Early Fall Cultural Practices
Sean Breckin, AOLCP

Cultural practices are arguably the most critical component of PJC Organic’s Healthy Turf Circle. While we love talking about Soil Chemistry, Soil Biology, and Soil Structure – Cultural Practices are the unsung hero of our Organic Turf Care programs. There’s more to early fall cultural practices than height of cut and aeration. October is the perfect time to address a few more items to finish the season strong and set yourself up for success next spring.

Practical Approach

Take a closer look at three Cultural Practices to knock off your list this fall:

1.Repair and Regrade

Whether your organic turf care program is supporting sports or backyard barbecues, a level surface is critical to safety, drainage and coverage. Evaluate areas that need repair and regrading and address the issue while the project is small. First, identify holes and uneven areas that compromise safe use. Not only are these areas unsafe but they also worsen with time, impacting the surrounding turf.  Second, examine high traffic areas that always need extra attention – i.e. goal mouths, face off “X”, or baseball outfield positions. Third, list your areas in order of priority for repair.  Always address safety first – regardless of the size of the problem — and then work within your budget to maximize repairs each year. 

Be sure to get on top of these areas while the repair is small, these damaged areas are like tooth decay and will not get better on their own. PJC Organic recommends using a loam-based compost blend and overseeding with any of our suggested seed blends.

2.Adjust Your Water Cycles

PJC Organic recommends following the 1-2-3-2-1 watering method over the course of the growing season. In New England, we can rely on cooler temperature and rainfall on the front end and back end of the season. While summer weather has become more unpredictable, we can still rely on environmental conditions in the spring and fall which is why you should only be watering once per week. Turf grass generally requires 1” of water/week – which can be challenging to understand in terms of time and sprinkler head style. Make sure the day of the week you select for watering is one that gets minimum traffic.

Here’s a quick breakdown for the most common heads being used to get 1” of water/week: Pop-Up (30 Minutes), Rotary Heads (1:15-1:30 Hour), Pin Wheel (1:20 HR).  *This is an approximation, be sure to check your own systems for time and coverage.

3.Mulch Your Leaves

For years, leaves were often seen as the most frustrating aspect of fall turf management – lots of raking and bagging week in and week out. Research now suggests what PJC Organic has been recommending for 20+ years: to mulch your leaves with your lawn mower. Incorporating organic matter into soil is critical for turf health. This is best accomplished during the season by returning turf clippings. Late in the season, turf shoot growth slows dramatically but the fallen leaves serve as the next best thing. Be sure to keep the mower deck high and mow slow with a sharp blade to chop leaves up into small bits for your soil to consume. When used strategically, trees can seriously help your turf grass – here’s a list of our favorite turf grass companions.

… for the Next Generation

The overall success of an Organic Turf Care program is based on consistency over time. Taking a holistic approach to your program is essential and looking through the lens of the Healthy Turf Circle will provide you the tools to succeed. Cultural Practices, Soil Biology, Soil Chemistry, Soil Structure are the core tenets to PJC Organic’s turf care standards. The end of the season is close and adding these three cultural practices is going pay big dividends next spring and beyond. Check out our full list of Fall Organic Turf Care tips.