Fall is a Great Time to Start
Organic Lawn Care
Also see our list of Organic Landscapers
When you think lawn care, spring may be the first thing that comes to mind, but the fall is the best time to get your lawn ready for the coming winter and to give it a great head start on next spring and summer! If you can spare a couple of hours in the next few weeks, here are a few reasons why September and October are the best time to grow new grass seeds and get that thick green lawn that will be the envy of your neighborhood.
As daytime temperatures cool, below the surface the soil retains its warmth – and warm soil helps seeds germinate faster. The fall season also brings more rainfall, which is very helpful for seed germination. Cooler temperatures also reduce insect infestation and disease. And last but not least, weeds don’t germinate during cooler fall days, so your new grass won’t have to compete with new weeds.
Here are a few organic lawn care tips for the fall that will improve your lawn and make it a safer place for your family and companion animals.
Mow high -- Set mower blades high 3"-3.5". Avoid cutting off more than 1/3 of the grass blade at one time. Leave clippings on the lawn. Only the last mowing of the season should be shorter, to prevent winter damage and snow mold.
Test your soil -- Check the pH balance of your soil. Soil test kits and pH meters are available commercially at garden supply stores. Keep your soil pH as close to 6.5 as possible. Long Island soil is likely to be more acidic, and will require lime to raise the pH. You can also test your soil for mineral, nutrient, and organic matter content. Private testing labs can do this, as well as the Cornell Cooperative Extension (Nassau 454-0900, Suffolk 727-7850).
Seed thin and bare spots -- Thick turf is the best way to prevent weeds. Bare patches are an invitation to weeds. The best time for seeding is when the weather starts to cool down, late August through September. Using a blend of different grass strains can prevent a single pest or disease from wiping out your lawn. Tall fescues require less fertilization and water than Kentucky bluegrass, so it is a better choice if you want a lower maintenance lawn. For areas with heavier shade and low traffic, fine fescues are recommended.
Compost -- Compost contains beneficial microorganisms and organic matter. These are especially important for the first two years of transition to an organic program. Spread 1/4 inch thick on turf then rake in.
Fertilize -- Low-maintenance fescues, where clippings are left on the lawn will need very little added nitrogen. Kentucky blue grass may need as much as 2 lbs./1,000 square feet per year. Apply half the year’s fertilizer around Memorial Day and the other half around Labor Day. If you only fertilize once a year, Labor Day is the better time. If your turf needs nitrogen, use organic fertilizer with low water soluble nitrogen, 5% or less is good.
Do not fertilize later in the year than October! In cold weather, the fertilizer is more likely to run off into surface water or leach into ground water. Suffolk County prohibits the application of nitrogen fertilizer from November 1st through March 31st. Nassau’s prohibition on applying nitrogen fertilizer runs from November 15th through March 31st.
Download a pdf of our Organic Lawn Care flyer