Falling on Tough Times

Posted: October 1, 2012

It has been a difficult year for your lawn. Extended hot, dry periods in the summer after a very mild winter, as your turf grass was exposed to everything in between...

Most people have found bare spots and weeds co-mingled with the grass. Fall is the perfect time to help your lawn recover and prepare for a better growing season next spring.

Weed Control

Fall is a great time for weed management, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Identify the weeds, not all will survive the winter, or even heavy frost. Some will persist like dandelions, thistle, and bindweed. Use a product labeled for use on those specific weeds, and follow the directions. Herbicides are poison, and dangerous if mis-handled. Weeds compete with grass for food and nutrients so it is good for your lawn to manage weeds, but it is recommended to spot treat weeds. This means only using an herbicide in certain areas during the fall, unlike other times of the year where you would broadcast over the whole grass areas. 

Thatch Care

Thatch is a build-up of living and dead grass roots and stems between the soil and green grass blades. Some level of that is a good thing. The amount of thatch in the lawn may be checked by cutting three to four inches down into the grass with a shovel and lifting up a piece of sod. Thatch looks like a thick tangle of dark brown roots above the soil level. If thatch is greater than 1/2 inch, the lawn should be core aerated or de-thatched. Fall is an excellent time to de-thatch. In lawns with a thatch layer over 3/4 inch thick, you should aerate then topdress with a thin layer (1/8 to 1/4 inch) of soil or compost. Topdressing adds microorganisms that help breakdown thatch.

Spot Cover

Fall is a great time to re-seed any bare spots in the lawn. Good soil contact is crucial for germination. For small areas, use a rake to work up the soil so it is loose. For larger areas, a tiller may be necessary if the top few inches are compacted. Choose a perennial rye blend for best results. This selection has good heat and drought tolerance and grows quickly to fill in the empty areas. Cover lightly with straw or some of the newer seed starter mulches available at your local garden center.

In addition to these steps, fall is the best time to fertilize your lawn. Consider a soil test kit to find out exactly what kinds of nutrients the turf will need. These kits are for sale in our office.

For more information on fall lawn care, the Penn State Master Gardeners in Lackawanna County have a free packet of information on this topic. Contact us at 570-963-6842 or email for one.

Steve Ward, Master Gardener Coordinator in Lackawanna County