Fall Lawn Care Checklist for Minneapolis

Man bent over planting spring bulbs in his flower bed

Before your Minneapolis lawn descends into the long winter season, take note of these tips to prepare your lawn for the winter (and spring) ahead.

  1. Keep mowing
  2. Control weeds
  3. Aerate or dethatch
  4. Fertilize
  5. Seed your lawn
  6. Plant spring bulbs
  7. Mow the leaves
  8. Winterize your sprinklers

Fall runs from Sept. 22 to Dec. 21 (give or take) each year. Consider these fall lawn care tips to help you cultivate a healthy lawn that weathers the bitter winter well and starts strong in the spring.

1. Keep mowing

Looking down onto a manual push mower mowing the lawn
Andrew Gustar | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Mow the lawn as long as you can — through late October or early November, if possible. Continue to mow at a 3-inch height until the grass stops growing. 

You don’t want to neglect to mow the lawn during the early fall. Letting the grass grow too tall can encourage vole activity and winter disease. Basically, keep on keeping on (…or mowing on) until the grass stops growing. 

And don’t forget: Remove no more than ⅓ of the grass blade at a time. If the lawn gets out of hand, bring the height down gradually, with a few days between each mow. This prevents undue stress on the grass and roots. 

One study suggests that as much as 50% of the blade can be removed at one time without harming the grass, but the ⅓ rule is still standard in the landscaping industry.

Pro Tip: While the grass isn’t growing, sharpen that mower blade, winterize your lawn mower, and get your lawn tools ready for spring.

2. Control weeds

Don’t worry about killing annual weeds, such as crabgrass, in the fall, but do keep these weeds mowed so they won’t develop and drop seed heads. 

In the fall, focus on broadleaf weeds such as dandelion, plantain, ground ivy, and white clover.

Here are tips on how to remove these four common weeds using cultural and chemical controls.

  • Dandelion

How to get rid of dandelions: You can remove the plant by hand, making sure to remove the full taproot, or you can use a post-emergent selective herbicide.

  • Broadleaf plantain

How to get rid of broadleaf plantain: Remove the plant by hand, making sure to remove all of the roots. If you prefer to use the chemical control option, use a post-emergent selective herbicide.

  • Ground ivy (aka creeping Charlie)

How to get rid of ground ivy: Remove this weed by hand. You may need to do this repeatedly for good control. Thick, full grass in full sun will provide good competition for this weed. For chemical control, use a selective post-emergent specifically developed for the mint family.

  • White clover

How to get rid of white clover: You can remove this weed by hand, but make sure you dig out all of the small roots. Keeping a healthy level of nitrogen in your lawn helps reduce clover as well. For chemical control, use a selective post-emergent with MCPP and/or triclopyr.

If you want to correctly identify these weeds or think you have other weeds sprouting up in your yard, the University of Minnesota has a helpful weed identification guide you can browse.

The best defense against weeds is a full, thick lawn. If your weeds leave bare patches, consider overseeding in the fall. This will help make sure your lawn has a full stand of grass to out-compete next year’s weeds.

3. Aerate or dethatch

Graphic explaining thatch on grass

Aeration and dethatching are good ways to do preventative maintenance for your lawn.

First, if you have more than 1½ inch of thatch in your lawn, you’ll need to rent a dethatching machine to dethatch your lawn. Thatch is a layer of living and dead matter that accumulates in between the grass and the soil. A little thatch is good, but too much can inhibit rooting and lead to pest and disease issues.

An aeration machine punches holes in the lawn, pulling out plugs of soil as it goes along. This is a good thing to do if you have heavy clay or compacted soils. Aeration is frequently done before overseeding the lawn in the fall.

Aeration allows for more airflow, which causes roots to grow deeper and wider. Earthworms and microorganisms can do their jobs more easily in soils with more open pores.

If you plan to seed this fall and you have heavy clay soil, consider aerating (and dethatching if needed) and then putting down the fertilizer, organic matter, and seed. This will give your lawn the best chance at a healthy, full stand of grass. And remember, a full lawn is the best defense against weeds.

4. Fertilize

The University of Minnesota recommends fertilizing from August through the middle of October. However, the amount of fertilizer you will need depends on a few factors, such as soil composition, how often you water, and whether you leave your clippings on the lawn. The best way to determine how much nitrogen you need is to do a soil test

If you prefer to take your chances, here are general guidelines from the University of Minnesota. (For more detailed recommendations, check out their Fertilizing Lawns page.)

  • If you water your lawn occasionally and leave the clippings on the lawn, plan to fertilize at 1.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Apply one application in May-June and a second application in September.
  • If you water your lawn occasionally and don’t leave the clippings on the lawn, plan to fertilize at 2.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Apply one application in May-June, another in August, and a third in September.

