How to Grow: Caring for Lawn in Fall

Learn how to care for your lawn in fall including information on fertilizing, reseeding and topdressing with compost.


Hi I’m Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association. Today I’d like to talk to you about fall lawn care. Fall is for lawns. If I was in a pick only one time of year to work on my lawn, fall would be it. With the cool air temperatures and the warm soils it creates an ideal condition for seeding and feeding. Here are some chores that you can do.

Fall is a great time to patch some bare spots in your lawn or redo the whole thing. It’s also a good time to apply fertilizer and then top dress with compost. If you have a lawn and it has some bare spots in it, now is a good time to scratch it up and put down some new seed. The first step is to rake out all the dead grass in that area and loosen up the soil a little bit. Once that’s all cleaned up, then bring in an inch or two thick layer of topsoil or compost and spread it out over the area. Rake it smooth. You might have to add a little lime or sulfur to keep the pH between 6 & 7, which is ideal for lawns. Once you’ve raked the area smooth, tap it down with the back end of a rake or, if you have a big area, you might want to use a water filled roller to keep it nice and flat. It’s easy to seed by a hand. Just kind of sprinkle it around in that area or, if you have a big area, again you can use a drop seeder. Once the seed is down, lay over about a three to four inch thick layer of hay or straw and then water it in well. You don’t want to fertilize this time of year. That’s for next year.

Now may not be the time to fertilize a new lawn, it is a time to fertilize an existing lawn. First select an organic or slow-release product. These are nice because they slowly release nutrients into the lawn and you don’t get that quick burst of growth. You want to get it fertilized with roughly a 3:1:2 ratio. That’s the ratio of nitrogen the phosphorus to potassium. This ratio will provide the perfect amount of nutrients for your lawn. You don’t want to over fertilize. That can cause pollution to our waterways. Follow the rate of application listed on the fertilizer bag. When using a drop spreader to apply your fertilizer put one half of the bag in spreader and apply it in one direction. Then use the second half of the bag in a spreader to apply it in a perpendicular direction. That way you’ll ensure to get complete coverage over your whole lawn.

Another form of fertilizing is top dressing with compost. Compost naturally feeds the lawn grass roots and creates a better soil structure. A healthier lawn is less likely to have weeds, insects, and diseases in it. Every fall simply apply a half inch thick layer of compost to your lawn. That’s about three cubic yards for 2,000 square feet of lawn. Rake it in so that the lawn grass blades are still sticking through it. The compost will decompose throughout the winter and by spring you’ll have a thick green lawn.

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