Fall lawn care is something that is often overlooked when the weather starts to change, making it less inviting to be outdoors, but good practice can make a big difference over winter and particularly in early spring when you want to make your lawn green and thick.
However, fall lawn care shouldn't just be done with thoughts of spring ahead. Now is also the perfect time to look for and prevent common lawn problems, such as patches in grass. And while you might not treat every issue right now, you can start to prepare the ground for lawn repairs later.
Here, we have rounded up top experts' advice for fall lawn care so yours can over-winter in good health.
Fall lawn care
We are all guilty of some basic mistakes when it comes to fall lawn care before the grass goes dormant for the winter. Here is how to avoid them.
1. Seed your lawn
Seeding a lawn in early fall can help make a lawn green and thick the following spring. ‘In order to establish well, grass seed requires the right amount of warmth, light, water, seed distribution, and good contact with the soil. Generally speaking, this means that any time between March and October will fit the bill but September is the golden month to do this important garden job,’ explains Guy Jenkins, lawn expert at Johnsons Lawn Seed (opens in new tab).
‘As the days get shorter in fall, grass starts to enter its dormant period and migrating birds begin to head home, meaning there are fewer of them around to gobble your freshly scattered seeds.’
When seeding a new lawn, Guy suggests that; ‘ideally the soil should be moist, warm and soft, so choose your time wisely, waiting until there’s been some decent rainfall and when the weather is temperate. Prepare the seedbed well by ridding it of perennial weeds, breaking up hard, lumpy areas, and removing large stones.
‘Turn over the soil to let in some oxygen and dig in some well-rotted organic matter if the soil is especially poor or sandy. Tread the area over to firm soil down and leave to settle for a few weeks. If you’re sowing a large area divide it into sections using string held in position with garden canes, then sow evenly at the rate stated on the box. Lightly rake the seed into the soil and water gently with as fine a spray as possible, trying not to cause puddles that will swamp the seeds and cause them to clump.
‘Finally, keep off the grass! Give seeds a chance to properly establish, watering regularly in the absence of rain.’
‘The quickest way to revive your existing lawn is by carrying out overseeding,’ says Lawn care expert David Truby, Managing Director of Greensleeves (opens in new tab). ‘Overseeding is a rejuvenating lawn treatment that can be applied in addition to scarification or aeration. Not only does this improve your lawn’s quality, but it also repairs bare patches and makes the lawn hardier by increasing shade, drought tolerance, and resistance to disease.’
2. Fertilize your lawn
Alongside seeding or overseeding your lawn, grass, like other plants, benefits greatly from a well-timed layer of fertilizer in fall.
‘Over the summer months, the prolonged heat, wildlife, or general wear and tear will have damaged your lawn. This makes fall the most important time of year for a lawn feed. Knowing how to fertilize a lawn and using the correct fertilizers will help your lawn recover from the summer and stay thick and healthy during the cooler part of the year, as well as help to keep away various pests that can harm your turf,’ David Truby of Greensleeves continues.
3. Focus on fungi prevention
‘Fall is the time of year we associate with seeing colorful toadstools and other mushrooms,’ David Truby of Greensleeves points out. ‘However, there are also pervasive fungi, such as fusarium and red thread, that can infect lawns and cause massive damage,’ he warns.
‘The first step to treating lawn damage is establishing its cause. Symptoms such as brown spots, patches, or sliminess are tell-tale signs of certain fungus types, yet lawn damage can also be caused by molds, moss, insects, and wildlife.
‘While scarification, aeration, and overseeding can help reduce a fungus invasion, the best course of action would be to call the professionals to deal with the problem using an expert fungicide formula.’
4. Lay out insecticides
‘Various insect larvae are active in the fall, and if they feed on your grassroots, they can cause immense damage,’ David warns. ‘While moss, thatch, and other lawn diseases can seriously harm your lawn, the most catastrophic damage is often caused by the larvae and grubs of common insects.
‘Insect infestations are more common than you might think and can be challenging to treat if you do not know how.'
Look for an environmentally friendly, biological insecticide treatment that targets and eradicates some of the most common damaging insect infestations, such as leatherjackets and chafer grubs. Check when the best time is to dethatch your lawn, too.
