Lawn Maintenance: Tips for caring for your lawn in fall

By Debra Levey Larson
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

URBANA, Ill. — It has been a tough year to grow grass in Illinois. Heavy spring rains, followed by drought in many parts of the state, caused poor grass growth and death from disease. But there’s hope for a better lawn in 2012, if you start working on it now.

Most Illinois lawns are made up of cool-season grasses that thrive in late fall, early winter and spring,” said University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Rhonda Ferree. “This means that the cool days and warm nights of fall make a perfect environment for fall lawn care. It’s a great time to aerate and fertilize, dethatch and consider a broadleaf weed control.”

If you only fertilize your lawn once a year, this is the time to do it. Ferree recommends using holidays to remember when to fertilize your lawn. “If you fertilize once a year, do it around Labor Day; twice a year, Labor Day and Mother’s Day; three times a year, Labor Day, Mother’s Day and Halloween.”

Core aerating, dethatching and power raking are useful lawn care activities. Ferree says they help reduce soil compaction and thatch, improve surface drainage, and improve conditions prior to overseeding. It’s best to do this when the grass is actively growing, and that’s usually in spring or early to mid-fall. “The key is to do it early enough in the fall for turf recovery to take place before the onset of severe cold weather,” she said.

Postemergence broadleaf weed control is suited to fall, too, especially for weeds such as dandelions, buckhorn, broadleaf plantains and ground ivy. These weeds are preparing to go into dormancy for the winter.

There’s a lot of movement of materials within the plant, and that’s when herbicides work best to kill the entire plant,” Ferree said. “When using any lawn or garden chemical, be sure to read, understand, and follow all label instructions for the safest, most effective application of herbicides.”

Visit Ferree welcomes questions on her Facebook page at

From the Sept. 14-20, 2011, issue

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