Autumnal lawn care

Posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images at

I always feel very sorry for lawns. Almost every lawn is used and abused by its owners and rarely given the care and attention that it needs. Yet the plucky grass continues to grow and provide that fabulously green surface for us to relax and play on.

We seem to forget that a lawn isn’t one big plant, it’s thousands of individual plants. Consider the amount of time and attention you give your turf. Now imagine how much time and attention you’d give to a border full of thousands of plants. Are you starting to feel some sympathy for the lowly lawn?

Autumn is the perfect time to redress the balance. The summer is over and your lawn has been trampled on, parched by dry spells, drowned in wet weather, hacked about with a lawnmower and not even given a bite to eat! So this is a great opportunity to give it some TLC to build it up ready for next summer’s abuse.

Not everyone has hours to spend in the garden, and autumn is already busy with winter preparations, so I’ve split my advice into what you really should do for your lawn, and what additional tasks would be of benefit if you have the time.

What you really should do for your lawn this autumn

  • Remove any fallen leaves from your lawn straight away. Leaves cut out the light and water reaching the lawn and can encourage lawn diseases.
  • Keep on mowing your lawn once a week, but make the cutting height slightly higher so the grass grows a bit longer.
  • Lawns build up a layer of ‘thatch’ at the base of the grass. This fibrous material can be useful to the lawn as it can reduce water loss, but once it gets more than a couple of centimetres thick it can greatly reduce the water which reaches the roots and provide a perfect environment for pests and diseases. Raking over your lawn with a spring tined rake can pull thatch up to the surface, or alternatively a motorised scarifier (which looks like a small lawn mower) can be used. Remove the raised thatch. This is best done in September.
  • Aerating your lawn is on the ‘what you really should do’ list for those of you who have compacted areas in your lawn, otherwise you can treat it as an extra task if you have the time to do it. Compaction is often found in parts of the lawn used as pathways or play areas. Heavy use presses down the soil and stops water and nutrients reaching the grass roots, causing the turf to die in severe cases. If this sounds like part of your lawn, then you need to get a garden fork and stick it into the ground (so about 10cm is underground), wiggle it around a bit and pull it out – which will create an entrance for air and water to loosen up the structure of the soil. Repeat this every 15cm across the compacted area. Alternatively you can use a hollow tined fork for severe compaction. This works like an apple corer and pulls out cylinders of soil, leaving a much larger hole. You should only do hollow tine aerating every 3 years though, as it can remove quite a significant amount of soil from your lawn.
  • Your lawn needs feeding in autumn as much as it does in spring, but it needs a different type of food. In spring we give lawns nitrogen rich feeds to encourage fresh new leaf growth. In the autumn, however, we need to build up the root system and overall strength of the grass plants. So a balanced fertiliser is used – you can usually find proprietary brands of autumn lawn feed in garden centres.
  • If you have bare patches in your lawn then autumn is the perfect opportunity to overseed them, as the new grass plants will have plenty of time to get established before heavy use in the summer. Small packs of grass seed are available, simply scatter the seed according to the density recommended on the pack and then lightly rake them in (they’ll have better access to water and will be more hidden from hungry birds if lightly raked in).

What else would help your lawn if you have time

  • Take a besom brush and use it to scatter any worm casts on your lawn before you mow it, so they don’t get ’smeared’ into the lawn. If you have the time this is worthwhile doing before every mow season-round.
  • Dig out perennial weeds. This is usually done in the spring when they’re more obvious (or dealt with using a lawn weed killer), but this is also a good time to remove them as it gives the grass a chance to grow into the gap before the spring.
  • Top dress your lawn to even out minor dips and promote denser growth. You can purchase a proprietary lawn top dressing or make your own using a mix of peat (or peat alternative), loam and sand, usually proportionally more sand on heavy clay soils and less on loamy or sandy soils. Make sure you’ve finished raking/scarifying and aerating your lawn before you top dress. Spread the top dressing over the lawn using the flat back of a rake to distribute it evenly. If you find there are still specks of top dressing clinging to the tops of the grass blades you can brush over the lawn lightly to knock them off.
  • Neatening up the edging of the lawn can be done in autumn to save a job in the spring.