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Protect your Turf: Fall lawn care 101

October 14, 2020 -  By
Person using tow-behind aerator (Photo: Mulch Mate)

Be wary When using a tow-behind aerator, it’s important to ensure it doesn’t drag over any hard surfaces. (Photo: Mulch Mate)

Performing fall lawn care is critical to help lawn care operators (LCOs) set up their clients’ yards for success the following spring, according to Alan Hollen, territory manager at The Andersons.

“Fall is the most important time of year for lawn care,” he says. “The first thing to do in late summer/early fall is to get the turf to recover from the summer.”

Hollen and Nick Carlson, CEO and founder of Mulch Mate, provide insight on what LCOs should keep in mind when it comes to preparing turf for the winter and spring ahead. Before starting Mulch Mate, Carlson founded a landscape company in 2001 and sold it in 2017 in a multimillion-dollar deal.

What to do

Cultural practices for fall lawn care can include items such as aerating, adding soil amendments, dethatching, fertilizing, removing leaves and doing weed control, Hollen says.

“Generally, especially with tougher weeds like wild violet and ground ivy, the best time to control is in the fall,” Hollen says. “It’s all about timing, so if lawn care operators do a fall application of an herbicide, they will be more efficient because that’s when the plants are moving food and nutrients and energy to their roots.”

When it comes to putting down fertilizers and herbicides, one challenge is keeping the yards clean enough to perform the task.

Trailer attachment to mower (Photo: Mulch Mate)

Trailer time Adding a trailer to a mower can make collecting debris faster. (Photo: Mulch Mate)

“It’s hard to do a fertilizer application when the lawn is covered in leaves,” Hollen says. “The best way to combat that is with call-aheads. Let the customer know when crews are going to be there and have them get the lawn ready ahead of time so technicians are able to treat it (if the company isn’t already performing a leaf cleanup).”

Carlson agrees but notes that the needs may vary based on location.

“One of the big things crews skip over is the prep work to the seeding and the fertilizing,” Carlson says. “When you do the cleanup, you’re supposed to cut the lawns shorter because when you seed, it’s going to take two to three weeks to germinate, and you’re not supposed to be on the turf at that point in time. In the fall, you’re going to have leaves coming down, and it’s very important to get that up, because if you spread seed on top of the leaves, that does the customer no good.”

He suggests using a utility trailer that hooks to the front of the mower to help collect leaves and debris: The operator can empty the clippings and debris from the mower bagger into the trailer, cutting down on the time spent driving the mower back to the truck. “You’ve basically eliminated all that travel time, the wear and tear on the unit and the time the tires are on the turf,” he says.

With aeration, Carlson adds, because crew members are often in a hurry, they’ll drag an aerator over a hard surface like a walkway or driveway and chip the concrete. He says buying and installing a linear actuator that lifts the tow-behind aerator in the air allows operators to pass over the hard obstacles without damaging people’s property.

How to do it

Both Hollen and Carlson say that one of the most important aspects of fall lawn care is educating customers.

“A lot of the customers, when spring rolls around and the grass greens up, they get excited, and they’re all into it, but by the time summer stresses hit and their lawns decline, they lose interest and let go of it,” Hollen says. “But, it’s key to keep customers engaged with their lawn and educate them that what you do in the fall pays off for the next year.”

Timing of marketing is important, too.

“I would start planting the seeds for aeration and seeding services in July, letting customers know you have openings available,” he says. “Once August is over, I start doing aerations at the middle or end of the month (at least here on the East Coast). If you don’t have it buttoned up by now, you’re behind for aeration and seeding. When it comes to leaf cleanups, you should be hot and heavy now getting people on the list and giving estimates.”

Carlson also suggests simplifying the process so you don’t confuse customers.

“Use fewer words and common words,” he says. “We focused really hard on not confusing the customer with too much information. Give them simple payment options and simple services and lay it out for them. You need to put a plan in place for the customer so all they do is say, ‘I want this service,’ and the sale is over.”

In addition to lawn care practices, Carlson also recommends performing three leaf cleanups in regions such as the Northeast — at the end of October, before Thanksgiving and just before Christmas — and then giving the customer one estimate for the whole season and letting them pay on it from September through January.

“People usually don’t want to pay one big lump sum,” he says. “This way helps relieve the pressure on the customer and gives the landscaper consistent cash flow throughout the rest of the season, so everyone wins,” he says.

As far as marketing these services to customers, Carlson says the sooner in the season, the better.

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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