Autumn Lawn Care
Autumn is the time to examine lawns for signs of summer wear-and-tear and treat if necessary. At this time of year, any treatment has time to take effect before temperatures fall and growth stops.
Any treatment is best carried out during September, when there is time for the grass to respond before the soil temperatures fall and growth terminates for the season.
One or more of these tasks may be required:
Scarifying (Hire A Scarifier)
Regular raking (or scarifying as it known) keeps levels of at an acceptable level. Layers of thatch greater than 1cm deep can impede water and fertiliser penetration.
To remove thatch, rake vigorously but carefully with a spring-tined rake. For larger areas powered tools are available as single units or mower attachments.
Note: Turf is damaged if scarified too deeply. Do not scarify in spring - opt instead for a light raking, as the lawn may not recover in summer conditions.
Aerating (Hire An Aerator)
Aerating (or spiking) lawns allows better movement of air and water in the root zone. A well-aerated lawn will manage better in periods of drought or waterlogging. Concentrate on areas that receive the most wear and those that are compacted.
Small areas can be spiked with a garden fork, spacing holes 10-15cm (4-6in) apart and deep. On clay or waterlogged soils use a hollow-tine aerator every three to four years. This extracts plugs of soil from the lawn. Hand held and motorized hollow tiners are available. After hollow-tining, sweep up the plugs and then rake a top-dressing (see below) into the holes to improve air and moisture penetration.
Top-dressing is the application of loam, sand and well-rotted organic matter to a lawn in order to correct surface irregularities and improve the texture of difficult soils. This encourages greater rooting and thickening of turf.
The top-dressing mix is three parts sandy loam, six parts sharp sand and one part compost or leafmould (by volume). Apply 2-3kg per sq m (4.4-6.6lb per 10 sq ft), working the dressing in well with the back of a rake.
Flattening (Hire Turf Cutter)
To correct bumps and troughs, use an edging iron or spade to slice through the turf and roll it back. Fork over the underlying ground and add or remove soil as needed. Replace the turf, pressing the edges together, and water thoroughly.
Lawns can suffer from a variety of fungal problems including red thread, fairy rings and take-all patch. Damage created by lawn pests such as leatherjackets and chafer grubs, as well as their predators, can be really devastating. Worm casts are also a nuisance in wet weather.
Preparing lawns for winter
It's traditional to give lawns a pick-me-up in September, to revitalise them after dry summer weather and to ensure they are fit enough to get through winter. However, with longer summers and lack of water in areas hit by hosepipe bans, it's best to hold on until after some decent rain and you can see the grass is growing again.
What to do
Tackle moss and thatch
Start off by controlling moss, which is often found in patches under trees or hedges. Treat by spreading a moss killer across the lawn and within two weeks the weed will have died and turned black.
To prevent it from thriving in the future, it makes sense to tackle its cause. Either remove branches or lower hedges that cast shade or improve drainage.
Remove the dead moss by vigorously raking the surface with a spring-tined lawn rake. At the same time you'll remove masses of old grass clippings and other debris that can build up on the surface of the lawn, forming a layer called thatch.
This can hinder drainage and encourages weeds and turf diseases. Throw the material into a wheelbarrow and put on your compost heap when finished. If you have a large garden, it's possible to hire an electric raking machine.
Areas of the lawn that get heavy traffic, such as play areas often become very compacted which can cause problems with drainage, weeds and moss. Improve by pushing a garden fork into the ground as far as you can, then wiggle it backwards and forwards to make air channels. Repeat this every 10cm (4in) across the lawn.
Brush a sandy top dressing across the surface of the lawn so that it fills the holes, allowing air and water into the lawn - ready mixed bags can be bought from garden centres.
On larger lawns you could hire a powered aerating machine or if your lawn is very heavy, use a hollow tining tool that removes plugs of grass, which can be filled with top dressing. Both hand held and powered versions are available to buy from garden centres or to hire.
Feed (Buy Local)
To finish off, perk up tired lawns by giving them a feed. Use an autumn lawn fertiliser, which is high in phosphates and potash. This will help strong roots to develop, which will produce healthy leaves.
Don't be tempted to use a spring fertiliser. These contain high levels of nitrogen, which encourages soft, sappy leaf growth that's vulnerable to disease and could be damaged by frost.
If your lawn is in a hosepipe ban area, wait until you've had some decent rain and the grass is actively growing before carrying out any work.
Autumn and winter aftercare
As autumn turns to winter, make the most of any dry days and rake the lawn to keep it free of leaves. A thick layer of leaves will smother a lawn and weaken the grass, and it also provides winter shelter for unwelcome garden pests.