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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Fall Lawn Care

Will your yard lawn survive this summer's drought? "Unfortunately I see too many lawns that look dead instead of dormant this summer", says Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension. If the grass doesn't tug when you pull on it and you can't find white roots when you dig it up, it is probably dead. Many lawns have large dead patches in them.

"The good news is that fall is the perfect time to renovate a lawn." Early fall (August 15 to September 15) is the ideal time to seed a new lawn, overseed an existing lawn, or do other lawn activities. Most Illinois lawns are made up of cool season grasses that thrive in late fall, early winter, and spring. Summer's temperatures put more stress on the plants than any other time of the year. "Fall lawn activities have a much higher success rate than spring work."

Start by raking those dead patches with a metal rake and then sprinkle grass seed in the loosened soil. Cover the seed with straw to hold moisture.

If you lawn is just thinner across the entire area, you might try overseeding it. You can simply sprinkle grass seed across the entire grass area. You don't necessarily need to rough up the soil before seeding. However, if your lawn has a lot of thatch, you can run a dethatcher, aerifier, or power rake through it before overseeding.

New seed plantings (new areas, renovations, and overseedings) of cool-season turfgrasses are best completed before September 15. Seeding during this time allows root systems to develop through fall and spring before facing the heat and drought of the next summer. Late summer/early fall seedings also face less competition from annual grassy weeds than do spring seedings.

If you only fertilize your lawn once a year, this is the time to do it. Early fall (August 15 – September 15) is a key time for fertilizing lawns in central Illinois. An easy way to remember it is by using holidays. If you fertilize once year, do it at Labor Day; two times a year, Labor Day and Mother's Day; three times a year, Labor Day, Mother's Day, and Halloween.

Postemergence broadleaf weed control is suited to fall, too, especially for difficult to control weeds such as dandelions, buckhorn, broadleaf plantains, and ground ivy. These weeds are preparing to go into dormancy for the winter. There is a lot of movement of materials within the plant and that's when herbicides work best to kill the entire plant. 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.

Core aerifying, dethatching and power raking are useful lawn care activities. They help reduce soil compaction and thatch, improve surface drainage, and improve conditions prior to overseeding. These activities are best done when the grass is actively growing, and that's usually in spring or early to mid-fall. The key right now is to complete the core aerifying, dethatching and power raking early enough in the fall for turf recovery to take place before the onset of severe cold weather.

Learn more tips on lawncare at You can also post questions on Rhonda's facebook page at

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