- The following information is for cool season lawns such as tall fescue.
- Maryland’s changing weather patterns are making growing lawns more challenging. Refer to The Challenge of Growing a Lawn in Maryland.
- The recommended time to fertilize tall fescue lawns is in the fall before November 15th.
- Mowing high helps to keep weeds out of lawns and promotes healthier grass.
Grass needs routine care to remain healthy, compete with weeds, and recuperate from drought, disease, or insect damage.
Maryland’s Lawn Fertilizer Law authorizes the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Management Program to regulate the use of fertilizer on turf not used for agricultural purposes. The following lawn care practices take this law into consideration.
General lawn tasks
Late summer to fall (mid-August through mid-September)
- Perform a soil test if you are planning a lawn renovation project. Otherwise, soil testing every 3-4 years is sufficient. Apply nitrogen based on University of Maryland Extension (UME) lawn fertilizer recommendations and schedule only.
- If soil test results indicate a low pH (6.0 or below) apply lime according to the lab's recommendation. Fall application is best because of winter snow and rain, combined with the freezing and thawing of soil, help to work the lime into the soil. It is not necessary to lime on a yearly basis.
- Apply lawn fertilizer according to University of Maryland Extension (UME) lawn fertilizer recommendations and schedule.
- Core aerate and overseed if needed.
- Plant a lawn alternative in areas where grass does not grow well such as heavy shade or sunny slopes.
- Tall fescue is the recommended all-purpose grass species for Maryland for sun and partial sun locations. Avoid grass seed mixtures that contain perennial ryegrass or annual ryegrass.
- October 15th is the cut-off date for fall seeding but it is better to try to seed earlier. It takes about 2 weeks for the seed to germinate and killing frosts are possible in November that can damage young seedlings.
- Rake and remove fallen leaves or use a mulching mower to chop the leaves up and let them decompose on your lawn. Bagged leaves can be composted or used in ornamental or vegetable beds as a winter mulch.
- Mow your lawn 1/2 - 1 inch shorter than the usual height to discourage matted grass and snow mold.
- Do not apply lawn fertilizer between November 15th and March 1st according to Maryland’s Lawn Fertilizer Law.
- Dormant seeding of tall fescue is usually not successful. Wait until March or early April to sow the seeds.
- Avoid foot traffic on frozen turf, as injury to the crowns may occur.
- Maintain your lawnmower. Blades should be sharpened for next season to avoid grass blade injury.
- Follow Maryland's Lawn Fertilizer Law. Do not use chemical fertilizers containing nitrogen or urea to melt the ice on hard surfaces around the home. Refer to Melting Ice Safely
- Apply crabgrass preemergent lawn herbicide if you experienced significant crabgrass or Japanese stiltgrass in your lawn last summer. Crabgrass seeds germinate when soil temperatures average 55° F. for seven days to ten days. Preemergents for crabgrass should be applied mid-March through mid-April depending on where you are located in the state. Japanese stiltgrass germinates earlier than crabgrass so to manage it a preemergent needs to be applied a couple of weeks earlier than for crabgrass prevention.
- Look for preemergent herbicide products that do not contain fertilizer. If you use a “weed and feed”, the fertilizer in the product needs to be included in the total amount of nitrogen that you apply to your lawn for the year.
- A preemergent herbicide cannot be applied if you plan on reseeding in the spring.
- Reseed bare spots (Lawn Renovation and Overseeding) in March. Major lawn renovation projects should be postponed until late summer or early fall.
- A spring application of fertilizer should not be necessary if your lawn was fertilized in the fall.
- Handpull broadleaf or grassys weed (Weeds in Maryland Landscapes).
- Mow on a regular basis, never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at each mowing, and keep tall fescue mowed to a height of 3 inches during the growing season. Lawns that are mowed to a height of 3 inches have fewer weeds, including crabgrass.
- Established tall fescue lawns do not need to be irrigated. They will go dormant during the hot, dry weather and green up again when cooler temperatures arrive and rainfall increases.
- Raise mower height 1/2 - 1 inch during periods of hot, dry weather. Do not mow lawns that are not growing.
- Leave grass clippings to naturally decompose on your lawn. This will not create a thatch build-up or cause disease but will add organic matter and contribute to your lawn’s nitrogen requirement.
- Never fertilize turfgrass during the summer. Wait until September.
- Inspect your lawn at the end of summer to evaluate if lawn renovation or overseeding is needed.
By Debra Ricigliano, MD Certified Professional Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC), 2019. Reviewed and edited by Jon Traunfeld, HGIC Director. Based on HGIC publication HG 112 Turfgrass Maintenance Calendars for Maryland Lawns.