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Fall is the the time to repair spots on your grass lawn and to consider other ground covers

In-focus green blades of grass and a blurry orange hammock in the distance, hanging from a tree.
Rike_/Getty Images/iStockphoto
If you have bare spots in your lawn and want to repair them, this is the time of year to do it. Or, in place of grass, plant different groundcovers, like vinca, Meehan's mint, and other green plants that you can still mow.

Traditional grass lawns are a greensward. They provide a place to play and gather and lawns help preserve the soil from erosion.

When it comes to lawns, you might be in one of two camps: you may love the look of a lush, green yard and take pains to keep it that way. If that's the case, then now is the time of year for lawn care.

Or if you're of a different mind and you let your lawn grow with different sorts of ground covers, you mow less or not at all, then there are some great ways to keep your lawn healthy.

Firstly, let's cover fall care for lawns with traditional grass. Right about now as summer is waning, you may want to address any brown spots or areas of your lawn that didn't grow as thickly this year. These areas can be repaired now.

Bring in a three-to-four-inch layer of topsoil and lay it over the area that has the less-than-lush grass or brown spots. Choose a grass seed that is similar to the type of lawn grass you're currently growing, and on top of that topsoil layer, sprinkle the grass seed. Next, water, add mulch and let it grow.

If an area of your grass lawn has grown weedy and unkempt and you'd rather have a more uniform look, fall is a good time to beef it up so weeds won't come in.

Achieve this by top-dressing your lawn with compost. Put a layer of compost a quarter-inch thick over your lawn and let it naturally filter down into the root system, then sprinkle grass seed over it.

You can even use the "over-seeding" method. This just means you sprinkle more grass seed on top of your already green lawn. Over-seeding helps create a thicker, lush lawn that will result in fewer weeds.

And even if your yard is full of ground covers that some consider weeds, it all depends on how you like the look and what you're trying to achieve. Those alternative green covers can still be a "lawn." Covers like clover, dandelions and mint can attract essential pollinators and the ground cover can still be mowed to a uniform height.

If your lawn is prone to wet areas or you've got shady spots due to low branches from trees, try some ground covers that thrive in those conditions.

Trees like spruce, pine or hemlock have low-to-the-ground branches. Trying to grow grass (or anything!) under those trees is next to impossible. The conditions are much too shady plus whatever you plant would be in constant competition with the tree's root system. Instead, if you got a pine, spruce or hemlock tree, put mulch under it.

If you have some maples on your lawn that are limbed up a little higher, look for areas underneath that see some partial sun. Try planting ajuga or buggle weed, dead nettles and vincas there. Even a mint variety called Meehan's mint grows low to the ground and does well in shaded and moist areas.

A note about these ground covers and your grass lawn. If the ground covers are growing adjacent to your regular lawn, just know they will continue to grow and encroach on the grassy area. There does come a time when ground covers cross a line and you get to decide when they become "weeds."

Q: Our neighbor planted sumac on our property line. I'm continuously pulling up tiny sumac trees from my yard and garden. The sumac has sent runners everywhere, including under our back deck where we now have sumac branches growing through the lattice. Is there anything I can do to stop it from taking over my house and yard? - Baffled, in Burlington

A: You can continue doing what you're doing and cutting down those sumac shoots as they come up or mow them down as much as you can.

You could also try digging around your side of the sumac and putting down some kind of metal or plastic weed barrier or edging.

Sumac grows quickly and aggressively and without asking your neighbor for their help in keeping it in their lawn, this is going to be a tough one to deal with.

Q: In wanting to make sure the monarch butterflies have gotten what they need from the milkweed in my yard, I would like to know when it is safe to remove it from my garden. It has overtaken much space and continues to grow into the lawn. - Patricia, via email

A: Common milkweed or asclepias syriaca is one of those plants that, once planted, will keep spreading everywhere. This milkweed is an aggressive grower and prolific. If you're looking to plant milkweed, try these alternatives to attract and feed essential pollinators, like monarch butterflies.

Planting asclepias tuberosa, which is known asthe butterfly weed, purple milkweed or asclepias purpurascens and asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed are other options and are far less aggressive.

Still, if the milkweed you have in your garden is getting too aggressive and it is showing up in the lawn, go ahead and mow it down. If the milkweed is in a spot where you like it, and the monarchs are happy, cut it back as part of your fall cleanup in November. Plan to cut it back late in the season after the monarchs are gone.

Keeping monarchs in mind, the other time to cut back milkweed is in early July. Monarchs like new growth and cutting the milkweed back a bit in summer stimulates new, healthy shoots to grow for when the butterflies arrive.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublic. We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.