Give your lawn its edge back!
Written by Emma Heard – Bernaville Nurseries
Autumn is a great time to give your lawn a pick-me-up and to ensure that it is in the best possible shape to survive the winter. September has always been the traditional time to carry out lawn maintenance, but if the summer has been particularly dry or a hosepipe ban has been imposed, wait until autumn rain stimulates the turf and the grass is actively growing before carrying out any work. The treatments that your autumn lawn requires depends greatly on the state it is in after the wear and tear it has undergone in the summer months. If you have children or pets then it is highly likely that there will be a great deal of treatment required!
If your lawn feels spongy then it is likely you have a problem with moss. Moss spreads quickly in damp and shaded areas and will overwhelm grass so it needs tackling to keep it in check. You can remove moss from the lawn by spreading either a granular moss killer such as lawn sand or soaking the problem area with a liquid moss killer applied from a watering can and leave until the moss turns black (usually within two weeks). Although both options are also available with a combined feed to help strengthen the remaining grass, it is probably better to opt for a sole moss killer and then feed separately with a specific autumn lawn fertiliser. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s application instructions as over use can cause damage to your lawn.
The dead moss can be removed by raking vigorously with a spring tine garden rake. Large bare patches of soil that are left behind after the moss has been removed should be re-sown with lawn seed. Although moss killer works quickly, it is a short-term fix and it pays to tackle the causes of moss. Low light levels and compaction and poor drainage are the most liable causes. Increasing natural light be removing shade casting over-head branches or aerating your lawn will help.
Grass clippings, moss and weeds can form a thick mat above the surface of the soil. Known as thatch, this material prevents the lawn from breathing properly, stops rain from penetrating effectively and encourages lawn disease to prosper. To remove it, scratch the surface vigorously with a spring tine rake, working your way across the lawn. This is known as scarifying, and by doing this grass will respond by producing more side shoots. Large lawns can be tackled by hiring a scarifyer from a tool hire shop.
Aeration is the cornerstone to having a well maintained lawn. The process of aerating is essentially spiking the lawn to allow for more air (and nutrients including water) to get to the grass roots. Aeration will also help your lawn survive through more extreme conditions such as waterlogging or drought. Lawn that has been subjected to heavy traffic over the summer could be compacted, which will lead to problems with drainage, resulting in the spread of moss or water lying in puddles on the surface. Improve by plunging a garden fork into the lawn as far as it will go and repeat at 10cm intervals – for large lawns, hire or buy a wheeled spiking machine. Once the lawn is aerated it is the ideal time to put some top dressing down, I recommend using a special lawn soil/top dressing. Top dressing improves soil structure and encourages strong root development so helps to support a healthy lawn. Spread the lawn dressing evenly over the grass with the back of a rake, working it well into the holes created by spiking the lawn.
Once your lawn is treated and in pristine condition it is important to get some lawn feed down to ensure that the roots are still growing strong throughout the winter. Autumn lawn fertiliser is high in potash and phosphates, and will result in healthy root growth that will ensure the grass is in the best possible condition to protect it from frost and icy conditions. Do not be tempted to use a spring/summer lawn food that you may have left over. Spring/summer lawn fertiliser is high in nitrogen and encourages top growth, this will result in soft, sappy growth that is easily damaged by cold weather. If using a granular feed it is well worth investing in a lawn spreader, this will ensure an even application.
Finally, it is worth checking your lawn edges after the summer, they may have gotten a little bit overgrown, which makes the autumn the perfect time to trim back. Use sharp edging shears or re-cut clear lines with an edging iron.
Autumn/Winter Lawn care
There are a couple of things you can do to help the health of your lawn following your autumn lawn care;
• It is stating the obvious, but try not to walk on the lawn in the winter. If you have areas of the garden that you need to get to in the winter then think about putting down stepping stones or a path.
• On the rare occasion in the British winter when the weather is dry, grab the rake and remove any fallen leaves on the lawn as they not only provide habitable shelter for garden pests, but they also suffocate the lawn which weakens the grass. Add the leaves to your compost heap where they can rot down to help make a good natural soil conditioner for your flower beds next year.
• As the weather starts to change, the grass will be growing much more slowly. Adjust the cutting height on your lawnmower so that it cuts the grass higher.
• Mow about once a fortnight until about mid-October, depending on weather conditions. In very mild autumns mowing may continue until Christmas!