Fall is the right time for grass

Be it a few bare spots, or total reset, fall is the best time to get those seeds

Kelly Heidbreder
Kelly Heidbreder

Warm days and cool nights help the leaves change color. They are also a good combination to coax grass seed to grow. Whether you have a few bare spots, or need to start over, fall is the best time to get those seeds started.

You might think spring would be the best time, but actually, the soil temperatures in early fall are still warm and the days aren’t brutally hot. Those two things are key to getting seeds to germinate. The soil also is able to hold on to some of the overnight dew left on top the ground and keep your seeds moist. 


We moved into a new house recently and had to take out a few trees. The stumps were ground down, but big bare patches are left behind. It is almost impossible to get grass seed to grow in an area that is mostly wood chips. We raked the area to get most of the wood chips out of the soil and added more compost on top. We let that sit for a few days to settle into the lawn, then tossed a healthy layer of fresh grass seed on top. Just six days down the road we are already seeing fine blades of grass sprouting from the bare patches. Pet damage or heavy traffic can also rip up your lawn, so if you just need to fill in a few spots around the yard, you should get the garden rake out first. Rough up the soil surface in the bare areas and sprinkle them with top soil. Sprinkle fresh grass seed liberally in the raked area. Use this technique, rather than the patch kits you can find at your favorite hardware store. A bag of good grass seed mixed with a little sphagnum peat moss is all you need. Keep the area lightly watered and you will see your seeds sprout within 10 days.

Start over If you are starting from scratch or renovating the entire lawn, spend a lot of time tilling the top soil and getting the big clumps of soil, rocks and sticks out. This will save you lots of headaches in the weeks ahead. Mix your seed with sphagnum moss and cast it evenly across the lawn. Daytime temperatures in the 70s and nights in the 40s create the perfect growing conditions for your new seeds. They will be up within two weeks. Keep them lightly watered until after the frost to get their root system established before frost. 

Watering your seeds

A healthy, established lawn should get about an inch of water each week, whether its from rain or your sprinkler. Water a couple times a week for longer intervals to keep the roots growing deep into the soil, rather than on top. After Thanksgiving, spread a winterizing fertilizer on your lawn and give it its last mowing of the season. 


If your turf seems to be struggling and you don’t know why, fall is a good time to take some drastic measures. Sometimes the turf is struggling because of the soil. If the roots are too crowded, you may have a thatch problem. It is tough to diagnose but the root layer just gets overgrown. Your turf might feel spongy. Fungus spores create a build up of organic grassy material right at the soil line.

Mulching your grass clippings back into the soil will help break down the thick roots but it takes a while to see any progress. If the area is bleached out with thick roots, you can use a dethatching machine to help comb out some of those thick roots. Core aerating pulls soil plugs out of the turf to give to give the roots more room to grow and a chance for more air circulation between roots.

This is also good to do in areas that are heavily compacted. Let the plugs of soil break down and go back into the turf. Over seed the freshly aerated lawn and keep it watered to give the seeds the best chance for growth, keeping it lightly watered until you see it sprout.

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