Basic Lawn Care: Fertilizing, Seeding, Weeding, Mowing

By The Old Farmer's Almanac
Green grass

If you’re growing a lawn, how do you take care of it?  By lawn, we mean a green grass lawn (as there are alternatives). As with many plants, the secret is providing enough nutrients and practicing weed control—plus, mowing the grass properly. The more you let nature do the work for you, the easier it will be to care for your lawn.

Feeding Your Lawn

Always pay attention to the soil! Your lawn needs nourishment.

  • Every spring, apply a one-to-two-thick layer of compost to top of your lawn with a spreader (like this one from Echo). Soils rich in decomposed organic materials will do a better job of holding moisture.
  • In the spring, also remove the thatch or dead grass with a rake to help moisture and oxygen reach down to the roots.
  • Aerate (poke holes in) the lawn to loosen up compacted soil and allow oxygen, water, and nutrients to flow. You can use aeration shoes, golf shoes, a pitchfork, or a power aeration tool available at rental shops.

Fertilizing Your Lawn

  • As well as building your soil with compost, regularly apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer with a lawn spreader.
  • The best time to fertilize substantially is actually in the late fall before the ground freezes. A slow-release fertilizer allows the grass to store carbohydrates to provide energy for root and shoot growth the following spring. It also helps prevent disease and injury over the winter. 
  • Many studies show that spring feedings, as championed by fertilizer manufacturers, aren’t really that helpful if you’ve fertilized in the fall. If you’re going to fertilize in spring, wait until late spring to restore the carbohydrate reserves in the roots which may be running low. Apply lightly.
  • Late summer is a good time to apply a second application. Make sure it is light! It’s just there to get your grasses to fall when you will give them a substantial feeding.
  • In areas of your lawn where tree roots compete with the grass, apply some extra fertilizer to benefit both.

Overseeding Your Lawn

  • If you have bare patches, it’s best to overseed in late fall. Use a mix of seed that includes slow-growing or low-growing grasses.
  • Fine-leaf fescues have low water and fertility requirements and grow well in places with a mild summer climate. Combine the fescues with a low-maintenance Kentucky bluegrass like ‘Park’, ‘Kenblue’, or ‘South Dakota Common’. Contact your local cooperative extension to see which type of lawn grows best in your area.

Watering Your Lawn

  • Water your lawn early in the morning or in the evening.
  • Water long enough to allow the water to soak in below the root zone. Shallow watering encourages shallow root growth and weeds. It will take about an inch of water to penetrate 6 to 8 inches into the soil. Set out shallow cans in the sprinkler area to measure.
  • Don’t overwater. Make the lawn seek its own source of water, building longer, sturdier roots. Cut back on water especially in midsummer to let the lawn go dormant, strengthening it for fall and winter.
  • Excess water leaches away nutrients and encourages insects. Deep waterings are better for the lawn than light waterings.
  • During a drought, let the grass grow longer between mowings, and reduce fertilizer.


  • With weeds, you truly want to be preventative rather than waiting until they appear in your lawn. Stop weeds from gaining a root hold in your lawn before they even germinate by applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the late fall with a lawn spreader. This method prevents weed seeds (especially crabgrass) from even germinating. Speak to your local nursery about herbicides approved for your local area.
  • If the weeds are just unbearable in the spring, you can apply a post-emergent lawn weed preventer that covers both grassy weeds (e.g., crabgrass) and broadleaf weeds (e.g., dandelions).
  • Still, we prefer that you learn to live with a not-so-perfectly-perfect lawn. A slightly wild lawn lets volunteer grasses, wildflowers, herbs, and even wild strawberries grow, adding color and variety to your landscape. Clover grows low to the ground and smells lovely after it’s been cut, and it often stays green after the rest of lawn has turned brown; dandelion greens taste great in a salad (if you’re not applying chemical fertilizers!).
  • Adding mulch helps with weed control.
  • Don’t overmow your lawn. By “moving high,” (2-½ to 3 inches), you let the grass protect its own turf better and weeds won’t see the light needed to germinate.

Mowing Your Lawn

  • To keep a healthy lawn, never cut more than one-third off the total grass height.
  • Mow the lawn when the grass is dry and keep the blades sharp to reduce tearing the grass blades (which invites disease).
  • Leave clippings on the lawn to filter down to the soil, decompose, and recycle nutrients back to the roots. The shorter the clippings, the more quickly they will decompose into the soil. Look into the “mulching mowers” that recycle clippings back onto the lawn.
  • If you have flower beds or areas that the mower can’t reach, use a grass trimmer but be very careful.  Don’t use trimmer to cut grass against tree trunks. It could slice into the bark, which could potentially kill the tree. Also, it’s very easy to trim off your own flowers!

See 10 tips on for spring yard cleanup.

Reader Comments

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Which fruits grow year-round?

For a humid climate in the Southern United States, what are recommendations for fruit and vegetables that can grow throughout the year with little effort?

