Organic Lawn Renovation: Fall is the Time!

A photo of a lawn and trees with fall color.

Fall is the time of year when your lawn can benefit from a little extra love over any other season. If you have a weed problem address, this before summer is over so that your fall lawn care can be done without the hamper of live weeds.

By Bill Dalton

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener September 2017 issue.]

Fall is the time of year when your lawn can benefit from a little extra love over any other season. If you have a weed problem address, this before summer is over so that your fall lawn care can be done without the hamper of live weeds. Plus fall is by far the best time to seed because less weed seed is available. Also in the Midwest we have unpredictable winters but the soil temperature stays warm enough that cool season grasses (fescues, bent, bluegrass, and ryegrass are most common) continue to grow roots and work on storing up nutrients for the upcoming spring. Warm season grasses can benefit from these suggestions as well, however, if bare spots are present late summer I suggest seeding with a fast growing rye. This will keep cool season weeds from setting in over winter and the warm season grass will choke it out in late spring. If you only do one thing to your lawn, this is the time of year to get it in gear. There are numerous things you can do this time of year, from aeration, topdressing with compost, overseeding, sodding, or just a plain old low nitrogen organic fertilization. Liming is best done in fall and a soil sample will tell you if any lime is needed.

By far the most beneficial thing that you can do in the fall is topdressing a weak lawn or before a lawn is about to be seeded or sodded. But even healthy lawns can benefit from some compost and an overseeding. There are numerous types of compost including leaf, waste, mushroom, and manure.

Mushroom compost is what is left over after mushrooms have been grown, not—as some people think—ground up mushrooms that will spread all over lawn. Mushroom compost properly treated will have no active mushroom spores in it. Mushrooms actually clean the compost as they grow, leaching out impurities and leaving behind nutrients and healthy compost. Mushroom compost can be as high as 60% organic matter and boasts a high moisture retention. Properly pasteurized mushroom compost will be free of insects and any weed seed. It is, however, rather pricey.

Yard waste composts offer a more affordable alternative and also deliver great results. Compost can be topdressed over bare spots but is far more successful if tilled or aerated in to allow it to mix with existing soil. If aerating and composting I always suggest aeration first then spread compost and it will work nicely into the fresh holes.

With or without compost aeration is very beneficial to your lawn. It allows air, moisture, nutrients and bacteria to reach deeper in soil and help the ever important roots of grass and plants. Fall aeration is always best since there is far less weed seed around than in the spring when you are not just making holes for the weed seed to land in.   Aeration is best if done when the soil has plenty of moisture so you can get as much depth as possible (2-3 inches is best).

Seeding in the fall gives a huge advantage to your lawn since far less stress and damage is done to Midwest lawns in the winter than in the summer. The longer new grass seed has to grow before the heat, the better its chance for survival. Seeding is about the only one of these suggestions that has a time frame. Generally fall seeding can begin in August; however I’ve switched to the first or second week of September due to our dry falls and have actually seen better results.

Fall brings us cooler temperatures (hopefully), more moisture and our last chance to pull our suffering lawn out of its sad state until spring. If aeration is on your list, equipment rental places will rent you an aerator or about any lawn care company in our area should be eager to give you a bunch of holes in your lawn for money. Then get out and enjoy the weather with a wheelbarrow and a pitch fork and spread some compost, an organic fertilizer (high in potassium, phosphorous and calcium and low in nitrogen) and seed and sit back and enjoy your healthier lawn all next year.

Bill Dalton is the owner of Natural Green Organic Lawn Care, which has served St. Louis with organic lawn care and organic gardening for over 15 years. He has over 25 years as a lawn care professional, completed the NOFA course, attended Truman State University for Biology and has hundreds of hours of organic course training. You can reach him at or (314) 503-0733.