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 October is the time to act if you find broadleaf perennial weeds, like ground ivy,  at the gates of your lawn, garden or fairy garden.

October is the time to act if you find broadleaf perennial weeds, like ground ivy, at the gates of your lawn, garden or fairy garden.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Proper lawn care will leave grass greener when winter ends

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published October 16, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Whether the grass is truly greener on the other side is a debatable question for the ages, but experts say there are things you can do to make sure your grass is healthier on the other side of winter.

Unfortunately, the time for planting new grass seed or overseeding an existing lawn has come and gone this year. The simple fact is that cold October temperatures, not to mention what’s coming next, likely won’t let any new grass establish before the first freeze kills it.

When it comes to mowing one last time, Lori Imboden, a horticulture educator for the Michigan State University Extension in Oakland County, said leaving your grass a bit longer is a good rule of thumb for those looking to cultivate a healthy lawn in the fall and throughout the year.

“Some year-round practices that are great are to keep the mowing height up to 3 1/2 to 4 inches,” Imboden said.

That’s good because larger blades of grass are better able to photosynthesize, which in turn makes their roots stronger.

“That makes them better able to sustain grub damage we might see this time of year, better able to survive drought and better able to compete with weeds,” Imbodden said.

She also recommended returning grass clippings to the lawn instead of bagging them.

“That can reduce the amount of fertilizer that’s needed,” Imbodden said. “And this time of year, mulching the leaves into the lawn is another source of nutrients and another time saver. You can just mow right over those leaves with the lawn mower. It works best if the leaves are not too dry and not too wet.”

Mulching leaves a bit at a time — again, while keeping the mower height on the higher side — makes the task easier for you and your machine.

As far as seeding goes, Imbodden said September is the time to do it. Spring is the next best time, so if you missed the boat this fall, put it on your calendar for April or May.

Those who are serious about adding fertilizer to their lawn should probably start with a soil test. The MSU Extension offers vast resources for gardeners and homeowners, including a home lawn and garden soil test kit that will tell you what, if anything, your soil is lacking. You can buy a test kit for $25 on the web at The webpage also explains how the test will determine a custom fertilization plan by identifying what your soil may be lacking among the 18 nutrients needed for healthy growth.

Doing this, experts say, avoids the over-application of fertilizers, which wastes money, contaminates the water system and adversely affects plants.

“Fall is a good time to do nitrogen fertilization,” Imbodden said. “For people who do a pretty low-maintenance lawn, if they’re going to do one a year, fall is the recommended time. September is really ideal. You’d probably still be OK if you did it now.”

Fall is also a good time to assess and address any lawn damage from pests and weeds. Imbodden said bare patches on the lawn can be signs of grub damage.

“You don’t want to treat just on the basis of seeing a patch. A lot of things can kill a patch of lawn,” she said. “Go out with a shovel, dig down 2-6 inches. You should see some white grubs.”

The threshold for recommended treatment is five or more grubs per square foot of turf.

“In the fall, if you decide to treat them, you would use a curative grub treatment,” Imbodden said. Preventative treatments are also available for use earlier in the year.

For weed control, the experts said the coming cold will kill things like annual crabgrass. Difficult to control broadleaf perennial weeds like ground ivy, wild violet, dandelion and white clover, however, can be hit with a proper herbicidal product containing a translocating active ingredient such as 2,4-D.

Kevin Frank, Ph.D., is a turfgrass specialist with the extension and an MSU professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Science who has written a bevy of articles about proper turf care and maintenance. His articles can be found online at

A piece published in 2016 indicates that October is the best month for controlling broadleaf weeds.

“Fall is the ideal time to control broadleaf weeds because unlike the summer when weeds are focusing on top-growth, in the fall weeds are storing energy in their root system and are more susceptible to herbicide applications,” Frank wrote. “So if your once-pure turf is now a mixture of weeds and turf, applying a herbicide in early October will make a difference in what you battle next year.”

Frank goes on to say that the MSU Extension recommends herbicidal applications be done on sunny days when rain is not expected for 24 hours. It’s also best to do it when the grass is not covered with fallen leaves.

“As with any pesticide application, always make sure to wear the appropriate safety attire and follow all label recommendations,” Frank added.

For those looking for a more organic solution to broadleaf weeds, Imbodden said removing them by hand could work for small areas of grass.