According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln turf specialists, September is crucial for fertilizing all cool-season grasses. This includes Turf Type Tall Fescue, Fine Fescue, and Perennial Rye Grass. Warm season grasses such as Zoysia and Buffalo grass should have been fertilized in July and now allowed to go dormant. “Of the total annual Nitrogen applied to a cool-season turf, 60 to 75% (or more) of it should be applied between Labor Day and the last mowing. The September fertilization is crucial on all turf areas regardless if it is a lawn, athletic field, or golf course green, tee or fairway. Fertilization in mid-September encourages the production of new tillers and/or rhizomes and stolons that will increase turf density. Fertilization in September also encourages rooting and production of storage products that will help the plant survive the stresses of winter and next year's growing season. This is especially true for areas thinned by this summer's weather. Almost all turf areas should be fertilized with 1 lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq ft using a fertilizer with 25-50% of the nitrogen as slow release (sulfur or polymer-coated urea, urea formaldehyde, or natural organics).” (Turf 101: September is Crucial for Fertilizing All Cool-Season Turfs, August 23, 2010, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “”)

          The Labor Day application may be a high nitrogen slow release fertilizer, or a weed and feed, or it may it contain a pre-emergent herbicide. I don’t care for weed and feed products as I have found that the herbicide usually does not stick to the leaves of the weeds. “Weed and Feed” is convenient but not as effective as a liquid herbicide with a sticker-spreader added. A liquid herbicide with “triclopyr” in it is recommended for use on ground ivy, henbit, wild violets, dandelions, and  clover. September 15 to October 1 is a good time to put on the first application. Repeat in 10 days and a third application 10 days later for good control.

          A fertilizer with pre-emergent in it put on now, will help control dandelions (a perennial), henbit, and winter annual weeds that germinate in September. Henbit goes to seed in the spring and the seeds sit all summer and then germinate in September along with dandelion seeds from their spring flowers. After they germinate in the fall, they sit and grow in the lawn under the snow and then when the snow melts in the spring they bloom and distribute seeds before we can control them. It is easier to prevent than treat. If you bought a fertilizer program in the spring, take the fall bag back and see if you can return it and get one with pre-emergent, or a weed and feed.

          The second most important time to fertilize your cool-season grass is about 6 weeks later or around the middle of October. In my “Lawn Care by Holidays” I used to say put a “Winter Fertilizer” on between Halloween and Thanksgiving. However recent research has shown that between the middle of October and Halloween is better. After the ground has frozen the grass does not use the fertilizer and it may just sit on top of the frozen ground and with a good rain, washes into the street and then to our river systems. This winter fertilizer should be higher in potash (the last number) than a regular fertilizer application and have of slow release nitrogen.

          The other fall task is to rake leaves. I try to find the easiest way to do something. Taking care of leaves in the fall is no exception. I use my mower and mulch them into my lawn or I put the bag on and pick them up for the compost pile. My self-propelled mower is much easier than a rake. My wife and I do rake the leaves from the lilac hedge and other shrubs, and my wife rakes the leaves from her flower garden. These we gather up for the compost pile, or put the bag on the mower and run over them with the mower before putting them in the compost pile. Ground up leaves compost 2 to 3 times faster, and if you used as mulch around plants, do not mat down.

          Chopping up the leaves with your mower and putting them back into your lawn is beneficial, according to a study done by Michigan State University turfgrass specialists, and supported by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension turfgrass specialists. You do not want to put them on too thick, and you may want to go over them more than once so they are finely chopped. If you can’t see the green grass or most of it, they are too thick. Even oak tree leaves chopped up fine, are beneficial.

          Grass clippings are mostly water and have a nitrogen to carbon of 20. If you mulch your grass back into the grass you will end the season with the equivalent of one application of fertilizer. And mulching grass in the summer and leaves in the fall does not increase thatch. Remember, thatch in you lawn is caused by over fertilization, over watering, and mowing your grass too short. The best way to prevent thatch and have a healthy lawn is to core aerate at least once per year, do not over fertilize, irrigate only when necessary, and mow your grass 2 1/2” to 3 1/2” high year around. Aerate in the fall between August 15 and September 15, or in the spring between April 15 and May 15.

          You save by mulching your grass clippings and your leaves. First, you save your back by not picking up your clippings and your leaves. Second, you save money because you don’t have to purchase paper bags to put them in. Third, you don’t have to pay someone to haul them to the landfill. And fourth, you save on taxes and the need for a larger landfill filled with lawn clippings and leaves.

Copyright 2011