After tending to your lawn all summer, you’re ready for a break. But before the grass goes dormant, tackle these essential autumn tasks so that it will come back green and lush in the spring.

From the lawn experts at Consumer Reports, these simple fall lawn care steps show you how to get the desired results without pumping your yard full of chemicals. 

Step 1: Aerate the Soil

The ground in many American yards is as hard as a rock, thanks to years of whiffle ball tournaments and backyard barbecues. That’s why aeration is one of the most important treatments you can give your lawn.

Fall is the ideal time because you won’t have to worry about kicking up weed seeds, as you do in the spring.    

Aeration involves a pretty heavy-duty piece of outdoor power equipment—called a core aerator—that removes plugs of soil from the ground, allowing air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the lawn’s root system.

Core aerators cost a few thousand bucks, but you can rent one from a home center for around $100 per day. That’s nothing to sneeze at, so it’s a good idea to go in on the rental with a few of your neighbors. (Aeration party, anyone?)

The more moisture in the soil, the easier it will be to aerate. If possible, try to time the aeration for after a recent rainfall; if not, watering the lawn the day before will help.

For heavily compacted soil, make multiple passes with the aerator to really loosen the ground. And for best results give the plugs a few days to dry out, then break them up by going over them with your lawn mower or smacking them with a rake.          

Step 2: Add a Layer of Compost

Aeration will bring much-needed oxygen to the grass's root systems. But you should also add healthy organic matter to the soil in the form of a quarter-inch top dressing of compost. In addition to improving the soil structure, the compost will help the soil hold water during extreme weather. 

If you haven’t started a backyard compost bin yet, this is another reason to do so (and you’ll be amazed at your reduction in household trash).

You can also buy bags of compost from a home center or local nursery. The material tends to be moist and clumpy, so it’s easier to distribute it by hand rather than by using a mechanical spreader.             

Step 3: Apply Fertilizer

You might be able to eliminate this step in the future, especially if you aerate and compost annually and provide additional nutrients throughout the year by mulching lawn clippings.

But let’s assume your lawn needs an extra shot of nutrition this year, in the form of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which will help it withstand pests as well as extreme heat and cold.

Stay away from fast-release fertilizers, which can leach into the soil and surrounding waterways. Instead, choose a slow-release or organic fertilizer.

Both can be applied with a broadcast spreader, available at home centers. Refer to the fertilizer bag to see which setting on the spreader will provide the most even dispersal.

If you want to go the extra distance, send a soil sample to your local cooperative extension so that it can perform a soil test, usually for a fee of around $10.

The test will tell you exactly which nutrients are missing from your soil and how to fix the problem.

For example, you may need to balance out acidity with an application of lime. That's another item on your to-do list, but your fortified lawn will need less care and attention next season.