6 things to do right now for a great lawn next year, according to a landscaper

·9-min read

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Show your lawn some love now and watch it flourish come spring! (Photo: Getty)
Show your lawn some love now and watch it flourish come spring! (Photo: Getty)

Hey, homeowners! In between those backyard bbqs and dinners on the deck, let's turn our gaze to the surrounding greenery, shall we? Our lawns need some love!

The pros will tell you that late summer is when you should plant grass seeds, whether you’re starting a new lawn or nurturing an existing one. But there’s a lot more to late-summer lawn care than that, and time is of the essence. We asked Bob Mann, lawn expert at the National Association of Landscape Professionals, exactly what to do right this very moment to ensure lush, green grass after winter’s thaw.

“Most people think that the care of your lawn begins in the spring when that’s really not true at all. Proper care and feeding of your lawn actually begins in the fall,” Mann told Yahoo Life. “As summer gives way to autumn, we can start to work on all of the things that we need to do in order to ensure that when things wake up in 2022, we've given the lawn every advantage.”

Got your rake ready? Mann shared six seasonal lawn-care musts, from seeding to weeding, and we picked out all the right tools for the job. Invest a little TLC now, and you’ll reap what you sow come spring.

1. Do a soil test.

Get to the bottom of things by learning all about your lawn's soil health. (Photo: Lowe's)
Get to the bottom of things by learning all about your lawn's soil health. (Photo: Lowe's)

“We have so many different climates in the United States, and this year the lawns are under a lot of stress,” said Mann. To get to the root of your lawn’s health, you’ve got to assess the state of the soil. That means doing a soil test.

“Think of it in human terms. When you go see your doctor, the first thing you do is fill out a questionnaire that tells the doctor all about your medical history and your lifestyle — all the data that she needs in order to make informed decisions on your health,” said Mann.

He tells Yahoo Life that a soil test does the same thing — it tells you what your lawn needs to thrive. A soil test can determine things like your soil’s pH level, nutrient deficiencies and other fertility factors. Mann told Yahoo Life a soil test should ideally be done in a laboratory. “That's going to give you a great deal of information about the health of the soil that you have and a roadmap to proceed,” he said.

We discovered that COVID restrictions are still preventing many labs from accepting soil samples, though. In the meantime, you can get an inexpensive DIY soil test kit like this one at Lowe’s. It includes four test tubes and a tube stand plus complete instructions that anyone can follow regardless of experience. Just grab a garden trowel and a bucket, and get digging!

Shop it: Soil Test Kit, $12, lowes.com

2. Reseed damaged areas of the lawn.

Mann recommends a thatching rake for planting new grass seed. (Photo: Lowe's)
Mann recommends a thatching rake for planting new grass seed. (Photo: Lowe's)

Experts agree that the latter half of August is the perfect time to plant grass seeds, but first you have to know where to plant them. We asked Mann how to approach the job.

“First thing we want to do is to identify areas that need to be reseeded; any area that's not as robust as it needs to be. There are areas that are either weak because of the climate or perhaps you've had insect damage or diseases or something of that nature,” he told us.

This is the time of year that garden centers are teeming with grass seed inventory. The grass type to choose entirely depends on your geographic location. Mann said the United States is divided into two geographic regions when it comes to turf grasses: cool season and warm season. He said that’s the reason a northerner might visit a southern state and see entirely different types of grass growing. You can get a better understanding of which type of grass you have or might want to plant here.

Once you have your seed, Mann said you can use a leaf rake to get the job done — but if you really mean business, invest in a thatching rake. “It’s sort of a leaf rake that has a very bad attitude,” joked Mann.

This top-rated thatch rake by Craftsman has a 15-inch steel head with two types of tines: one for cultivating soil and the other for digging up dead grass roots. It also has a sturdy, 54-inch hardwood handle that’ll assist you in getting the job done like a boss.

Shop it: Craftsman 15-in Thatching Rake, $40, lowes.com

3. Strengthen your grass roots using the right fertilizer.

Choose the right fertilizer for the season. (Photo: Lowe's)
Choose the right fertilizer for the season. (Photo: Lowe's)

Next up is strengthening the healthy grass you’ve already got. Mann calls this developing your root mass. “In other words, the soil is so hot during the summertime that in most climates, the root zones of the turf grass shrink considerably. And then as [the weather] starts to cool off, the soil begins to cool off, and these roots will begin to grow again,” said Mann. “What we're trying to do is to offer nutrition to the lawn. So fertilizer should be used in a proper and judicious way in order to develop roots.”