5. Make a move on moss
While some people like the idea of a moss garden, others may see moss as an invader of their perfectly manicured lawn. ‘Moss often becomes a major issue over the fall and winter and can completely take over a lawn in a short space of time if left untreated,’ explains David Truby of Greensleeves.
‘Being a highly adaptable and resilient plant that flourishes in areas of shade, moisture, and low turf quality, moss not only makes your lawn look uneven and gives it a spongy feeling underfoot, but it steals nutrients from your lawn too.
‘However, if you find moss on your lawn, do not panic! You can treat it with scarification – a mechanical treatment that removes thatch and moss, preventing various lawn diseases and helping to maximize the amount of water and nutrients that can reach the grassroots.’
There are some homemade treatments for garden moss too, such as using dish soap to kill moss, which may be easier for small moss patches.
6. Tend to brown patches
Brown patches in green grass can look unsightly but can be prevented easily if the lawn is given time to breathe and recover over fall.
‘Ideally, anything that needs to be sitting on your lawn should be moved each day. If this isn’t possible, take some time to use fertilizer to help it recover,’ suggests gardening expert, Laura Schwarze, from outdoor rattan furniture specialists, Luxury Rattan (opens in new tab). ‘To prevent brown patches on your lawn, place your outdoor furniture on a patio, decking, or artificial grass to help keep your lawn free. If this isn’t an option, make sure to rotate your garden furniture regularly to help prevent damage to your lawn.’
7. Aerate your lawn
Many people ask why aerate a lawn each year as the task can be time-consuming. Aeration has a range of benefits, however, especially if you know when to aerate a lawn for the best effect and how to aerate a lawn correctly.
‘Aerating a lawn enhances the color and lushness of grass as the roots can take in nutrients from fertilizers more easily,’ explains lawn expert Chris McIlroy of The Grass People (opens in new tab). ‘There is less chance of moss, weeds, and lawn diseases forming and offers the grass quicker recovery from heavy use in warm, cold, or wet weather such as what we see over fall. What's more, aeration helps with improving drainage and less chance of puddling.’
Aeration is ideal when printing of trying to fix a waterlogged lawn over fall and winter too.
‘For a small to medium-sized lawn, piking, slitting or coring methods are best for a small to medium-sized lawn,’ Chris says. ‘When using a garden fork, firmly spike the surface down to at least 30mm then move the fork back and forward a little then pull out. Doing so cracks the soil a little to create a hole in the soil to allow airflow. This can be done during the spring and fall season as it has a good effect on the lawn. A slitter can also be used as it can impact a greater area and are often quicker to use but may not be consistent in depth across the lawn. Both methods should be avoided in very dry or very wet conditions.’
‘Corers are best used for large areas,’ Chris continues, ‘as well as for heavily compacted soil, this will remove plugs of soil, usually two or three inches. These machines tend to take a core of soil out of the ground which is usually only when the soil needs better aeration and drainage. The holes can be filled (top-dressed) with sand to help water pass through the soil. This method is typically used by groundsmen who need to improve their soil profile, so if you're not confident you can carry the work out you may wish to hire a professional.’
You can buy this simple but effective lawn corer/aerator on Amazon (opens in new tab).
8. Mow and rake your lawn
‘In winter, the wet and lack of sunlight affect the lawn,’ says Leigh Barnes, a garden specialist at Jacksons Fencing (opens in new tab). ‘As the leaves fall, rake them away regularly. You should complete a final mow, around the beginning of November, whenever it is dry.’
Rather than compost fall leaves, consider using them as a natural mulch for your flower beds. 'A blanket of fall leaves on any flower beds will provide a layer of protection against the inevitable harsh frosts and freezing snow associated with winter,’ Leigh adds.
What should I put on my lawn in the fall?
If you want to protect your lawn over fall and winter and prepare it for a boost of growth in the spring, put a nitrogen-rich fertilizer over your lawn in the fall period. This will provide your grass with plenty of nutrients to survive the winter and grow stronger and thicker in spring.
Is October too late to overseed?
While October is not too late to overseed your lawn, it should be carried out earlier if possible. Overseeding a lawn in late-October leaves the seeds at risk of winter frosts in November through to January. September is the best time to overseed your lawn, early October at most if you want to give the seeds the best chance.
Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.