We’re heading into fall here in Moline, and you know what that means: cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice everything, apple orchards, and beautiful fall foliage. It’s also time to start prepping our yards and gardens for the winter. If you were fertilizing, aerating, and overseeding your lawn in the spring, you’ll want to make sure you do it again in the fall. That second round is vitally important to help the roots of your lawn become as strong as possible before the frost.
There are a few things you can do to give your lawn the best chance to thrive next spring.
Aerating Lawn in the Fall
Aerating your lawn is important, especially if your lawn is old, sparse, and patchy. Aeration helps loosen up compacted soil, allowing air, water, and nutrients to better reach the roots. Aeration before fertilizing also helps all that healthy bacterial flora leach deeper into the soil.
There are two types of aeration tools: plug aerators and spike aerators. It’s preferable to use the plug aerator type because it pulls out small tubes of soil. This alleviates compaction better than spike aeration, which just pokes holes into the soil. Sometimes, that can actually make compaction worse.
You can rent an aerating machine and do it yourself pretty easily. It’s worth asking around your neighborhood if anyone else wants to do their lawn the same day and split the cost of renting the machine.
Damp soil is ideal for aeration. If rain isn’t forecasted the day before you are planning to aerate, you’ll want to water the lawn thoroughly with a soaker hose or sprinkler. Dried out soil is difficult to aerate, and the results are not as effective.
It’s best to aerate your lawn early in the fall to ensure the roots have time to absorb as many nutrients as they can before the first frost. Once the aeration plugs have dried up, you can go over the plugs with the lawnmower. This should break them up and they’ll return to the soil.
After you’ve aerated your lawn, it’s a good idea to do some overseeding. As grass ages, it gets sparser, thinner leaves, so it’s wise to introduce new grass seed regularly. A dense lawn has a better chance of choking out weeds than a sparse lawn. Choose a grass seed that is appropriate for Moline— we are in plant hardiness zone 5b, so make sure you get something that is drought-tolerant and hardy to -15F.
There are a few ways to seed your lawn, but there are important considerations to keep in mind for all seeding. Grass seeds need to have direct contact with the soil to germinate, and they need to be kept damp for a couple of weeks. Seeding should be done early in the fall to allow the young plants to establish well before the first frost.
Before you seed, you should make sure your lawn, or the areas you’ll be seeding, is de-thatched so the seeds are contacting the soil directly. If you’re doing small areas, you can simply rake them well, sprinkle the seeds, and then rake again to work it in. Afterward, you’ll need to water the seeded spots regularly until they establish themselves.
After aeration and seeding, you’ll want to follow up with fertilizing your lawn. Fertilizing in the fall helps grass roots grow stronger and absorb as many nutrients as they possibly can to make it through the winter. That way, they’ll be ready to spring up after the frost. Later in the fall, closer to the first frost, you’ll want to spread some slow-release granular fertilizer.
A fertilizer mix of 24-0-10 is a good one for fall in Moline. The numbers are the percentage of the different nutrients in fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Potassium is particularly important for lawns, as it helps with root growth, disease resistance, drought tolerance, and cold resistance. If you want to get a little more in-depth, you can also get a soil testing kit and figure out exactly which nutrients your soil needs the most. You’ll want to fertilize after your grass has started to go dormant, so that the nutrients go toward root strength instead of toward growing new foliage.
Aeration, overseeding, and fertilizing this fall will give the roots breathing room, a solid start to filling in any sparse patches, and a good dose of nutrients to survive well through winter. If you only get around to aerating, seeding, or fertilizing your lawn once per year, try to aim for the fall. You’ll set your lawn up for a strong, healthy start the following spring.