Fall lawn care


Answers to some questions on keeping green, healthy grass

P.Allen Smith’s dog, Duncan, on the beautiful lawn at Moss Mountain Farm. Photo courtesy of P. Allen Smith

When the cool breezes start to blow at nightfall, they bring with them a calming sense of renewal. The grass starts to green up again, fall-blooming perennials load up with buds ready to burst, and my vegetable garden overflows with produce.

Terrace Garden and lawn at Moss Mountain Farm. Photo by Mark Fonville

A healthy, green lawn is an important element of my landscape design at Moss Mountain Farm. The beautiful, lush lawn really sets off my colorful flower borders. I don’t mind spending the time now to complete the fall lawn maintenance tasks of fertilizing, treating for weeds and over-seeding the thin spots to keep the lawn healthy going into winter. Early fall is the most important time to fertilize lawns in Arkansas, and doing so will reward you with a greener, healthier lawn next spring.

Q: The weeds in my lawn have taken over!  What can I do to stop them?

Terrace lawn at Moss Mountain. photo by Mark Fonville

It seems weeds always grow faster than the plants we actually want to grow. That is certainly the case with lawn weeds. Now I’ll be the first to admit, I actually let clover grow in my lawn. Since the early 20th century, clover seed was included in many lawn seed mixes, because it is drought-tolerant, resists nearly all lawn pests and diseases, feeds the bees with its blooms and fixes its own nitrogen in the soil so it’s always green.

Weeds, like chickweed, hairy bittercress and ground ivy, really need to be kept under control, or they will eventually take over. If there aren’t too many yet, you might prefer to dig them out by hand to avoid using herbicides. There are organic and synthetic options for spot-treating weeds, too, which eliminate the need for a blanket application of weed-and-feed. If your lawn has more weeds than grass, you might want to contact a professional to perform a one-time “rescue operation” to get your weeds under control.

Q: My lawn has been quite brown all summer, but it’s finally starting to come back now that we’re getting into the fall months. What should I do to it now so that it looks good next year?  

You’re smart to think ahead when it comes to the health of your lawn. An ounce of prevention leads to a pound of cure, as they say. If you plan to care for your lawn yourself, the first thing I’d recommend is that you get a soil test from a Cooperative Extension Service office near you. The test is usually free or offered for a very low cost, and the report will tell you exactly which nutrients your lawn needs to grow better. Do that before you head to the store and are faced with a mountain of choices in fall lawn-care products. Once you know what kind of fertilizer is needed, apply it in early fall to give your lawn a chance to re-grow a healthy root system before winter.

Our summers are typically so hot here that many people let their lawn go dormant, which gives it that overall brown cast. Don’t worry — it’s not a lost cause, at least not yet! Once our temperatures ease up, start watering your lawn regularly to encourage it to “green up” for the fall and early winter months. The combination of fall fertilization and watering will help your lawn go in to winter healthy, so it emerges strong next spring.

Q: We’ve recently cleaned out a corner of our yard, and we would like to plant new grass there before the winter comes. What kind of grass seed would you recommend?

Arkansas’ climate puts us in a transition zone between cold-season and warm-season grasses, so the grass seed mixes sold here typically contain a blend of varieties. Bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine, tall fescue and zoysia grasses are popular choices for our state. Kentucky bluegrass is not the best choice for most of our state, but it does grow well in the northernmost counties. State law requires that all grass seed mixes are labeled with their exact contents, so check to make sure it contains the varieties you need before you buy it.

Q: Do I have to rake the leaves off of my lawn in the fall, or can I leave them there to decompose on their own?

Leaves are one of Mother Nature’s most valuable resources, yet so many people are adamant about raking every last leaf off the ground in fall. Did you know that studies have shown that mulching leaves into your lawn over a period of three years can virtually eliminate dandelions and crabgrass? So set your mower deck up high, and take a few passes over your fallen leaves this fall instead of raking them every week. The little shreds of leaves will filter down into the soil, smother any weed seeds and add essential nutrients to the earth.


P. Allen Smith, an author, television host and conservationist, is one of America’s most recognized garden experts. His show “Garden Home” airs on AETN-2 CreateTV. Check your local listings for “Garden Style.” Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, as an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. Tours may be booked at pallensmith.com/tours.