How to . . . look after your lawn in autumn
by Rhiannon James
Lawns have a hard time of it over the summer and so they really need a bit of pampering at this time of year to keep them looking at their best.
There are three stages to autumn maintenance – scarifying, spiking and top-dressing, and together, they help to create thick and healthy grass.
Each stage is quite straightforward and only requires a few simple garden tools, but it takes a bit of hard work to get them all done, so rope in a friend to help, or pick an afternoon when you really feel like some exercise and a blast of fresh air.
Things you’ll need
1. A spring-tined rake
2. A garden fork
3. A spade
4. Horticultural sand, loamy soil and garden compost or leaf mould. Alternatively, you can buy a bag of pre-mixed top dressing for lawns.
5. A besom broom
Step 1 – Scarifying
1. Scarifying just means vigorously (but carefully) raking the lawn with a spring-tined rake. This will reduce the amount of old grass stems and other debris (collectively known as thatch) lurking in the lawn, which can prevent water and food from reaching the grass roots and encourage weeds, pests and diseases. Scarifying will also encourage the grass to put out lots of side shoots which will help to make it thicker.
2. As you rake, quite a bit of debris will pile up and the lawn will start to look a bit of a mess but don’t panic, the grass will soon recover and will be all the better for the treatment.
3. Keep going until you’ve raked the whole lawn. This is the most strenuous part of the job so if you’ve got a very large lawn, it might make sense to hire a mechanised scarifier.
4. Finish by collecting up all the debris, which can be composted or disposed of as green waste.
Step 2 – Spiking / Aerating
1. The second stage is to make regular holes in the lawn to help counteract the effects of constant use, and to improve drainage and movement of air in the soil.
2. Push your garden fork into the lawn to a depth of about 10cm, waggle it forwards and backwards a few times to open up the holes and then pull it out again. Repeat this every 15cm. You can work across the whole lawn in this way but if you’re short on time, just concentrate on the areas that get the most wear and tear. Mechanised aerators are available to hire if you have a large lawn to deal with.
Step 3 – Top-dressing
1. Applying a mixture of sand, loamy soil and organic matter to the lawn will improve the soil and encourage the grass to get thicker.
2. To make the top dressing, you can either combine three parts loamy soil with seven parts horticultural sand and one part compost or leaf mould or buy a ready-made mixture from a garden centre. Use about 2kg to 4kg for every square metre of lawn (you can measure out a square with garden canes to use as a guide if you want to be accurate).
3. To scatter the top dressing evenly across each stretch of grass, hold your spade (loaded up with the mixture) roughly horizontal and turn your shoulders whilst holding your arms in the same position. The top dressing should come off the spade in a graceful arc and land in an even layer over the grass.
4. Then, use a besom broom to work the top dressing into the lawn – try to make sure you fill in all the aeration holes you’ve made. Try not to walk over the areas you’ve already worked on.
5. If your lawn has thin or bare patches, you can add grass seed to these areas as well.