Fall is the best time to grow or manage a cool-season lawn to ensure a beautiful yard in the spring, according to Michael Goatley, a Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist.
The first step to a healthy lawn a soil test. A cost-effective diagnosis of the soil’s fertility and pH status is often the answer to why turfgrass that was planted may have failed previously, Goatley explained.
“Many of Virginia’s soils are very acidic and probably require a supplemental lime application. The fall and winter months are ideal times to make lime applications, because it takes weeks to months to fully realize the benefit of standard lime treatments.”
It’s best to test your soil at least once every three years to determine whether supplemental lime or nutrients other than nitrogen are required. Soil sample boxes and information is available at soiltest.vt.edu.
Selecting the best cool-season grass also is important for a successful lawn.
“Very specified grass cultivars may not be available at your local garden center or a large retailer,” Goatley cautioned. “If you want the best varieties available, you will need to go to a specialty nursery or turf and landscape supply store to obtain more superior cultivars.”
For new plantings, tilling the soil to a 4- to 6-inch depth is ideal. “This gives you an opportunity to put the information from the soil test to work and incorporate any recommended lime or starter fertilizer that will aid turf establishment,” Goatley explained.
A few passes with an aerator or vertical mower can be used to prepare the soil prior to planting. After planting the seed, irrigate lightly and frequently until seed germination and initial establishment is complete.
Mow turf when it needs to be clipped according to its recommended cutting height, and follow the one-third mowing rule that says you should never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade during any mowing.
If you need to make supplemental nitrogen applications later in the fall after establishment to boost growth or color, remember the acronym “SON,” which represents September, October and November. For more information, visit pubs.ext.vt.edu and peruse the “Lawn & Garden” resources list.