Should You Fertilize Your Lawn in the Fall?

Although the common practice of late-fall lawn and garden fertilization is under debate, it’s still recommended in cold-weather areas. A light feeding can replenish soil that’s seen a tough growing season, and it can also bring increased rooting, better color, and enhanced spring growth.

Here, homeowners can learn the answer to the question should I fertilize my lawn in the fall along with other important lawn care facts.

When Is the Best Time To Fertilize in the Fall?

What month is best for fall lawn fertilizing? Although precise timing varies by climate zone and weather, the year’s final fertilization should happen near the middle or end of November. Share on X

In most areas, grass growth slows down or stops around this time of year. Proper timing is important. If the lawn is fed too early, while plants and grass are still growing quickly, it may cause snow mold and other winter injuries. Avoid applying fall lawn fertilizer over ice, snow, or frozen soil.

gold and orange leaves on the lawn in autumn

Cold vs Warm Season Grasses

  • Feed cold-season grasses such as bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass in September-November.
  • Fertilize warm-weather grasses such as Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bermuda in late summer to early fall.
  • Remember that winterizing formulas have a higher potassium content than conventional fertilizers.

Selecting a Fertilizer for Fall – The Right Amount and Ingredients

The best fall fertilizer for lawn care is one with a relatively high nitrogen content. For lawn feeding, apply one pound of soluble nitrogen or one and one-half pounds of slow-release fertilizer to every 1000 square feet.

A comprehensive fertilizer with a high nitrogen and potassium content will encourage cold tolerance, enhanced rooting, and disease resistance. However, owners should avoid fertilizers with excessive phosphorus because runoff can be harmful to streams and rivers.

An appropriate fertilizer would be one with isobutylidene diurea (an organic compound used in fertilizers) and a nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio of 24:4:12. With this formula, plants and grass get a small but immediate dose of nitrogen, while the rest comes at a slower pace.

Using a Rotary Spreader

Lawn or rotary spreaders work well when feeding larger lawns. They’re easy to use as long as the operator follows a few basic instructions on how to apply fertilizer with a rotary spreader.

How to spread the fertilizer evenly from K-State Research and Extension
  1. Make sure the hopper is closed before filling it and consider using a tarp to catch spilled granules.
  2. Apply the fertilizer around the lawn’s perimeter first, and gradually move across the turf in an orderly, back-and-forth pattern.
  3. Slightly overlap the application strips to ensure even, full coverage.

Don’t Forget the Flower and Vegetable Gardens

pumpkins and garden tools on the potting bench

Recommendations are similar for vegetable and flower gardens. A mild fall feeding will rejuvenate the foil and prepare it for a greener, more vigorous spring growth season. Most gardens fare better with this strategy than with a single heavy feeding in early spring.

Be Careful Not to Overfeed

Numerous studies show that most property owners tend to overfeed their gardens and lawns. Too much fertilizer can be just as harmful as too little, and natural nourishment such as compost and mulched lawn clippings can replace some chemical applications.

Most experts now recommend a late summer feeding followed by another in the early fall. According to their advice, this provides better results than the three or four seasonal feedings recommended by fertilizer manufacturers. Similarly, established vegetable and flower gardens can do well with fewer feedings.

More Fall Lawn Care Activities

What else should you do to get your lawn ready for winter? Plenty! In addition to fertilizing, you can aerate and re-sod, or seed your lawn.

The Fall Cleanup

woman raking the leaves out of the grass

The easiest way to prevent winter and fall disease is to remove stray leaves from the lawn. Piled leaves prevent air and sunlight from reaching the lawn, and they provide the perfect growth medium for anaerobic bacteria and other disease-causing agents.

For winter weed control, apply pre-emergent weed-killing sprays, or consider a combination weed and feed product.

Aerating and Dethatching

man putting on spiked shoes to aerate the lawn

Aeration is a crucial pre-feeding step, particularly if the lawn is stressed. It prepares the lawn for winter by loosening hard soil and creating a better environment in which grass can grow.

These steps are best done in the fall because of the cool air and warm soil. A lawn care service can easily take care of the aerating and dethatching process.

Seeding and Sodding

rolling out fresh sold

Fall is also the right time of year to repair or establish a lawn with sodding or seeding. Here, cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescues, and perennial ryegrass are good choices.

If you live in a colder climate, however, it is better to wait to start that new lawn until at least the middle of September.

Fall Fertilizing Keeps Your Lawn Healthy Until Spring

happy dog running on green lawn

No matter where one lives, it’s possible to come out of winter with a lush, green, and healthy lawn.

By following these fall lawn care and fertilization tips, homeowners in any area can care for their property all winter long.

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