October is typically the last month of the growing season for “warm season” lawns of Bermuda grass, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia. As nighttime temperature drop into the 40s and 50s, you will see your lawn prepare itself for winter; deep green is slowly changing to dull browns and mottled tans. Appropriate care of the lawn in the fall rewards the homeowner with a lush green carpet in the spring. Following are a few tips for fall lawn care in October and November.
• Planting: Don’t plant warm-season grass lawns. Grass seeds will not germinate well and sod will not become established before winter temperatures arrive.
• Mowing: Warm season grass will be growing very slowly now, tapering off to total dormancy. Allow your lawn to grow to approximately 3 inches in preparation for the dormant season. This added height will act as winter insulation for tender roots.
• Irrigation: Typically, Northeast Mississippi has a fair amount of rainfall in October and November, but watch out for dry periods. Warm weather grasses need one-half to one inch of water per week even when dormant.
• Fertilizers: If you forgot in September, wait until spring. Although there are products marketed to “winterize” your warm-season grass in late fall, research shows the benefits of fall fertilizing to be negligible and the detriments can be potentially damaging.
• Aerating: Aerating now will disrupt your pre-emergence weed control. Aerating in the fall also opens the soil to weed seed infiltration and allows cold temperatures to penetrate the root zone.
• Dethatching: Wait until the growing season.
• Topdressing: Don’t top-dress warm-season lawns now, because the grasses are not growing actively.
• Weed control: In Northeast Mississippi, pre-emergence weed control (without fertilizer) is recommended from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. If you miss doing this, apply pre-emergence by Nov. 1. Make sure the product you use is approved for your specific type of lawn. Remember weed control products like Round-Up are non-selective and will kill your lawn grass. Round-Up is approved to use on dormant lawn grass, but wait a couple of months to make sure the grass is totally dormant.
• Over seeding: If you plan to overseed, wait until temperatures drop to 70 degrees.
• Leaf removal: Rake or blow leaves from lawn as soon as possible. A layer of leaves can smother and damage even a dormant lawn.
Now that you’ve prepare your lawn for the dormant season, you can relax and enjoy a well-earned winter rest.
Sandra Caldwell, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.