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Go easy on fall pruning

By Staff | Nov 2, 2012

It is a good idea to give loppers and pruning shears the autumn off. Here’s why:

Pruning promotes new growth-something you don’t want to encourage when plants are preparing to go dormant for the winter.

Pruning creates a “wound” which will be slower healing this time of year, which can attract and provide an opportunity for fungal, bacterial, and insect invaders to overwinter and create problems during the next growing season. Unhealed wounds can also result in winter damage.

Like everything there are always exceptions to the rule. Fall is still a good time to cut dead branches from trees to prevent insects from overwintering in the dead wood. Suckers and broken, dead and diseased branches should be removed at any time.

The best time to prune most woody plants is while they are still dormant. This is typically late winter or early spring when the danger of severe cold weather has passed and before new growth occurs. Trees that bloom on old wood should be pruned immediately after blooming. Examples of these are lilacs and spirea. Evergreens can be pruned in the early spring (March-May) or in early summer after any new growth has hardened. Junipers, arborvitaes, and yews can be pruned anytime from mid-April to mid-August.

Fall Lawn Care

Different This Year

Fall is the preferred time for many important lawn care practices. From fertilization and weed control, to cultivation and seeding, there is no better time for cool-season turf grass maintenance in the Midwest. But this year is different. The lack of precipitation in August and September has caused many of our Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or fine fescue lawns to brown out and cease growing. In order for these lawns to recover, homeowners will need to begin irrigating regularly. This means more than just one or two cycles, but enough water to wet the root zone sufficiently to sustain turf grass health.

If your lawn is stressed from lack of moisture, typical fall maintenance practices can add additional stress. In this case, a decline in lawn quality can occur with the use of some typical fall maintenance practices such as aerating.

The best advice for this year’s fall lawn care is to determine the growing conditions that are furthest from optimum and correct those first. If your lawn is declining from a lack of moisture, irrigate. If you’ve been irrigating with little turf grass response, soil compaction may be an issue, in which case aerating would help. Other questions to consider are: Has your fertility program been adequate? Are there insect or weed pressures?

Concentrate more this fall on creating the best possible growing environment for your turf grass, and you will reap the benefits during next year’s growing season. Adding turf grass stress to an already stressful situation will do more harm than good.

Tips for Drought Stressed Lawns

Return adequate soil moisture levels and turf grass health before you conduct these practices.


Aerate. While aeration is a great fall practice, it places stress on the turf grass plant and may actually cause the lawn quality to decline.

Dethatch or vertical mow. This process tears turf grass leaves and crowns, and should only be conducted when the lawn is healthy.

Spray herbicides. Systemic and contact herbicides used for weed control are more effective when weeds are actively growing.

Fertilize with quick release nitrogen. High rates of quick release nitrogen fertilizers can have negative effects on drought-stressed turf. There is also a greater potential for environmental loss of nitrogen when the lawn is not actively growing.

Mow too often or too low. Raising the mowing height and mowing less frequently will help encourage turf grass recovery.


Maintain soil moisture to promote turf grass recovery.

Spot seed and fertilize thin and weak areas with a high quality turf grass seed mixture.

Fertilize with slow release nitrogen sources and soil test to determine fertilizer requirements of phosphorus and potassium.

Aerate when the lawn’s health has been restored.

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