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10 Fall Turf Tips from a Pro Greenskeeper

Most homeowners assume that at the end of the summer, their grass care duties are over. The truth is, fall is the time when your lawn needs you the most. That’s the best time to get it ready for spring. We wanted to know what the pros do on their turf, so we asked Riley Kieffer from Willingers Golf Club in Northfield, MN, for advice. Follow these steps and you’ll have the healthiest lawn you’ve ever had next spring when things start greening up again.

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Remember to WaterFamily Handyman

Remember to Water

If it’s been a dry fall, make sure the soil is moist going into winter. It’s stressful for the root system to go for months in bone-dry soil. Even when it’s cool, the soil is still losing moisture to the atmosphere, just not as quickly as it does when it’s hot. If your lawn is thinning, check out these lawn repair tips.
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Don't Leave Leaves on the GroundFamily Handyman

Don't Leave Leaves on the Ground


Don’t leave dead leaves on your lawn. They’ll only promote mold and smother the grass when it’s trying to get started next spring. Plus, it’s much easier to rake them up in the fall when they’re dry.

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Aerate to Allow Roots to SpreadFamily Handyman

Aerate to Allow Roots to Spread


If you have heavy soil, fall is the time to aerate. Do it when the soil is moist and before you fertilize. Aerating loosens the soil, which allows roots to spread and oxygen to penetrate. Follow these other turf tips to keep a healthy lawn. 

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Fertilize and RevitalizeFamily Handyman

Fertilize and Revitalize


Even though the lawn is beginning to turn brown, the roots are hard at work storing nutrients for the winter and the following growing year. Fall is the single most important time to fertilize.

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Give the Grass one More TrimFamily Handyman

Give the Grass one More Trim


For the last cutting of the season, set your mower to about 1-1/2 in. and cut the grass short. That will help prevent snow mold in your yard. Patch up your patchy lawn with these tips.
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Reseed Bare PatchesFamily Handyman

Reseed Bare Patches


Late summer and early fall are the best times to reseed any dead areas. Summer is just too hot for the seed to thrive. Water the new seed a couple of times a day until the grass is about 1-1/2 in. high. Don't use normal fertilizers, however. Use a product like Scotts Starter Fertilizer, which is formulated for new grass. Spread the seed so that you have about 15 seeds per square inch. Don't overdo it or the grass won't thrive due to overcrowding. Here's a handy (and free) tool for spreading grass seed on bare patches.
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Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on ReplacementsFamily Handyman

Drain Garden Hoses or Waste Money on Replacements


Due to circumstances (laziness), I sometimes neglect to drain garden hoses before putting them away for the winter. Usually it's not a problem. But every once in a while, freezing water splits a hose open. I've lost a few cheap hoses this way and a super-expensive one (ouch!). That's just dumb because draining hoses is so quick and easy: Blast out the water with an air compressor or stretch them out on a sloped yard or driveway. If you need to buy a new garden hose, learn how to do a simple test, right in the store, to see if the hose will be kink-free! Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief
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Three Easy Winterization Steps for Your Lawn TractorFamily Handyman

Three Easy Winterization Steps for Your Lawn Tractor


Before your tractor hibernates for the winter, take a few minutes to prevent springtime troubles.
  • Moisture inside an unused engine leads to corrosion. 'Fogging' the engine—spraying an oily mist into each cylinder—prevents this. All you have to do is remove the spark plugs and blast in some aerosol fogging spray (sold at auto parts stores). Then reinstall the spark plugs.
  • Storing a battery that isn't fully charged can lead to permanent damage, especially in cold weather. Connect the battery to a battery charger and charge it until you get a reading of 12.7 volts.
  • Stored gas will slowly gum up the whole fuel system, and the repairs can be expensive. So add a fuel stabilizer such as STA-BIL or Seafoam to the gas tank before winter. (Adding stabilizer to your gas can year-round is also a good idea.) But remember that stabilizers aren't effective in gas that contains ethanol. If you don't know whether the gas contains ethanol, run the engine until the tank is empty.
Another tip: Cover the air intake and exhaust openings with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep critters from homesteading in your engine over winter.
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Spray for WeedsFamily Handyman

Spray for Weeds


The fall is also a good time to spray for weeds one last time. Fall is the time to control broadleaf weeds like ground ivy, dandelion and white clover, according to greenskeepers and Michigan State University. MSU recommends applying herbicides on a sunny day where rain isn't forecasted for 24 hours.
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Winterize Your Sprinkler SystemFamily Handyman

Winterize Your Sprinkler System


You don't have to pay someone to blow out your sprinkler system. You can do it with your own compressor, but be aware that even the largest home compressor isn't powerful enough to blow out the entire system at once. If you like number crunching and you have the original irrigation layout showing the gallons per minute (gpm) of each sprinkler head, divide the gpm of each zone by 7.5. That'll give you the cubic feet per minute (cfm) you need to blow it out. Otherwise, rent a 10-cfm compressor and hose from a tool rental center. Set the compressor air pressure regulator to a maximum of 80 psi for rigid PVC pipe systems, or 50 psi for flexible black polyethylene pipe. Then turn off the water supply and set the system timer to open just one zone. Next, open the manual drain valve at the end of that zone (if equipped). Then, connect the air line to the blow-out port, as shown. Close off both valves on the backflow preventer. Then remove the plug on the blow-out port and screw in a quick-connect hose adapter. Snap on the air hose and connect the other end to the compressor. Now blow out the line. The heads should pop up and spit out water. Disconnect the hose as soon as they run dry. Don't overdo the blow-out—without water cooling the plastic gears, they can melt in less than a minute. Move on to the next zone and allow the heads to cool. Then go back and blow out each zone a second time.