The more you nurture the grass, the more the roots stay nourished during the winter. There is a ton of different types of fertilizer on the market, so Mann says to look out for labels that indicate which fertilizer is appropriate to which season.

Turf Builder Winterguard Fall Lawn Food is a bestseller that’s perfect for post-Labor Day fertilizing. Its nutrients protect against heat, drought and foot traffic. And don't forget to pick up a fertilizer spreader to make the job more efficient!

Shop it: Scotts Turf Builder Winterguard Fall Lawn Food (37.5-lb 15,000-sq ft), $53, lowes.com

4. Trim it, but don’t mow it short.

The pros love rotary lawn mowers like this powerhouse by Ego, according to Mann. (Photo: Lowe's)
The pros love rotary lawn mowers like this powerhouse by Ego, according to Mann. (Photo: Lowe's)

“​​Please don't scalp the lawn at the end of the season,” admonished Mann, explaining that this misguided habit is all too common and undermines the health of the root mass that you worked so hard on developing.

When you over-mow, “you're cutting off the little parts of the plant that conducts photosynthesis,” said Mann, explaining that this natural process delivers much-needed sugar and starch to the hungry roots. “If you cut them off, you're robbing your lawn of an enormous amount of food that it could be creating for itself.”

He strongly suggests maintaining the proper mowing height for the type of grasses you have — and in the absence of knowing exactly what type of grasses you have, anywhere from two and a half to three inches in height should do the trick.

So what type of lawnmower do renowned lawn care experts use, anyway? Mann said most, including himself, use a rotary mower. “It has a spinning plate that’s horizontal to the lawn surface, and there's a sharp edge at the tip of the plate that cuts the grass as it comes into contact with it,” Mann explained. “This is an inexpensive and relatively simple way of maintaining the lawn. It's imperative that these blades are sharp; you can tell that they're sharp by running your finger along the edge of them.”

Over at Lowe's, Ego is consistently a top-rated brand of rotary mowers, and the Ego Power+ 56-Volt Brushless 21-in Self-Propelled Cordless Electric Lawn Mower is one of its most affordable. This all-weather beast can effortlessly cut grass for 60 minutes on a charge and is adjustable to six cutting heights. You "barely break a sweat," according to reviewers.

Shop it: Ego Power+ 56-Volt Brushless 21-in Self-Propelled Cordless Electric Lawn Mower, $429, lowes.com

5. Nip weeds in the bud.

Weeds can even grow in the winter. (Photo: Getty Images)

You’d be remiss if you didn’t consider weed control in any lawn care routine, but Mann told Yahoo Life that most weeds actually germinate in the spring and complete their life cycle by the end of summer. Some weeds, however, do germinate in the summer and take root during the winter, so you can say weed control — while not a major end-of-summer concern — should be a consideration year-round.

According to Mann, your best defense against weeds is a strong offense. “The best ‘herbicide’ of all is a thick, healthy, vigorously growing standard turf grass,” Mann said. “In other words, if it's growing and if there’s lots of density to the lawn, there's really very little opportunity for weeds to germinate and to overtake the lawn.”

To that end, when clients ask about winter weed control, Mann asks questions about their lawn mower — the height and sharpness of the blades, the frequency with which they mow, the type of machine they use — because the state of the lawn itself can determine the amount of weeds.

6. Wean your lawn off of water so the roots dry out.

An in-ground lawn irrigation system simplifies the process of watering your grass. (Photo: Lowe's)
An in-ground lawn irrigation system simplifies the process of watering your grass. (Photo: Lowe's)

“Irrigation is kind of a tough subject this year with a solid third of the country under some kind of drought advisory,” said Mann. “Be cautious of the rules of the road in your jurisdiction, whatever they are. If that means we can’t water our lawns, so be it.”

Luckily, Mann said we should be looking toward withdrawing the amount of water we put down on the lawn anyway as summer comes to an end. Your lawn has its own, built-in winter preservation plan, which is why you don’t have to water it all winter (isn’t Mother Nature grand?). Here’s how Mann explained it:

”Lawns go through a biochemical process where they harden themselves off for the winter so that when freezing temperatures come, the grass can tolerate the cold and survive the winter. So part of helping the lawn to acclimate is to allow it to basically dry out a little bit.”

If you have an in-ground irrigation system, especially in the northern states, you have to winterize that system so it doesn’t freeze, added Mann. Lowe's customers love the Orbit 25-by-35-foot automatic sprinkler system.

Lowe's also explains how to winterize an in-ground irrigation system here. 

Shop it: Orbit 25-ft-35-ft Automatic Sprinkler System, $241, lowes.com

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