Expert Interview: Lawn Care Tips for the Fall

Kathleen Roberts
Lawn care expert Adam Jones

Lawn care tips for the fall are helpful to keep your lawn healthy through the winter. Many people understand that fall is the best time to do it, but not many people understand why, or the best way to go about it. While there are distinct differences between the care and treatment of warm and cool season grasses, there are a few specifics that apply overall.

The Lawn Care Expert

Recently, LoveToKnow Garden had the opportunity to talk with Adam Jones, Vice-President of Quality Assurance for Massey Services, Incorporated. Mr. Jones has been in the lawn care industry for over 22 years and is an expert in his field.

Massey Services is one of the largest and most respected service companies in the United States, with its subsidiaries providing pest and termite prevention services, as well as lawn, tree and shrub care services to 180,000 customers in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. They have received many honors and awards for their environmentally responsible practices.

Some Lawn Care Tips for the Fall

LoveToKnow took the opportunity to ask a few questions about his lawn care tips for the fall. Here is what Mr. Jones had to say.

How can we get our lawns ready for winter?

Adam Jones: In Florida, the transition from summer growth to winter growth typically begins sometime between mid-September and mid-October. This transition comes earlier in northern parts of the country but is revealed by a distinctive decrease in the amount of upright growth, which decreases the need for frequent mowing.

This transitional period is an ideal time to provide fall fertilization and to perform core aeration and over seeding for cool-season grasses. Well fertilized grass will store up significant food reserves and produce healthy roots during the next 60 days to sustain it during the winter. Core aeration promotes significant root growth during the transitional period.

Explain how to read a bag of fertilizer

AJ: The three numbers on a fertilizer bag indicate the amount of primary nutrients by weight. The three primary nutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K). For example, a 50 pound bag of 16-0-8 lawn fertilizer contains eight pounds of nitrogen, zero pounds of phosphorus and four pounds of potassium.

What should be looked for in a fertilizer?

AJ: Look for a fertilizer analysis (N-P-K) that has a 1-0-1 or 2-0-1 nutrient ratio. For example, a 16-0-16 or 20-0-20 is a 1-0-1 ratio fertilizer and 16-0-8 or 20-0-10 is a 2-0-1 ratio fertilizer.

A lawn fertilizer should not include phosphorus (the middle number) unless a soil test has indicated the need to supply additional phosphorus. In Florida, a fertilizer which also contains the micronutrients iron and manganese in addition to the primary nutrients is acceptable.

How do lawns benefit from these nutrients?

AJ: There are 16 essential elements necessary for nutrition of lawn turfgrass. Of those 16, three (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) are most commonly used in fertilizers.Turfgrass requires nitrogen in the largest amount of any essential nutrient with the exception of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. For this reason, nitrogen is applied in the largest amount in fertilization programs. It greatly influences shoot and root growth, color and recuperative potential. If you want more growth and greener color, you will get significant improvement by adding more nitrogen. Phosphorus is involved in a number of physiological functions within the grass plant. It affects the initial establishment, rooting and reproduction of turfgrass. Most soils are found to contain adequate amounts of available phosphorus, so adding this to a fertilizer blend is usually unnecessary. Potassium is essential for plant growth and development. It greatly influences rooting, disease proneness and drought stress tolerance. Most soils are low in available potassium so it is very important to include this in your fertilizer.

Is fall a good time for weed control?

AJ: The best method to control weeds is a dense, healthy lawn. Proper fertilization, mowing and watering are the foundation for a healthy lawn. The fall application of a pre-emergent weed control products will greatly reduce the number of weeds that develop during the fall and winter months.If weeds do develop in areas, attempt to hand pull them rather than applying a post emergent weed control product. If the lawn is dense and healthy, and if a pre-emergent product is used, you will likely have very few weeds to contend with during the winter months. If weeds become a significant problem for you, then seek a professional's advice on the best method for dealing with the problem.

What about pest control?

AJ: Most lawn insect problems occur during the summer months. Some of the pests you might see during the fall are Chinch bugs and Mole Crickets. All pest problems should first be accurately identified by a lawn care professional, and then treated with a material that is specifically labeled for control of that pest. Many of these products are applied through a hose end applicator or spreader. Indiscriminate application of a pesticide is an unnecessary and irresponsible approach to dealing with lawn pests.

What kind of care is needed in winter months?

AJ: Lawns should be continued to be mowed during the fall and winter months (unless you are in a northern part of the country) but will require it on a less frequent basis. A rule of thumb is to mow the lawn every other week during this period. Water the lawn less frequently as well. Most southern lawns should be watered with three quarters of an inch of water every seven to ten days during this period.

Anything else to add?

AJ: Fall and winter is when lawns recuperate. Properly maintaining them during the fall and winter will make them much more capable of dealing with summer stresses next year. Remember that, regardless of your location, fall and winter is an excellent time to improve the overall health and vigor of your lawn.

Expert Interview: Lawn Care Tips for the Fall