Fall Lawn Care

Lawns were very green this year, thanks to the abundant rain we received throughout the summer in parts of Canada. Let’s not forget that lawns are of British origin, and that it rains very often there! But this won’t be the case every year, as we have a continental climate with hot, dry summers lasting several weeks… well, normally.

So let’s take advantage of the fact that our lawn is at its best this year to give it an extra boost so that it will be more resistant to the next drought. Autumn is an excellent time to carry out a number of very beneficial interventions for your lawn.


Is your lawn compacted? If a pencil doesn’t penetrate easily to a depth of 10 cm (4″), you’ll need to aerate it. For a small area, you can use a manual tool, but for larger surfaces it’s better to rent a motorized device that removes cores of earth 10 cm deep. No need to pick them up, they’ll disappear on their own. As this is a very bulky device to transport, plan this operation with a few neighbors and share the cost of rental and transport.


After aeration, this is the best time to top-dress your lawn. This means spreading a small layer of ripe compost on the surface, no more than 5 mm (1/4″). You can scoop it up on the fly and spread it with a leaf rake. Compost doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrients, but it does stimulate the soil’s microbial life, which in turn will release minerals naturally present in the soil, form the clay-humus complex and so on. If your soil is not too compacted, this operation can replace mechanical aeration, as the compost will help the earthworms to aerate it for you. It’s my choice, because it’s much less tiring!

Dormant Sowing

If you have bare patches in your lawn, it would be a good idea to seed before topdressing, but it’s probably a bit late now for the seedlings to emerge and establish themselves before winter. On the other hand, you could do a dormant sowing. This means you can sow between the end of October and when the snow arrives. The seeds won’t emerge because it’s too cold, but they’ll be ready to germinate early in the spring and you’ll probably save a month compared with spring sowing. I highly recommend low-maintenance mixes: they contain species that grow more slowly, are more resistant to drought and pests, and don’t need fertilizer, especially if the mix contains white clover.

Sow a low-maintenance mixture containing white clover.

Leaf Cycling

Autumn is the time for dead leaves! So rather than picking them up and putting them in bags, just run the mower over them! They’ll be shredded and, within a few days, you’ll see them disappear under the action of earthworms and other decomposers. Of course, don’t wait until you’ve got 10 cm (4″) of leaves on your lawn! Instead, continue your weekly mowing routine, even if grass growth has slowed. If you have too many leaves, pass the mower over with the bag and empty the contents into your perennial beds. The shredded leaves won’t blow away.

Photo: Lili Michaud

Plant Some Spring Bulbs!

Now’s the time to plant spring flower bulbs in your lawn! Choose early-blooming species such as snowdrops, crocuses, scillas and winter aconites (eranthus). They’ll bloom before the first lawn mowing, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy them next spring!

The Last Mowing?

It’s advisable to keep the last mowing before winter shorter, at 5 cm (2″), to prevent the grass from lying on the ground with the snow, and to discourage field mice, which sometimes burrow into long lawns during the winter.

What About Fertilizer?

Don’t fertilize before winter, it’s a waste. Personally, I never put fertilizer on my lawn, because I sowed a low-maintenance mix with clover 20 years ago, and I use grasscycling and leaf cycling. It’s a self-sufficient lawn!

Edith Smeesters is a biologist and a pioneer in ecological horticulture in Quebec. She has given countless conferences and workshops and written several books on the subject for over 20 years. She founded and has been president of several environmental organizations, such as Nature-Action Québec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. She was a key figure in the creation of the Pesticide Management Code of Quebec, which has been in effect since 2003. She has received several awards for her involvement in the environment and is a member of the prestigious "Cercle des Phénix".

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