Autumn Lawn Care
By Alex N •
Fall is a time when the rest of the garden is being put to bed for the winter, we tidy, cut back and have bonfires, but the lawn needs some special attention. We need to invest some time and energy in some important autumn lawn care
Fall is the best time to prepare your lawn for a burst of vigorous, healthy growth in the spring that will be followed by a steady and attractive green throughout the summer. Spiking, top-dressing, fertilizing and general repairs are all best done in mild weather before the onset of winter.
Continue to mow the lawn about once a week (or as necessary) until growth slows down - usually in late autumn (October). The height of the cut during autumn should be 20mm (f in) for fine, luxury lawns and 30mm (1^ in) for utility lawns.
Avoid mowing the grass when it is wet with rain or dew. First brush it with a besom to encourage the grass to dry quickly. This will also scatter the worm- casts which would otherwise be flattened by the mower. You can mow once or twice in late autumn or winter if the grass is growing, but set the blades fairly high.
Autumn is a good time to carry out repairs to the lawn, especially during showery weather so that the repaired areas quickly become established again.
Broken lawn edges are all too common, but fortunately they are very easily mended (see page 385). Using half-moon turfing iron, cut out a square or rectangle containing the damaged edge. This turf can then be turned round so that the newly-cut part forms the edge, and the old ragged edge now faces inwards. You will now have a hole a few centimetres from the edge of the lawn, but this can be filled with good topsoil and seeded, or filled with a piece of turf, if available.
Don’t forget when carrying out repairs to try to match any new turf or grass seed with the existing grass so that eventually the repaired area merges with the rest of the lawn.
You may have a few bumps in the lawn that are ‘scalped’ by the mower; now is the time to do something about them. Hollows should also be dealt with at this period as they may hold
To cure bumps and hollows, first cut and remove the turf from the affected area, using a knife and spade or a turfing iron. then remove or add soil as necessary to ensure that the turf will be level. If you have to add soil, use good topsoil - preferably of the same type as the existing soil. It should be well firmed by treading it over with your heels, otherwise it will eventually subside and you will end up with a hollow again.
Once these alterations have been made, replace the turf. Then firm small areas by heavy treading, or large ones with a roller. I ill the joints or cracks with fine, sifted topsoil. This should be brushed well into the cracks and any surplus removed from the lawn.
You may find bare patches on the lawn. I These could be due to various things: over-use of the lawn during the summer, or overdose of weedkiller or fertilizer, 'shaving’ of high spots by the lawn mower, poor aeration and drainage, or digging out weeds. First correct the cause, if possible, and then carry out repairs. Remove the bare patch of turf and discard it. Try to square up the area if possible. Then loosen the surface of the soil with a hand fork - do not go too deeply. Place some new turfs in the prepared area and firm them by rolling. Fill in the cracks with sifted topsoil.
You may prefer to re-seed a bare patch instead of buying new turf. In this case prick over the affected part with a fork - not too deeply. Add enough topsoil to raise the level of the soil to that of the rest of the lawn. Then rake the area to remove any rubbish and to break down the soil to a fine tilth for sowing. Firm the soil lightly. Sow the appropriate grass-seed mixture at the rate of about 45g per sq m (I* oz per sq yd.). Lightly cover the seed with fine soil and firm it moderately.
If you have tufts of coarse grass in your lawn you may wish to remove them, especially if you have a fine ornamental sward. Dig them out with a hand trowel or sharp knife and re-seed or re-turf as described above.
Apply an autumn compound fertilizer, containing phosphates, in mid or late autumn (September or October) to entourage the grass to build up a good root system so that it will overwinter well. The best way is to apply it (according to maker’s instructions) with a fertilizer spreader.
If you don’t have a spreader, apply the fertilizer as evenly as possible by hand, and on a day when there is no wind. Raking (scarification) is one of the most important maintenance jobs as it removes dead, matted grass and other debris that would otherwise build up and retard the growth of the grass. Give a really thorough raking, preferably in two different directions, using a wire lawn rake.
Spiking the lawn
After raking, spike the lawn to improve aeration and drainage; both may be poor if the lawn surface has become hard and compacted due to a great deal of use during the summer. Spiking results in better root growth, and therefore a stronger, healthier lawn that will be more drought-resistant in the summer.
There are special hollow-tine forks for spiking which remove cores of soil. These are highly recommended, especially for heavy soils where drainage is not very good. Alternatively, you can use an ordinary garden fork. If you have an exceptionally large lawn, then a mechanical spiker will save you many hours of work. If using a fork, hollow-tine or otherwise, insert it at 15cm (6 in) intervals all over the lawn. Deep penetration is desirable - at least 8-10cm (3-4 in).
Top-dressing the lawn
After spiking, apply a top dressing. This improves the surface of the soil and results in denser grass. It improves the water-holding capacity of light soils, and will ensure better drainage of heavy, clayey soils by lightening and improving its texture with a higher ratio of sand.
You can easily mix your own top dressing at home. A good general- purpose mixture consists of the following: four parts fibrous sifted loam (or good topsoil), one part fine sphagnum moss peat and two parts coarse horticultural sand. These parts are by volume and you should mix them together as thoroughly as possible.
If you have a very light, sandy soil that is inclined to dry out quickly during dry weather, then increase the quantity of peat and reduce the sand, as for instance: four parts loam, two parts peat and one part sand.
Conversely, for a heavy clay soil, increase the amount of sand and reduce the loam: two parts loam, one part peat and four parts sand.
Apply the top dressing at the rate of lkg per sq m (2 lbs. per sq yd.). Spread it
evenly and brush it well in, using a stiff broom or besom. Work it into the holes produced by spiking. Any surplus should be removed - never leave it lying on the surface of the lawn.
Pests and diseases
Various pests and diseases can be troublesome in the autumn.
Earthworms While not themselves doing any damage to the grass, they make casts of fine, moist soil that are unsightly. If they are flattened by the mower they will cake hard and inhibit growth of grass. So brush off wormcasts before mowing.
Leatherjackets These grubs of crane flies (or daddy long legs) are active in autumn, eating the roots of grass and causing it to die out in patches. You can control them by using nematodes.
Fusarium patch Probably one of the most common lawn diseases, it starts off as brown patches, that gradually increase in size and merge together. They are covered in white fungal threads. This disease is worse in poorly aerated turf - so spiking will help to prevent it. To control fusarium patch, apply a trifloxystrobin-based fungicide according to the maker’s instructions.
Corticium disease (‘red thread’) Seen as pinkish patches on the lawn with red fungus growths on them.
Dollar spot A less common fungus disease. It appears as small circles, about 5cm (2 in) in diameter, which are brown at first and later take on a bleached appearance. As soon as the trouble is noticed, treat with a trifloxystrobin-based fungicide.
Toadstools These may appear on the lawn in autumn. If they are growing in a circle of dark green grass with a dead patch in the centre, then they are due to the fungus marasmius. The symptoms are popularly referred to as 'fairy rings’. This disease is difficult to control with chemicals, and the most effective treatment is to remove the turf and soil from the affected area and refill with fresh topsoil. Then re-turf or sow the area with grass seed.
Clearing the leaves
Finally, as it is autumn, the leaves will be falling from the trees. It is advisable to remove these regularly from the lawn by brushing, raking or using a lawn leaf- sweeper. If left too long a layer of leaves can cause the grass to turn yellow. They can also encourage worms.
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