- DD,

Low-Effort Plants

Because the winters are rather mild in the southern U.S., it’s very common for folks to have two plantings per year: one in late winter and another in late summer. Okra, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are all easy to grow, produce well, and persist through the growing season. Check out our Planting Calendar to see more recommended fruit and vegetables for your area!

Best time to mow onions

What is the best days to mow onions to stop them from growing I used the dates in the almanac last year and it worked but ain’t find them for 2018 I live in Tennessee

Mow to Discourage Growth

In March and April, the Best Days to Mow to Discourage Growth are March 5–7 and April 14 & 15. 


I've been getting a lot of mushrooms growing in my lawn and I have a dog and I'm afraid he's going to eat them and get sick or die, I don't know how to get rid of them does anyone know how to get rid of them keeping in mind It needs to be a pet friendly way of getting rid of them.

Getting Rid of Mushrooms

There’s not much you can do to get rid of mushrooms in your lawn aside from digging the area up and replacing the soil. The best practice would be to remove the mushrooms by hand or with your lawnmower—preferably one with a bag attachment, so that you don’t spread mushroom chunks and spores all over your lawn. Then, you can try adding a fast-release, nitrogen-heavy, and pet-safe fertilizer to the area, which will help to speed up decay.

On mushrooms , a late reply ...

We too had several kinds of mushrooms -kind name in our 'lawn' on various times of year . My first reaction was to get rid of it ; luckily my hubby reminded me of the biodiversical sense of those chlorophyl-lackers /:op
Hence and since then , they only get removed together with the grass we mow . Later this year , we will relocate some fruittrees and try another approach on 'lawn' : we leave a round spot in the middle of our garden on which flowers , vegetables and also a nice 'rug' of soft green grass will grow : good to look at the clouds on a dry day . The part of the garden where the fruittrees will grow , we 'll let the grass grow but mow a path through it .
Now did i make myself clear to y'all ;op

Have a sunny (if only in mind)day


grass seed

I tilled my yard last spring in hopes of getting a nice lawn, I used Kentuckey blue grass seed but all I got was dirt and weeds. I'm going to try again and I'm thinking of using Pennington PA.grass seed or Scotts PA. grass seed unless some one out there has a better recommendation because I don't want to waste my money and get the same results as last season, any help would be appreciated thanks.

Basic Lawn Care

Your article is very generic & invites speculation about seeding & mowing. In the NE, during the rainy April-May period, aeration is normally done in the early autumn when the soil is firm. Also, the lawn is cut high (4-5") so that it can be mulched; any lower & the cut grass stifles the remaining lawn. Once Mother Nature settles down in June-July, the lawn can successfully be cut at 3-4".

I ran over a toad the other

I ran over a toad the other day while mowing and last year my husband ripped a leg off a toad with the weedeater, I really hate the need to mow and the intense desire of humans to have a perfect manicured lawn. What I mean to say I guess is watch out for the little creatures hiding everywhere.

The Little Critters

Very much agree with Colleen (May 8 2016). We live in a village, must mow per ordinance. It is darn hard when we harm one of the little critters we share space with. We do try to be very careful, and are continuing to enlarge flower gardens so there is less lawn to mow. Always send out prayers of protection for the critters, whom we often name.

When is the best time

When is the best time according to the Almanac, to plant winter rye grass in North Texas?

Hi, Hiandlo: A good rule of

Hi, Hiandlo: A good rule of thumb for winter rye is 2 weeks before the first frost. In Lubbock, for example, the first frost usually arrives around Nov. 1, so you would count backward from there. Good luck!

how about with my

how about with my Bermuda grass i live in Georgia..any TIP would be helpful...........................please

I have zoysia grass, we live

I have zoysia grass, we live in mid-florida. We are in the monht of Nov, what shd we do to maintain it. Also have a few bald spots, under a tree how can I get grass to grow in those areas?

Zoysia grass is perfect for

Zoysia grass is perfect for lawns in sunny areas. You just need to keep it watered and mow when needed. For the bald spots get grass seed that grows well in shady spots. Check with your local garden center to see what is available. Now is a good time to spread the seed.

From my experianced oak start

From my experianced oak start to sucker or sucker more when in a drout, or can't get enuff water. You can try deep watering the oak and a regular irrigation program. Also they sucker more when the soil temp is to hot. If the ground around the oak is not shaded. I recommend planting it with ground cover like vinca especially in oak groves.

I have an oak tree and the

I have an oak tree and the new shoots are competing with the grass. What can I do to minimize/stop this?

Hello, Diann, Just keep up

Hello, Diann, Just keep up with regular mowing. Mowing should keep sprouts down. The seedlings will not keep coming up. If it's a bigger problem, the best prevention is to cut off the sprout 2 to 4 inches below the soil level. Do not use herbicide or you may damage the oak. Also, be sure to rake up any acorns.