just like a facial removes dead skin from your face, dethatching removes dead (and living) organic matter from our lawns. This intertwining layer of dead and living organic matter is called thatch, and it accumulates between the soil and the grass blades.

Having a little bit of thatch is good for your lawn because it can protect it and provide nutrients. But once it reaches ½ inch thick or more, it’s time to remove it.

Too much thatch can: 

  • Encourage pests and disease 
  • Create poor drainage
  • Block nutrients, water, and oxygen from reaching the root system
  • Prevent herbicides, fertilizers, and insecticides from working effectively

Removing thatch is tough on grass. You should dethatch cool-season turf in the fall because it is the best time for turf to recover from this treatment while it is in prime growth mode.

3. Aerate 

vintage aerating tool for soil
allispossible.org.uk | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Do you have a lot of thatch or compacted soil from heavy foot traffic? Then you will want to aerate your lawn. 

What is aeration? Aeration is the process of relieving compacted soil by removing cylindrical plugs of soil from the ground. Removing the soil creates small holes which allow water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the roots. 

Fall is the best time of year to aerate cool-season lawns. Here’s why: 

  • The warm summer temperatures are a bit stressful on our turf. Aerating your lawn in autumn helps to relieve your turf of any compacted soil it developed in summer. 
  • A turf’s active growing season is the best time for recovery after an invasive treatment like aeration. 
  • Aerating the lawn before overseeding is an excellent way to expose grass seed to more soil.

4. Overseed

After all that running around the yard this summer, there are probably some rough and bare patches showing in your grass. Fall is the best time to plant new grass seed in those areas.

What is overseeding?

Overseeding is adding grass seed to your existing grass. As the new seed germinates, it adds color and creates a thicker lawn so it looks beautiful come springtime. 

When should you overseed?

The best time to overseed cool-season turf is early fall, at least 45 days before the first frost.

5. Fertilize your lawn 

lush, green grass
Hans Braxmeier | Pixabay

Before you start spreading fertilizer all over your lawn, you need to know exactly what your grass needs. The best way to know is to perform a soil test.

A soil test reveals: 

  • Nutrient deficiencies in the soil
  • The soil’s salt levels
  • pH imbalances
  • Soil factors that might be hindering your turf’s growth
  • The best fertilizers and soil amendments you can add to balance the soil and ensure healthy turf growth

Once you know what your grass needs, you can apply the right slow-release or controlled-release formula. Here is why fall is the best time to fertilize your cool-season grass:

  • Promotes summer recovery
  • Enhances shoot density
  • Maximizes green color
  • Prepares the turf for winter
  • Does all of the above without a growth surge 

Want to learn more about the best grass types for Milwaukee and Waukesha? Check out this helpful guide that covers the best grass types for Wisconsin lawns. 

6. Apply herbicides to control weeds

If you have a few weeds sprouting up here and there in spring, you can always try digging them to remove the root and all. For stubborn weeds like dandelion, you will have to remove the entire taproot.

If you want to be proactive and prevent weeds from sprouting in the first place, apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the fall. 

How pre-emergent herbicide works: Pre-emergent herbicide creates a chemical barrier on the soil’s surface that prevents weed seeds from growing. It’s different from post-emergent herbicide, which kills weeds only after they’ve been established, not before. 

Want to learn more about getting rid of stubborn weeds? Check out this detailed guide that covers everything you need to know about weed control and herbicides

7. Mow your lawn one last time

close-up of the back side of a lawn mower sitting on grass
Phil Roeder | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

I’m sure after working hard all summer in the yard and mowing weekly, you are ready for a break. Once your autumn fall has stopped growing and goes dormant, give it one last mow. 

Why the last mow is important: You don’t want your lawn entering winter with long grass. If you skip the last mow of the season, your turf might become susceptible to snow mold and matting, which will cause thick thatch. 

Follow the one-third rule: Never cut off more than one-third of your grass’s blade length. For example, if your grass is 3 inches tall, don’t cut off more than 1 inch. Cutting off more than one-third of your grass can stress the turf and make it susceptible to weeds and disease. 

For cool-season grasses like fescues and bluegrass, this generally means mowing to at least 2 ½ to 3 inches tall. 

For added moisture and nutrients, keep short grass clippings on the lawn. Run the mower over long grass clippings to cut them and speed up decomposition. If you have a light layer of tree leaves, you also can mulch them and leave them on the lawn.

8. Keep watering your grass

Even with Milwaukee’s fall rain and fog, it is important to still keep your lawn properly hydrated. In general, your grass will require about one inch of water a week. To keep track of rainfall, pick up a rain gauge from a local garden center and put it in your yard. Supplement the natural rainfall with your sprinkler or irrigation system if you aren’t averaging enough rainfall per week. 

While watering your lawn might not seem like rocket science, you can easily under-water or overwater. Check out this helpful guide to keeping those grass roots hydrated throughout the day.

9. Winterize your lawn tools

Lawn mower and gardening tools leaning against a wood building
Rick Whittle | Unsplash

Once you have completed all the above tasks, the final step to cross off your fall checklist is winterizing your lawn tools. First, you will want to drain gas from any gas-powered equipment if it is going to sit dormant for the next several months. You also will want to remove oil. Be sure to dispose of these hazardous materials at the proper facilities. Click here to find hazardous waste dropoff locations in Milwaukee. 

Next, you will want to thoroughly clean the exterior of your lawn care equipment. Use wire brushes and stiff, sharp knives to thoroughly clean and remove stubborn grass clippings and caked-on grass. 

Treat your Milwaukee lawn right 

Fall is the time to take care of your cool-season Milwaukee grass. If you rake, dethatch, aerate, fertilize, overseed, apply a pre-emergent herbicide, mow, and water, you are guaranteed to have a strong lawn that will survive the cold winter and look amazing in the spring.

Want to spend more time checking out the amazing fall leaves and not raking them in your own yard? Hire a local lawn care professional to help you with all your fall lawn care needs.

Main Photo Credit: S. Hermann & F. Richter | Pixabay

Hilary Walker