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Fall weather is beautiful. Nothing feels quite like that first cool morning of autumn. Atlanta summers can be hot, and fall brings a natural feeling of relief with the fresh, brisk air. Our warm season turfs naturally feel the shortening days and cooler soil temperatures as well, and this season guides them down the path of preparation for dormancy. To protect your lawn in the fall, follow these four cultural practices to help your turf store energy and transition naturally.

1. Raise Cut Heights

Practice appropriate mowing techniques to protect the canopy of your lawn and ensure density during dormancy. During the summertime, especially July and early August, it almost seems like keeping up with the growth of our warm-season lawns is impossible. If we don’t cut every 5 days in the summer, we get scalp marks. While not ideal, they often recover quickly and resume business as usual. No harm, no foul, right?

Raise your mower height in the fall to cut only outliers as the turf slows down; this practice will reduce the chance that your yard sustains injury it can’t recover from before dormancy. As days get shorter and nights get cooler, bermuda and zoysia naturally slow top growth in favor of energy retention and storage. This means their ability to recover from mowing damage drops significantly. A thick lawn is naturally more beautiful in dormancy, and density in conjunction with pre-emergent weed control products helps resist the formation of winter weeds.

2. Remove Fallen Leaves

Keep leaf litter off your yard; this is important for turf health and keeps your lawn treatments on schedule. In a landscape, there are few things more striking than a fire-red maple tree. The sight of reds, yellows, and oranges on rolling hills defines fall for some people. However, allowing the fallen leaves to remain on your turf is essentially smothering it.

Deciduous trees react to short days and cool temperatures in many of the same ways our turfs do. Just like the growth of our lawns slows down, trees shift their focus to energy storage and sacrifice leaves they are no longer using to produce energy. While beautiful on the tree, they are an absolute mess once on the ground.

Leaf litter can be a bear to keep up with, but removing the leaves is necessary for optimized turf health and treatment schedules. If leaf litter is left on the yard, it can create matting when wet, smothering the turf below. This results in poor health during dormancy and creates suboptimal conditions for recovery in the spring. Moisture and organic matter present in leaf litter also creates optimal conditions for fungal formation.

Beyond plant health concerns, a lawn that is covered in leaves isn’t treatable. Liquid treatments work best when applied to clean yards. This helps ensure uniformity. If applied to fallen leaves, the products may never reach their intended target—or worse, get taken away when the leaves are raked. Even dry products like lime and fertilizer become less consistent when applied to yards with leaf litter. Keeping your yard clean ensures that we don’t have to reschedule an application, and we can keep your yard on schedule for important applications like fall pre-emergents.

3. Reduce and/or Stop Irrigation

Avoid excess irrigation in the fall and winter; watering excessively can create disease and weed trouble. Summer weather is tough on even the most hardy of turfs. Irrigation is the only way to maximize the beauty of our yards. It can be hard to know when to begin reducing the amount of irrigation required.

In active growth, an inch of water per week over the course of a few non-contiguous days is sufficient for bermuda and zoysia lawns. This can come from irrigation or rainfall. The turf gets to use some of that moisture, but the rest is lost to evaporation from the ground. As the length and intensity of sunlight decreases into fall, so does the need for so much water. While the timing is different for every yard, reducing the amount of water applied at the appropriate time is key for the reduction of turf diseases and the introduction of winter weeds.

General rules of fall watering:

  • Dry weeks with nights in the 50s and days in the 70s means it is fine to reduce irrigation amounts in many places.
  • Cool, rainy weeks may not require any irrigation.
  • If your yard is wet, irrigation isn’t required at all. Once the turf is dormant, you can turn off irrigation completely.

4. Stay on a Treatment Plan

Even in the fall, it’s important to stay on a turf treatment plan. It’s a common misconception that turf treatment is not necessary in the fall and winter; there are many tasks performed in the fall and winter that are important for plant health, soil health, and weed control. If the grass isn’t growing, why do I need lawn care? This is a reasonable question, but there is so much more to growing good grass than the green grass you see in the spring and summertime.

A well-designed lawn care program should take a holistic approach to turf growth. Simply treating the turf when it’s green or full of weeds is inefficient and provides results that are underwhelming. Imagine a lawn care program is a puzzle, and the fall and winter treatments are the corner or perimeter pieces. They aren’t often exciting, but they are absolutely necessary for building the center of the puzzle where all of the action is.

Treatments such as lime and the fertilizer we apply in the first round of the year are directly aimed at soil and root health. Healthy soil encourages nutrient availability. Healthy roots are the foundation of a healthy turf. The success of these treatments is hard to appreciate because we don’t reap the benefits from them until the next growing season.

Fall pre-emergents stifle the development of winter annual weeds, the likes of which create ugly contrast against a beautiful, tan, dormant lawn. Seeing the effects of these rounds can be tough as well. The best result we can ask for from these treatments is that nothing happens, and that can be hard to quantify. Their application greatly reduces the amount of weed control product needed to treat weeds after they arrive. Bottom line: stay on a turf treatment plan all year long for the best and most consistent results.

Important Takeaways:

  • Raise cut heights to reduces injury to your lawn and to protect the canopy of your lawn, ensuring density in dormancy.
  • Keep leaf litter off your yard; this is important for turf health and keeps your lawn treatments on schedule.
  • Reduce irrigation when appropriate for your yard; this is key. Excess irrigation in the fall and winter can create disease and weed trouble.
  • Stay on your turf treatment plan— even in the fall and winter. There are many tasks performed in the fall and winter that are important for plant health, soil health, and weed control.
  • Reach out to our trained and knowledgeable service representatives at Nature’s Turf for questions and advice about protecting your lawn in the fall.