Aeration gives your lawn a breather in autumn and provides room for new grass to spread without competition from spring weeds. Aeration tools pull up plugs of grass and soil, breaking up compacted turf. That allows water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach roots, and gives seeds room to sprout.
If kids frequently play on your lawn, plan to aerate twice a year — fall and spring. If your lawn is just for show, then aerate once a year — and maybe even once every other year.
A hand-aerating tool ($20), which looks like a pitchfork with hollow tines, is labor-intensive and meant for unplugging small sections of grass. Gas-powered aerating machines (rental, $20/hour) are about the size of a big lawn mower, and are good for working entire lawns. Bring some muscle when you pick up your rental: Aerating machines are heavy and can be hard to lift into your truck or SUV.
Depending on the size of your property, professional aeration costs about $150.
Fall is the time of year where dandelions are not flowering as much but are putting their energy into their root systems. Which makes fall an ideal time to use a herbicide to kill them. The herbicide goes onto the leaves of the plant which are actively sucking up air, water and nutrients (and unknown to them...poison) and pumping that all down to the roots. Come spring, you'll have far fewer dandelions. Use a broad based herbicide to kill other weeds as well.
You can buy pre-mixed herbicide that you attach to your hose to spray on your lawn. But if you have a very large lawn or not enough hose to reach all parts of your lawn, then you'll want to apply the week killer in a granular form with a walk behind broadcaster. If you go this route, do it in the early morning hours when there is a lot of dew on the ground. This will allow the herbicide to stick to the weed's leaves.
Fall, when the soil temperature is about 55 degrees, is the best time to seed your lawn because turf roots grow vigorously in fall and winter. If you want a lush lawn, don’t cheap out on the seed.
Bags of inexpensive seed ($35 for 15 pounds) often contain hollow husks, weed seed, and annual rye grass seed, which grows until the first frost then drops dead. Splurge on the good stuff ($55 for 15 pounds of Kentucky Bluegrass seed), which resists drought, disease, and insects.
Water your new seed every day for 10 to 20 days until it germinates.
A late fall fertilization — before the first frost — helps your grass survive a harsh winter and encourages it to grow green and lush in spring. Make your last fertilization of the year count by choosing a product high (10% to 15%) in phosphorous, which is critical for root growth, Dillon says.
Note: Some states are banning phosphorous-rich fertilizers, which are harmful to the watershed. In those places, look for nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which promote shoot and root growth. Check with your local extension service to see what regulations apply in your area.
Instead of raking leaves, run over them a couple of times with your mower to grind them into mulch. The shredded leaves protect grass from winter wind and desiccation. An added bonus — shredded leaves decompose into yummy organic matter to feed grass roots.
A mulching blade ($10) that attaches to your mower will grind the leaves even finer.