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COLUMBIA–Now is the time to think about fall lawn maintenance, including aeration followed by fertilization and overseeding, said a University of Missouri Extension turf scientist.
“Hot weather and continuous rainfall produce conditions for turfgrass disease to run wild—starting with zoysia patch in the spring, dollar spot on bluegrasses and ryegrass and brown patch in tall fescue,” said Brad Fresenburg.
“Aeration is the very best way to begin a fall fertilization program,” he said.
Core aeration is the practice of pulling soil plugs to open the soil surface for better air exchange and water and nutrient movement.
Spreading grass seed after aeration is also an excellent practice in lawns that have thinned considerably from summer pests.
You can rent aeration machines from local rental stores or garden centers. Machines that pull half-inch diameter plugs 3-4 inches deep on 4-inch centers do an excellent job.
Some lawns may develop thatch. If you notice thatch that is three-quarters of an inch or more, you may want to rent a dethatching machine.
“Fall is the best time to dethatch cool-season lawns, since dethatching in the spring can disrupt your pre-emergence control of some annual weeds, crabgrass and others,” he said.
Fall fertilization should always start with a soil test to determine the needs of the soil, if any. Homeowners have a wide variety of fertilizers available for fall fertilization.
Organic fertilizers, such as Organica, Milorganite, Earth Works, Nature Safe and Ringer, require soil microbes to release nutrients. As soil temperatures decrease by late fall, performance of these fertilizers will drop off.
The large variety of available inorganic fertilizers can be somewhat confusing. Many of these products have much higher amounts of nitrogen and most are soluble (quick release).
“Quick-release fertilizers are there and gone after about two to three weeks. You get a quick flush of green growth, then a rapid tapering off of color and growth,” he said.
Find fertilizers with an N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of around 3-1-2. Check the label to find a product with 30-70 percent slow-release nitrogen. Soil test results indicating high to very high amounts of phosphorus and potassium may require applications of fertilizers with nitrogen alone or lower amounts of P and K.
For best results, apply at a total fertilizer rate that provides 2.5 -3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, divided over two or three applications throughout the fall at four- to six-week intervals.