Fall Lawn Troubleshooting

A rake cleaning up leaves on grass.

Fall might mark the end of the growing season, but it's the perfect time of year to get your lawn into top shape. If your grass is suffering from brown areas, bad growth, or dead spots, taking measures now can encourage a burst of growth in the spring. From dealing with bare patches to eliminating troublesome matting in the spring, here are a few things to keep in mind when troubleshooting your fall lawn problems.


Snow and dead leaves are the perfect recipe for creating matting and mold, which can lead to a litany of lawn-related issues. Instead of allowing fallen leaves to mat and smother early grass growth, rake them up before the first snow. Another alternative is to mulch the dead leaves into the grass, which will add vital nutrients to the soil for the coming months. When mulching, make sure the leaves are finely cut and do not accumulate in large clumps around the yard. You might even consider raking the lawn after mulching the leaves to ensure an even spread.

Bare Patches

A patch of grass seedlings

The summer heat is not a good time to seed because it's often too hot for grass seedlings to survive. If hot weather has left a few bare patches in your lawn, try reseeding in the fall. Instead of using a normal fertilizer, however, apply a starter one that is specifically designed for new growth. Also, avoid applying too much seed as crowding can prevent the seeds from properly maturing. You should water the seeds a few times every day until the grass reaches a height of one inch. Then, resume normal watering frequency depending on your location.

Excessive Matting

Cutting your grass too high in the fall can result in excess matting, which can be detrimental to growth in the spring. Avoid this problem by properly lowering the cutting height of your lawn mower. The typical blade height is around two inches, though this will vary depending on the overall thickness of your lawn. As a general rule, you should only remove one third of the grass leaves at a time and keep the overall height above two and a half inches. Removing too much can smother the grass and lead to matting over the winter.


A patch of lawn with brown spots in it.

Discoloration is common in cool-season grasses. When the weather turns cold, cold-season varieties naturally go into a dormancy period that's marked with a change in color. If your grass is turning brown in the fall, make sure it's not in dormancy before taking other actions—it's not recommended to fertilize the lawn if the grass is going into its dormant stage. If it's not going dormant, you could be dealing with insects such as billbugs, nematodes, mole crickets, mites, leafhoppers, chinch bugs, and other larvae. You can battle insects with specialized lawn treatments that target them without hurting grass or plants.


Contrary to what you might think, fall is among one of the best times to fertilize the lawn. With the heat of summer fading, the cooler temps will allow the fertilizer plenty of time to take hold and give the grass a good supply of nutrients throughout the harsh winter. In fact, even after the grass turns brown the roots are still absorbing moisture and nutrients for the dryer times. Fertilizing in the fall can help your lawn recover faster and appear fuller in the spring.

Compacted Soil

An aerator machine on a lawn

Compacted soil can greatly inhibit grass growth because the roots cannot travel as easily through the ground. Aerating the lawn in the fall can help break up compacted coils and thatch, leaving your grass better suited for the months ahead. To get the most out of your time, consider renting a power aerator. These machines will do a much better job at aerating the lawn and will save you time and money in the long run. (Avoid aerating in the fall if your soil is sandy and loose.)