Fall Aeration and Seeding
How to Prep Your Yard this Fall in 3 Easy Steps
As the wise Robert Schuller once said, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” It’s easy to have your eye so fixed on the prize that you forget the less glamorous work that must lead up to that final great success. Lawn maintenance is not immune to Schuller’s words of wisdom, and this is tested at no greater time than fall aeration and seeding.
By September, a tall fescue lawn like we usually see in Central Virginia is at its lowest point. Thanks to several months of summer heat, fescue lawns are thinning and losing their color, while weeds may be starting to break through. Cue our fall aeration and seeding, a service that revitalizes your lawn by the end of the year, replenishes fescue populations to thicken the turf and crowd out weeds, and lays the foundation for your lawn’s success the next spring. This is arguably the most important service of the year for your lawn, and as we’ve learned from Schuller, achieving spectacular results relies heavily on how well you as a homeowner prep your yard for aeration and seeding.
There are three easy steps you can take to get your yard ready for fall aeration and seeding. Any quality lawn care company like Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance will recommend these steps prior to service, and they’re great to follow even if you plan to do the work yourself. First, it is ideal to gradually mow your fescue lawn to a lower height. Second, it is important to flag any underground structures that may be in the way of the core aerator. Third, it is helpful to adjust your watering before and after service to ensure the soil is not too dry, but not too wet either.
Below, we’ll go into more detail on how to execute these three steps when you prep your yard for fall aeration and seeding. Be sure to look at our following articles that examine fall aeration and seeding further and discuss how to care for your freshly seeded fescue lawn in the month following aeration and seeding. Check out our YouTube video on prepping your yard for fall aeration and seeding as well to see examples of these three steps.
Step One: Mow Low
Mowing the lawn lower is something that you ideally start to do several weeks before aeration and seeding. Normally, a turf type tall fescue lawn is at its happiest when it is kept cut at no lower than four inches tall. However, fall aeration and seeding time is the one part of the year that we recommend mowing your lawn closer to three inches tall or just under.
There are two main reasons that we recommend mowing lower prior to fall aeration and seeding. First, shorter grass will allow for seed, lime, and any fertilizer applied to reach the soil more easily, making direct contact with the earth and activating more quickly. Second, it is highly recommended that no mowing be done on the lawn for at least three weeks after it’s seeded, and a lower starting height gives you a buffer to let the grass grow in without getting out of control. Mowing the lawn at a lower height when you prepare for fall aeration and seeding is not only going to help achieve strong results from your service, but it will also spare you a jungle outside your house as the lawn grows in the weeks following.
To reduce any stress that the lower height may cause your lawn, it is best to gradually lower your mower blades in stages over the course of several mows rather than all at once. Cutting too much of the grass blade off at once can shock and harm your lawn. Lowering the mower blades one notch at a time gives the grass a chance to ease into the shorter height.
If you don’t have enough time to mow down in increments, it is important to bag your grass clippings to avoid leaving excess clumps behind. We generally recommend mulching your clippings instead of bagging them, but heavy grass clippings left on the lawn can cause health problems for your grass and can block your seed from reaching the soil to germinate.
Step Two: Flag the Yard
This part of prepping your yard for fall aeration and seeding is arguably the most important step because it is the only way to prevent potentially serious damage to your underground structures. Most lawn care companies like Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance set their core aerators to reach a depth of three to five inches into the soil depending on its composition and saturation. Core aerators are heavy and powerful machines, so any structures within six inches of the lawn’s surface risk destruction if they aren’t able to be avoided during service.
Popularly used markers for flagging your yard when prepping for fall aeration and seeding are landscaping flags that can be purchased at most home improvement supply stores. Anything that is bright and easily visible above the grass, however, can be used to mark underground structures.
The most common obstacles in a yard that need to be flagged are structures associated with an in ground irrigation system, primarily the sprinkler heads and valve boxes. Sprinkler heads are usually laid out along the perimeter of turf areas and occasionally in the center, depending on the size of the yard and layout of the irrigation zones. To find and flag your sprinkler heads, run each zone at a time, and place a flag directly next to the heads that emerge. Sprinklers that are well within flowerbeds or treelines don’t need to be flagged, but anything that edges or lies within your lawn does. Valve boxes are usually about the size of a plate and have green lids, so they can be difficult to find. Any that you are able to locate should be flagged on both sides.
Other underground structures that should be flagged include shallow wire, cables, or piping. These lines can be buried deeply and then exposed by erosion, or may have been buried shallowly to start. Common lines that we have seen be at risk are exposed irrigation pipes, underground dog fences, satellite cables, and outdoor lighting lines. Most of these things should be buried more than six inches underground, but it’s always wise to test their depth and err on the side of caution. Remember, if your fall aeration and seeding service team doesn’t have a way of knowing a possible obstacle is there, they can’t prevent or be responsible for any possible damage.
Step Three: Turn Water Off
Watering your fescue lawn is a delicate balancing act that is near impossible to truly perfect, especially when you factor in weather variables throughout the year. It is vital to the health of any cool season lawn to keep it watered well during the summer, and this includes leading up to aeration and seeding.
If at all possible, don’t let your yard dry out before this service. Dry, hard soil is difficult to aerate and almost impossible in which to germinate seed. Keep the yard moist, but not to the point that it’s muddy or soft to walk upon. An oversaturated yard risks machinery getting stuck and leaving ruts or tears in the lawn.
To prep your yard for fall aeration and seeding, turn your irrigation system off 24 to 48 hours prior to when your service is scheduled. This will give your yard time to firm up to withstand the heavy traffic that will be crossing it at the time of fall aeration and seeding.
Additionally, have your system ready by the time of service to run about three times a day for five or so minutes per zone for the month after your seed is put down. It is important to water your new seed properly for the best germination success, and you can read about that in more detail in our article “Fall Fescue Seeding Aftercare: the Do’s and Don’ts of Tending Your Newly Seeded Lawn.”
Fall aeration and seeding is a vital part of an annual lawn maintenance program, and as such, there are easy steps that a homeowner can take in advance to influence the success of the service. Through proper mowing, marking, and watering, prepping for fall aeration and seeding can lead to spectacular achievements. Contact Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance if you have any further questions about how to prep your lawn for fall aeration and seeding, and watch our video below for more information. Visit us at www.PicturePerfectLawn.net.