Fall and Winter Lawn Maintenance


Just because you’re counting down the days until you can put away the lawn mower doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about taking care of your lawn.  Here are a few things that you can do this fall to make sure that your lawn is healthier next spring:

 1. Test Your Soil – When was the last time you tested your soil?  If you can’t remember, it’s been too long.  The soil in your lawn should be tested every three to four years.  A soil test will tell you the pH of your soil, or whether it’s “sweet” or “sour”.  It will also tell you the levels of phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients.  A soil test will also indicate the amount of lime, phosphate, or potash you should apply if your soil is deficient in these areas.  Fall is a great time to test your soil.

2. Fertilize Your Lawn – When does the grass in your lawn need fertilizer?  When it is growing, of course.  When is your lawn growing?  In the spring, summer, and early fall, of course.  But did you know that your lawn is growing in the late fall and early winter as well?  The majority of growth during this period is below ground instead of above ground.  Grasses spend the fall developing their root systems. Testing your soil and applying needed fertilizer in the fall will insure good root development and a healthier lawn the following spring.

3. Aerify Your Lawn – Most lawns develop a layer of thatch, or undecomposed roots and stems, when they are mowed on a regular basis, especially if grass clippings are not bagged. This thatch layer can restrict the movement of water, nutrients, and air into the root-zone of your lawn. Excessive residue can also harbor diseases, insects, and other pests that may damage your lawn. Your lawn should be dethatched on a regular basis. Fall is a great time to do this and should be done with a dethatching machine or power rake, both of which are often available for rent.

4. Control Weeds – During October, November, and December, many broadleaf weeds begin to pop up in lawns throughout Missouri. These weeds, such as chickweed and henbit, are known as winter annuals.  Winter annuals complete their lifecycle by early spring so you may never notice them while you’re mowing your lawn. This does not mean you should ignore them. Winter annuals compete with your lawn for  nutrients, sunlight, and water during that critical period when grasses are developing their root systems. Winter annuals should be treated with a postemergence broadleaf herbicide such as 2,4-D or dicamba during the fall.

5. Get Ready For Next Year – Sharpen the blades on your lawnmower. Grasses cut with a sharper blade will be healthier and more disease-resistant than grasses cut with a dull blade.  During late winter, you should begin to think about crabgrass control. Many of us only notice crabgrass when it really starts to grow in May or June. Controlling crabgrass at this point can be difficult. Crabgrass is more effectively controlled with a preemergence herbicide applied prior to April 15th. 

With the late freezes, heavy rains, and droughts we have experienced the last few years, maintaining a healthy lawn can sometimes be difficult.  If you will follow the above steps, your lawn may not always be completely healthy, but you can rest assured that you have given it the best possible opportunity. 

 Source: Travis Harper, Agronomy Specialist