Fall Lawn Care Checklist for Richmond

tree surrounded by a thick layer of leaves with green moss growing up it's trunk

Fall is one of the best times to live in Richmond. The city sits on the edge of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain (also known as Tidewater) regions of Virginia. It’s a great place to enjoy the moderate temperatures and the picturesque view of fall colors along one of the hiking trails along the James River.

Richmond’s cool autumn is generally followed by a mild winter, but the upcoming drop in temperature can still pose a challenge to your yard. Fortunately, we give you some fall lawn care tasks that will help your warm-season and cool-season grasses survive well this winter.

  1. Rake smarter, not harder
  2. Fertilize for growth
  3. All about aerating
  4. Overseed your cool-season grass
  5. Mow for the last time
  6. Winterize your irrigation system
  7. Prep the garden beds for winter

1. Rake smarter, not harder

Fall earned its name for a good reason — all those leaves from your trees form a brown canopy on your lawn. When you see the first leaves fall, you may be tempted to run out into the yard and start raking. Once some leaves have fallen, you will want to rake at least once a week. 

Raking is vital for the health of your grass. 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

Raking deeply also minimizes thatch buildup in your lawn. Thatch is the layer of living and dead organic matter that accumulates between the soil’s surface and the grass blades. A thatch layer less than ½ inch thick can do some good for your lawn, but a thicker layer can be unhealthy for your turf. 

2. Fertilize for growth

Fall is an important time to fertilize your cool-season grasses in Richmond. Cool-season grasses include tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine-leaf fescues, and perennial ryegrass. Your lawn needs to be strong to withstand the upcoming cold winter.

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

What if I have warm-season grass?

If you have warm-season grass like bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, or zoysiagrass, you should wait to fertilize until spring, when the grass is in its peak growing season.

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.

3. All about aerating

person manually aerating a grass area using a pitch fork
Eugene Brennan | Pixabay

As was the case with fertilizing, you will want to take some time to aerate your lawn in the fall, too. Aerating is the process of creating holes in your soil to improve drainage and oxygen circulation for better growth and stronger pest defense. 

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 to 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 to 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

Fall is the best time to aerate if you have a cool-season turfgrass such as tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine-leaf fescues, and perennial ryegrass. Cool-season grasses grow and thrive during the cool autumn months, and aerating releases soil compaction, making it easier for your grass to develop. 

If you have warm-season grass, we advise holding off on aerating until May or June instead.

4. Overseed your cool-season grass

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 to overseed?

The best time to reseed your cool-season Richmond 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. Overseeding gives your lawn a fluffy, dense appearance without removing the turf or soil beneath. If you plan to overseed in fall, you should always plant new grass at least 45 days before the first frost of winter.

If you have warm-season grass, you will want to hold off and overseed in early spring. 

5. Mow for the last time

robotic lawn mower sitting on a freshly cut lawn
Niek Verlaan | Pixabay

How do you know when it’s time for the last mow of the season? Pay attention to the height of your grass. When it stops growing, mow the lawn one final time, then stop until next spring.

The goal of mowing during the fall is to maintain mid-length grass so it will survive best going into the winter. If your grass is too high, it can become matted and diseased; if your grass is too short, its precious root systems could freeze in winter’s chilly temperatures. 

If you have cool-season grass such as tall fescue, keep your grass height at 2.5 inches. If you have warm-season grass such as bermudagrass, then you’ll want to shorten it to somewhere in the range of 1.5 to 2 inches.

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

6. Winterize your irrigation system

No one wants to stress over broken pipes! Remember to winterize your irrigation system and drain it of all its water. Otherwise, the remaining water leads to frozen pipes, broken sprinkler heads, and cracked plastic. Drain the irrigation system this fall so you can count on a working system come spring. 

7. Prep the garden beds for winter

person holding a handful of mulch
Jenny Johansson | Pixabay

The last item on your to-do list has less to do with your turfgrass and more to do with your front yard’s appearance. A green lawn won’t make much of an impression if unflattering flower beds surround it. Give your flower beds a health and beauty boost by spreading mulch. 

Advantages of mulch: Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, adds texture to the flower beds, and regulates soil temperatures. Organic mulches, like wood chips and shredded bark, will even add healthy nutrients to the soil. 

Richmond is familiar with fluctuating temperatures. Don’t let an unexpected warm spell in winter cause your flowers to germinate too early. Mulch helps insulate the ground and keeps it frozen even when air temperatures are unusually warm. 

How much mulch do I need: A 2-inch layer of mulch is enough for your flower beds to reap its benefits. If your flower beds have a layer of old mulch, fluff the old mulch with a rake before adding any new mulch. Fluffing the mulch helps ensure it doesn’t become too compact. 

Enjoy fall in Richmond 

If you want your lawn to last the winter and spring to life in spring, the months of September and October are crucial times of the year for lawn care in Richmond. If you rake, aerate, overseed, fertilize, mow, winterize your sprinklers, and prep your flower beds, your yard will look amazing in spring.

If this fall lawn care checklist seems too daunting, don’t worry. Consider getting in touch with a certified Richmond lawn care professional so that you can enjoy another lovely autumn in Richmond.

Main Photo Credit: rihaij | Pixabay

Josh Camacho

Josh Camacho has been working in landscaping in the American Southeast for over 10 years. His experience with outdoor event planning enables him to spot foot traffic considerations from miles away.