Why does everyone think about his or her lawn in the spring? In fact, the best time to work on your lawn is the fall. Grass plants put resources into top growth—the stuff we need to mow—in the spring, so if you fertilize your lawn in the spring, you are pushing leaves to grow taller and faster and increasing the need to mow. Grass plants put resources into root and tiller growth in the fall. Fall fertilization promotes deep, healthy root systems and encourages grass to spread by tillers. If you use a fertilizer that includes at least 35% slowly available nitrogen, you can apply two pounds of actual nitrogen or 20 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer on your lawn once in the fall, between late August and early October. If you use a fertilizer with quick release nitrogen, you should split the application, applying one pound in the early fall (late August – September) and one pound in mid-late fall (October – November). Splitting the application ensures fertilizer uptake by the grass plants and prevents leaching of nitrogen into our water system.
Delaware Livable Lawns is a program initiated by the Delaware Department of Transportation to educate people and provide incentives for healthy lawn care that protects our environment. The Environmental Protection Agency considers stormwater runoff from yards, streets, parking lots, and other areas to be one of the most significant sources of contamination in our country’s waters. The Delaware Livable Lawns Program certifies lawn care providers who follow a set of best management practices for lawn care. If you have a professional manage your lawn, why not hire a Certified Livable Lawn Provider to ensure your lawn is cared for in an environmentally sound way. Certified lawn care companies are listed at https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org/certified-businesses. We are looking for more lawn care companies to join the program. If your lawn care provider is not on this list, ask him or her to become certified.
If you care for your own lawn, you can still have a Livable Lawn. Go to the website (https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org/for-homeowners) and read the eight requirements for a Livable Lawn. They includeTest your soil every 3 years.
- Apply nitrogen based in the guidelines in the fertilizer chart (recommended above).
- Avoid phosphorus fertilization if soil tests show high levels in the soil.
- Do not apply fertilizer between June 16 and August 14 or December 7 and February 15.
- Keep fertilizer and grass clippings off sidewalks, driveways, streets and storm drains.
- Do not apply fertilizer within 15 feet of waterways.
- Record the pounds of nutrients applied and dates on which you applied fertilizer.
- Watch the Livable Lawns Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j41z5xueghU&feature=youtu.be)
Once you agree to these requirements and send in your application, you will receive a free soil test kit. At the end of the fall following your application, complete and send in your reporting sheet. Then, you will receive a free $50 gift certificate to purchase native plants for your home at participating garden centers. What a deal, plus your lawn will look great!
The other major lawn care activity in the fall is re-seeding or over-seeding. It is best to reseed cool season grass (the kind in our lawns) in the fall because grass seed needs warm soil to germinate. Soils are warm in August and September. Once the grass has germinated, it needs cool temperatures to grow. Newly established or renovated lawns can grow into the fall when temperatures cool and days shorten. Spring, the time most people think about seeding their lawns, is just the opposite. The soil is cool in early spring, and air temperatures continue to rise into late spring and early summer when grass is trying to become established. In addition, many summer annual weeds crop up in late spring to compete with newly establishing grass. There are many fewer winter annual weeds causing problems for young grass plants in a fall seeding.
If you have ever read my Delaware Gardener column before, you probably know I am a proponent of less lawn. Plant lawn where it is useful—as pathways, gathering spaces or sports areas—and turn the rest of your yard into something more productive for the environment, like a landscape bed filled with native plants, meadow or forest. If everyone joins in, we can provide the ecosystem services we need (clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, pollination, human engagement and more) to live happy, healthy lives.
Visit the Delaware Livable Lawns website (https://www.delawarelivablelawns.org) to learn more about healthy lawn care to keep our water clean and our environment thriving.