Who says outdoor living has to come to an end after Labor Day?
Here in Chicagoland, fall is a great time to head outside and really enjoy your home’s lawn and garden areas. From decorating for Halloween, to lounging with a warm mug of apple cider, to holding backyard football games, there is no shortage of ways to soak in the crisp, golden days of autumn around your Chicagoland home.
To make the most of the season, it helps to have a lawn that is lush, green, and healthy. The fall season is a great time to start tending to those lawn and garden projects you may have put off during the scorching summer months — and start getting your outdoor areas ready for the frosty winter to come.
So, what can you do to keep your Chicagoland lawn feeling healthy and lush, all year long? Here are seven fall lawn care tips to keep in mind this season:
1.) Keep Cutting and Watering the Grass
While it can be tempting to take some time off and let nature run its course during the fall months, tending to your grass now can make an enormous difference during the winter and spring seasons to come. As Popular Mechanics explains, “during this time of year, grass is busily absorbing energy, moisture, and nutrients in preparation for a long, dormant winter.” The more attention you give your grass in the fall, the more you’ll “be rewarded with a lush, healthy spring lawn.”
When it comes to watering, experts recommend making sure your lawn gets a soak that penetrates several inches into the soil at least once or twice per week. You may be able to relax on watering if it’s a wet fall, or need to step up your routine during a dry spell. As in spring and summer, the best time to water is in the early morning, so less moisture is lost to evaporation.
As you get ready to mow your lawn, it’s important to find the right height. This Old House recommends setting your mower to maintain a lawn height around 2.5-3 inches, and mowing as necessary throughout the season. If you let it grow much longer, your grass may get matted down and succumb to fungi and mold. Too short, and your grass won’t be able to develop healthy roots.
2.) Don’t Let Leaves Pile Up
Every fall, the changing of the season brings a beautiful blanket of red, brown, and gold leaves to Chicagoland. But when this harvest-colored quilt takes over your lawn, it can suffocate your grass, block out much-needed sunlight, and promote fungal growth.
Raking the leaves is a fall chore the whole family can participate in together! Be sure to rake regularly, and don’t wait for all of the leaves in your area to fall before tending to them, since the longer leaves sit on your lawn, the harder they’ll be to deal with as they get soggy and dense. In addition to the classic rake and bag system, you can use a leaf blower to pile up loose leaves in no time. You can also use a lawnmower equipped with a collection bag; the lawnmower will help mulch the leaves, shredding them into a manageable size perfect for use as compost.
3.) Apply Fertilizer
Fall is one of the best times to fertilize your lawn. Giving your yard a healthy amount of food now can help ensure that it grows the robust root system necessary to make it through a tough Chicagoland winter.
For fall feedings, lawn care experts recommend a fertilizer rich in nutrients like phosphorous and potassium, which help promote root growth. Apply fertilizer later in the season, to help make sure your lawn gets the nutrition it needs for the long winter ahead. Make sure all of your grassy areas get a healthy amount of fertilizer, using a broadcast spreader or a drop-spreader for maximum coverage.
4.) Aerate Your Soil
Aeration is done to help loosen the soil in your lawn, helping to ensure that oxygen, fertilizer, and water will be able to work their way down through the ground, and nourish your plants at the root. This lawn care task should be done about once a year.
Just as importantly, aerating the soil in your yard can also help prevent thatch from developing. As Better Homes & Gardens explains, thatch is “a layer of dead organic matter mixed with living plant parts that can lead to disease and insect problems as well as damage from drought and cold weather.”
An aerator works by punching holes all over your yard, breaking up thatch and churning up small plugs of soil. You can purchase or rent a self-propelled aerator at most hardware stores or garden centers, or hire a professional landscaper.
5.) Tend to Bald Patches
If there are bald patches or thinning areas around your lawn, the fall months can be a great time to start promoting healthy growth — so your yard can come back thick, hearty, and full by the spring.
There are a few different solutions you can use to help fill in these bare spots. Most plant and garden stores will sell all-in-one lawn repair mixtures, complete with mulch, fertilizer, and quick-start grass seed. Spread this solution over any bare patches and water regularly to help jumpstart growth.
For larger bare areas, you can also lay down sod. Simply roll out these thick, dense patches of turf to supplement your existing grass and fill in the balding gaps across your property. Sod responds well to cooler temperatures and lots of moisture, making fall a prime time to start unrolling this quick yard care fix.
6.) Watch for Weeds
Weeds love to crop up over the cool autumn months, particularly perennial broadleaf weeds like dandelion and clover. During the fall months, these weeds are going to go into overdrive, soaking up all the moisture they can in anticipation of winter.
Fortunately, these thirsty weeds will also be particularly susceptible to all-natural herbicides during the fall, thanks to the moist conditions and moderate temperatures that come with the season.
Apply your preferred weed killer in problem spots around your property during the fall. Over time, the weeds will send the repellent down into their roots, killing off the invaders and making sure they won’t return come springtime. Broadly speaking, Popular Mechanics recommends breaking out the weed control products earlier in the season, “when daytime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.”
7.) Winterize Gardens, Trees, and Shrubs
Finally, remember to give your garden, trees, and shrubs some TLC! During the fall months, take some time to weed your vegetable gardens and flower beds, and dispose of dead or dying plants. Harvest what you can from your fruit and vegetable patches, then consider rototilling the soil and adding a protective layer of mulch. You can do the same for your perennial beds and flower gardens.
Similarly, take a pass over your shrubs and trees. For fragile deciduous shrubs and small evergreen trees, The Spruce recommends adding support “with a lean-to or some other sort of structure to keep heavy snows off their limbs.” For larger deciduous trees, The Spruce advises giving one significant watering after the trees have dropped their leaves, but before the ground starts to freeze for the winter. This way, the roots can draw in the water they need, even after the winter arrives and hardens up the earth.
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