close up of grass lawn

How do I take care of my lawn?

“Jen, when should I fertilize my lawn?”

“Should I just put some topsoil on my lawn now?”

“Hey, Jennifer, is this the right time to overseed?”

These are the questions often directed at me by friends and colleagues when they find out that I know a bit about gardening. This happens even with friends who have been to our house.


Our front yard:


Our back yard:


No rolling lawns of verdant green here! I’ve been accused of hating grass but that’s not true. I think there are a lot more interesting things to grow in the small patch of earth that’s available to me and I think there are more environmentally beneficial things to grow. But I understand that if you have kids or maybe want a place to sit in your garden that lawns serve a purpose. I even admit they have some aesthetic value.

My next door neighbour has a lovely lawn. He pointed out to me one day that his grass next to my, erm, exuberant garden provided a nice balance for the viewer’s eye, a bit of contrast. He’s probably right. Since our yards abut each other I’m content to grow my wild array and let him take care of his clipped green carpet so that passersby can enjoy the balanced view. I’ll keep my eyes on the perennials, thanks.

But I do know a few things about lawn care, thanks to the instructors in the Horticulture Science program at Humber College. I was probably more alert for the class on soils, but I didn’t flunk the lawn maintenance portion of my exam. So here’s what I know.

What not to do to your lawn:

  • Topdress it with topsoil. Topsoil is largely composed of clay. The grass your lawn is growing in (at least in my part of the country) is clay. What is the benefit to adding more clay on top of your existing clay? What you want to enrich your lawn with is compost or composted manure. Compost will feed your grass.
  • Grow only grass. Instead, overseed it with white clover to keep it looking green for the whole summer (even while everyone else’s has gone dormant and brown in the heat of summer), provide food for bees and other pollinators when the clover flowers, and keep weeds at bay (a thick mat of grass and clover won’t allow much space for weeds to grow). And, clover actually fixes nitrogen into the soil as it grows (note: nitrogen is one of the three main elements in the fertilizer you buy by the bag for your lawn), contributing to an overall lusher lawn.


For all of your other lawn questions, including:

  • When should I fertilize my lawn?
  • Should I fertilize my lawn in spring?
  • How much water does my lawn need?
  • What’s causing the brown patches on my lawn?
  • What kind of grass seed should I plant?
  • How do I get rid of weeds in my lawn?


I refer you to the best resource I know on growing a healthy lawn: the Lawn Maintenance Fact Sheet produced by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

If you’re starting fresh, seeding and growing a lawn on bare soil, I recommend OMAFRA’s Lawn Establishment Fact Sheet.



I’ll be out enjoying my grass-free garden while you do.


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