Tips and Tricks for a Successful Fall Lawn Establishment

Christine O’Keefe, Richmond County VA

Cooperative Extension ANR Livestock Associate

September 2017

Fall is just around the corner, and if you’re like me, you think this is the best news you’ve heard since last fall.  Summer is wonderful, but there is something about cooling temperatures, Hokie football, fresh cut cornfields, and the opportunity to get a fresh start on your cool season lawn or livestock pasture.

A full acre(+-) of a single species plant is not a natural occurrence in nature; Nature prefers multispecies, and so our forages and soils need a little more help from us when put into this situation.  The first step is always to do a soil test to determine your soil’s specific nutrient and pH levels.  You should test your soil every three years.  Go to your local extension office and ask for a soil sample box and form.  Follow the directions on the form.  The second step, who would have guessed, is to follow the lime and fertilization recommendations that VT will email back to you.  Since growing conditions are ideal during these cool nights and warm days, your grasses will respond quickly to soil test recommended applications of fertilizer and lime.

The next step is to decide what species of turf grass you want.  Virginia is a little tricky in that we are in a transition zone between ideal cool season and warm season growing conditions.  However, with a little effort we can choose either warm or cool season, or even a combination of both.  On Virginia Cooperative Extension’s web page,, look for the Lawn & Garden resources list and choose the link for “Lawns” to find publications on how to make the best selection of a grass to fit your needs.  Once you have made your selection, purchase the highest quality seed available.

Prior to seeding, prepare your seedbed to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, to include the removal of any weeds that will compete with your seed for resources.  For new plantings, tilling the soil to a 4-6 inch depth gives you an opportunity to incorporate any recommended lime or starter fertilizer, based on your soil test results.  

After planting, irrigate lightly and frequently until initial establishment is complete. As establishment progresses, gradually cut back on the amount of water you apply in order to start promoting a deep root system.  Remember to irrigate first thing in the morning to ensure the water doesn’t simply evaporate before it is soaked into the soil.  When you begin to mow, never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at any mowing event. When seeding this time of year, the major weed problems consist of annual bluegrass and winter annual broadleaf weeds.  You can avoid most weed problems by promoting a rapid and thick establishment of seeded turf grass, so don’t skimp on your seeding rates.

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What? Positive youth development through an informal education program conducted by our state land-grant universities (Virginia Tech and Virginia State), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments

Where? In the classroom, in a church, in someone’s home, at a library or other meeting place….

When? Anytime

Why? To teach citizenship, leadership and life skills that will help our young people to become  self-directing,contributing, and productive members of society

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  • The central theme of 4-H education is “learn by doing.”  It is accomplished using an experiential learning model and hands-on activities.
  • Virginia 4-H Programs are organized around content areas. Many 4-H lessons address the objectives of Virginia SOL's and are designed for classroom use.
  • Please consider taking advantage of the resources available through 4-H. 4-H is here to help you and can provide materials, training and classroom support or visits.  There is support for you in these content areas:  
    • Animal Sciences
    • Citizenship
    • Communications and Expressive Arts
    • Natural Resources and Environmental Education
    • Family Sciences
    • Foods, Nutrition, and Health
    • Careers and Economic Education
    • Leadership and Personal Development
    • Plants, Soils, and Entomology
    • Science, Engineering, and Technology

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Examples of our work include training county elected officials, educating entrepreneurs, facilitating collaborative projects, supporting the growth of community food systems and local economies, enhancing agent skills and community capacity in facilitation and leadership, conducting problem-driven research, and creating publications and tools that address critical community needs.

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