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Fall lawn care, the order of the chores

Friday - 9/7/2012, 10:18am  ET

Now is prime time to prep your lawn for next year

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath


Mike McGrath,

WASHINGTON - Carolyn in Clarksburg writes, "What do you recommend as the best order for fall lawn care tasks, specifically applying corn gluten and milky spore, aerating and over-seeding. Which should we do first?"

That's a very good list, Carolyn, and pretty much everything on that list should be done at this time of year if you have a cool season lawn. I'll give you the short answer and then go into more detail below.

  • First, aerate the turf to relieve soil compaction.
  • Then apply milky spore powder to wipe out grubs feeding on the roots of your grass.
  • Then you pretty much have to make a choice. Either overseed to fill in bare spots or apply corn gluten meal to give your lawn a big fall feeding that will also prevent weeds like plantain, chickeed and henbit from germinating. Corn gluten prevents all seed germination, so it would also prevent the new grass from coming up.

Aeration often the cure for a problem lawn

For cool season lawns (fescue, bluegrass and rye) that have seen a lot of foot traffic and were originally installed on unimproved clay, you can't go wrong by starting off the fall lawn care season with some core aeration to relieve soil compaction.

To do it right, you need to rent a machine called a ‘core aerator.' These devices pull little plugs out of your turf, allowing the roots of your grass to have the extra breathing room that can turn a so-so lawn into a vibrant one. You can leave the little plugs on your lawn to rot, or rake them up and compost them. Just be sure to only return that compost to the lawn if you have your turf treated with herbicides.

But don't fall for gimmicks like the famous ‘lawn aerating sandals' that just poke holes in your turf, you must pull plugs out of the soil to make more breathing room for your roots.

Milky spore now can prevent grubs through 2040

Next up on the fall lawn care calendar, the spreading of milky spore powder to control lawn grubs. As we mention frequently, milky spore - which has been around for half a century - is a great, natural way to control lawn grubs. But the powder has to be ingested by live grubs in warm soil, making the timing critical.

Luckily, the ideal time is now. The soil temperature is perfect and this summer's baby grubs are chowing down heartily on the roots of your poor turf. Apply the milky spore now, the grubs will ingest the spores, join the Choir Invisible and become little milky spore factories, protecting your lawn from grubs for decades to come.

Overseed? Or corn gluten for fall feeding and weed control

The last two chores are over-seeding to fill in bare spots and using corn gluten meal to feed the lawn and prevent cool season weeds. But since corn gluten prevents the germination of all seeds, the only way to do both would be to sow the new seed, wait until it has been up and growing for at least two weeks and then spread the corn gluten meal. I'm not sure if gluten will prevent the germination of any late season weeds at that point, but it would provide an excellent fall feeding.

Still, it would be wiser to choose. If your lawn has bare spots, it would be better to sow some fresh seed and choose a different organic fertilizer. But if the lawn is in pretty good shape, a corn gluten feeding now could prevent some pesky weed problems next season.

Compost for fall lawn feeding? There's an app for that

Without a doubt the No. 1 chore for those of you with cool season lawns is a big fall feeding. Cool season lawns like fescue, rye and bluegrass need their biggest feeding of the season right now to help them recover from that brutal summer we all endured.

Long-time listeners know that I advocate spreading compost over the turf for this job, as compost feeds the grass, helps eliminate thatch and improves the very structure of your soil. The big question has always been 'exactly how do I do this?' There's a new answer in town thanks to loyal listener Matt in Laurel, who found a compost spreader at the Gempler's website.

It's a big steel drum with a long handle. You fill it with compost, roll it over your lawn and the black gold comes out the mesh openings. Feed your lawn with this barrel of fun.

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