How to fertilize your lawn: Prep your lawn, of course, then we recommend using a spreader for your granular fertilizer ensures proper coverage for your lawn’s needs.

5. Seed your lawn

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

There are two ways to seed your lawn in the fall: overseeding or dormant seeding. Overseeding is best done from the middle of August to the middle of September. In the Twin Cities, dormant seeding should be done from early to mid-November.

If you missed the window for overseeding, wait a little while and dormant seed in November. The main difference between the two is the timing.

Dormant seeding must be done when the ground is cold enough to prevent germination but not yet frozen. Aim to dormant seed when the soil temperature (not air temperature) is less than 45 degrees for a few consecutive days but before it snows consistently.

Contact your local Extension office for assistance or use this handy soil temperature tool to track the soil temps in your area.

The process of overseeding is not complicated. Follow these simple steps:

  • Start with a soil test

A soil test is like taking blood from your lawn. It will tell you exactly what your soil needs (or doesn’t need).

  • Aerate or dethatch

This removes excess thatch, opens up the soil pores, and allows for better root development.

  • Add fertilizer

Amend the soil with fertilizer or organic matter based on what your soil test says it needs.

  • Spread the seed

Depending on the size of the area you’re seeding, use a spreader or hand-cast the seed at the recommended rates.

  • Press the seed into the soil

Use the back of a rake to get good seed-to-soil contact.

  • Water it in

Water the seed into the soil. Continue watering up to four times per day. Water very lightly each time to avoid runoff. Decrease watering frequency once the seeds have germinated.

For dormant seeding small areas, use a rake to lightly rough up the areas you’re going to seed. Then, sprinkle the seed onto the soil, use the back of a rake to push it down into the soil, and water the seeds well. You don’t have to fertilize.

6. Plant spring bulbs

Want beautiful bulbs for the spring? Plant spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth, and daffodils in the fall, sometime between October and early November. This gives the bulbs time to root and draw nutrients from the soil. As long as the ground can be worked, you’re safe to plant.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

  • Prepare the soil

If you have clay or heavy soil, amend it with peat moss or compost. Bulbs must have well-drained soil.

  • Add fertilizer

Add a standard bulb fertilizer and work it into the soil.

  • Plant the bulbs

Look at the package to determine the planting depth. Plant with the root side down (flat side) and the shoot side up (pointed side). If you can’t tell which side should be up, you can plant them on their side.

  • Cover the bulbs

Cover the bulbs with the correct amount of soil. You can add mulch for extra winter protection.

  • Water the bulbs

Continue watering periodically until the ground freezes.

  • Label the bulbs

This may seem unnecessary, but come spring, you may have forgotten which species you planted or where you planted them. It also helps you to remember where the bulbs are located so you can water them as needed.

Pro Tip: Buy bulbs that bloom from early through late spring so you’ll have color throughout the season.

7. Mow the leaves

Person on a riding mower mulching leaves on a large area of grass
Andrew Gustar | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Do you know another benefit of mowing regularly in the fall? You’ll be doing double duty by cleaning up the leaves at the same time. This is often called “mulch mowing.” Here are a few tips:

  • Ditch the rake. Use a mulching mower instead.

Mulching mower blades cut grass and leaves ultra-fine so they decompose quickly. If you don’t have a mulching mower, buy a mulch kit to convert your current mower. A mulch kit consists of two (or more) mulching blades and attachments. 

  • Mow often.

If you have several trees and a large volume of leaves to deal with each fall, you’ll have to mow often. If the pile of leaves is too high to leave on the lawn even after they’re mulched, go over the lawn twice. Mow the lawn once without the bag; then, mow the lawn a second time with the bag. 

Pro Tip: Don’t throw away any bagged leaves. Add them to your compost pile and use them once they’ve broken down a little more.

8. Winterize your sprinklers

Many homeowners have an annual sprinkler contract or self-schedule their spring activation and winter shutdown. Winterizing just means that the technician will come out and remove all of the water from the system and check to make sure everything is still in good condition. 

Plan to have this done when temperatures fall between 35-40 degrees or when the grass goes dormant. Have this appointment on the books sometime in September or October.

Fall Lawn Care Preps Your Yard for Winter

That’s it! Your lawn is all set for fall and winter — and you have this handy 8-point checklist for when it’s time to do these chores again next fall.

Now maybe kick back and watch a football game or take a fall hike (where crunching on leaves is a welcome sound).

If you’d rather be cheering on your favorite Minneapolis sports team or enjoying this “City by Nature,” contact one of our Minneapolis lawn care professionals today. We’ll put the finishing touches on your fall lawn to have it ready for the winter and spring ahead.

Main Photo Credit: dsa66503 | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.