With our milder climate it’s often necessary to keep mowing the lawn right through the winter – although much less frequently and with the blades set much higher.
Make sure your mower blades are still sharp. Dull blades make jagged wounds that when exposed to frost are harder to heal. They can also serve as a point of entry for insect and disease problems
By the end of summer, the combined effect of children playing and outdoor living plus well-trodden routes through the garden can lead to soil compaction and worn patches in the lawn. The pore space in the soil is essential for oxygen to circulate and water to drain but when it’s squeezed out, grass roots die allowing weeds, mosses and algae to grow.
Aerating the soil is not difficult to do, you can simply slash worn areas with a knife or pierce the lawn with a garden fork, making holes 75-100mm deep about 25-50mm apart over the compacted area
It’s essential to rake the lawn too, and remove smothering autumn leaves and any dead grass and moss that may have built up during the summer. This debris (know as “thatch”) prevents moisture reaching the roots. A wire rake is the most effective although it can be hard work.
Raking is good exercise and with a little effort now, you might easily slip into your tuxedo or little black dress by Christmas! I am advised that a 125-pound person burns about 120 calories when raking for a half hour, while a 185-pound person burns up to 178 calories. To burn the most calories, it’s important to rake at a rigorous, continuous pace.
Feeding the lawn with an autumn lawn food will strengthen the plants and encourage earlier and stronger growth next spring. Autumn feeds contain phosphates to promote a vigorous root system and encourage side shoots, which will help cover any bare patches that developed during the summer. They also contain potash, which will strengthen the grass and make it less susceptible to disease. Some brands also include weed and moss killer, so read the labels before you buy.
Nothing spoils a lawn like weeds. Bald patches prefect seedbeds and a thinning grass sward are ripe for invasion by fast-creeping weeds like speedwell, daisies and clover to name but a few of the most pernicious types. Dandelions, which have deep-rooted, taproots are also a nuisance and thrive in nutrient-rich soil with a high ph. Before reaching for the chemicals though, try hand weeding, which is practical if there are only a few plants.
Kill weeds in early autumn to ensure a lush summer lawn
Moss can rarely compete with strong, healthy grass and will only take a hold when grass is weak. It is a sign that something is basically wrong with your lawn – anything from poor drainage, shade and starved grass to mowing the grass too close, so if you really want to eradicate it from your lawn, then you have to find out the actual problem that is causing it, rather than just treating it with chemicals.
During the autumn, earthworms tend to migrate to the surface and leave their muddy castings on the lawn. Worm castings are basically, worm excrement, but highly nutritious excrement, which in the past wise-old gardeners would collect and use to condition the soil in their borders!
Earthworms come to the surface when it rains, which is why you might see blackbirds that are looking for a tasty morsel, tapping their beaks on the soil to fool the worms into thinking it’s raining!
Now’s a good time to patch any worn areas. Turf is ideal for an instant fix although over-sowing with seed works well too. Scratch up the soil’s surface to allow rapid establishment and keep the area well watered for the first few weeks. Alternatively sow a “patch” in a seed tray to have a piece of turf that you can use to repair gaps in the lawn.
In autumn, grass seed can take up to 14 days to germinate
Level bumps and hollows that become embarrassingly apparent each time the lawn is mown. The easiest way to do this is to cut and roll back the turf, taking care to keep a good amount of soil with the roots to avoid damaging them. Then, either add or remove soil until the patch is level once the turf is replaced. Firming the grass with a roller and watering if the weather is dry, will aid establishment.
Starting from scratch
October to February and March to April are the best times for laying turf but providing the ground isn’t frosted, waterlogged or there is a drought it can be laid the year round although establishment will take longer in low temperatures.
Prepare the ground level and lay the turves in staggered rows – like bricks in a wall. Do not stand on the newly laid grass but work from planks. Brush compost into the cracks, after laying, and water in well. After several weeks the turf will have roots and the grass will be growing and ready to mow. Avoid heavy use in the first season.
Dog owners will no doubt be aware that burn spots or yellow patches will appear within a week of a dog weeing on the lawn. This is because dog urine has high nitrogen content, not dissimilar to bleach, which burns the grass, causing it to die. To prevent the problem, it’s essential therefore, to douse the area with a hose to dilute the effect of the urine. Another solution is to add a dash of tomato juice to the dog’s food each day to help change the nitrates balance in your dog’s urine.
Dog poo is another messy problem and shouldn’t be ignored! It needs to be disposed of safely as it carries worms (Toxocara canis), which have eggs that can live in the soil for many years. Handling infected soil, or in the case of children playing in the dirt, may result in fever, coughing and vomiting and serious eye disease, so always clear up dog mess immediately and keep your pet healthy by worming it regularly.