Summer can be tough on lawns, thanks to wear and tear from walking on it, playing games such as football and even having dogs digging holes in it. But, with more rain and less footfall, autumn is the ideal time to give your lawn some TLC.
Giving your lawn a bit of attention in autumn will get it back into good shape before winter sets in. This can include removing thatch, moss and weeds, aerating your lawn, fixing patches and even feeding it if it really needs some care.
Here, Monty Don explains how to care for your lawn in autumn, and what to do with worm casts that appear on the surface:
Follow our step-by-step guide to caring for your lawn in autumn, below.
You Will Need
- Lawn mower
- Spring-tined lawn rake
- Garden fork
- Lawn seed
- Hand fork
- Watering can
- Autumn lawn feed
In autumn, hours of daylight are reduced so the grass has less available time to photosynthesise the sun’s light and produce energy, which is then drawn down into the roots as sugars. But, if you raise the height of your mower blades you will ensure there is more grass to photosynthesise available sunlight, which means more sugars are stored in the roots for future growth. Raise the blades to around 4cm. Collect the clippings to prevent possible disease problems in damp weather, adding them to the compost heap so their nutrients can be returned to the garden in due course.
Mow less frequently in autumn as the lawn starts to grow less quickly. Never mow a wet or frosty lawn, as this can damage the grass.
Scarifying a lawn is the process of removing moss and thatch (the brown material found beneath the green grass blades) using a rake. A small amount of thatch is a good thing but in large quantities it can inhibit growth of new grass and encourage moss to form.
Scarifying once a year can dramatically improve the health and vigour of your lawn. Simply rake the lawn vigorously with a long-tined lawn rake to remove moss, creeping stems and trodden-in decaying material that has accumulated over the summer. The lawn will end up looking rather ravaged but not for long – the grass will recover quickly and will grow thicker and lusher as a result.
If you have a large lawn you might be better off using a scarifying machine, rather than a rake. Browse our list of the best scarifiers to buy.
Following heavy use over summer, lawns can become compacted, so spike the surface with a garden fork, about 8cm deep every 15cm. This boosts grass root growth and improves surface drainage, preventing waterlogging.
On a large lawn you may be better off using an aerator. Browse our list of the best aerators.
After suffering drought and lots of wear over the summer, lawns are often left with bald or thinning patches. To repair them, simply loosen the bare soil with a fork and scatter grass seed over the surface. Cover with compost then water in, and the bald patches will green up again before winter sets in. Read our step-by-step guide to repairing a bare patch in a lawn.
Best autumn lawn feeds to use
Most lawns don’t need feeding and will recover perfectly well on their own after summer. However, if you think your lawn needs a boost you can apply an autumn lawn feed. Autumn lawn feeds are rich in potassium and phosphates so encourage root growth and overall vigour rather than leafy growth. Putting on root growth means the grass will be able to absorb more nutrients and water come the following spring, which will result in more leafy growth when you need it.
Bear in mind that the production of synthetic fertilisers uses a lot of resources and energy and may harm the environment where they are manufactured. What’s more, studies have shown than synthetic fertilisers decrease the amount of microbes (fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms) in the soil, which reduces soil fertility over time. The best autumn lawn feeds are therefore organic feeds and mulches, which work in harmony with existing soil microbes and fauna and help to create a long lasting and sustainable healthy lawn.
Organic autumn lawn feeds include feed made using seaweed and other plant-based fertilisers, as well as home-made, sieved compost and leafmould, which you simply brush into the lawn so it’s applied evenly over the surface and doesn’t block light from the blades of grass. Animal-derived fertilisers are also considered organic, despite not necessarily having come from organic farms. These may contain fish, blood and bonemeal or hornmeal, and may also contain traces of synthetic hormones and antibiotics, depending on the conditions in which the animals were raised. Pelleted chicken manure is also considered organic and is high in potassium. However, the chickens may have been raised in factory farms and, again, may have been exposed to synthetic hormones and antibiotics.
When to use autumn lawn feed
Apply autumn lawn feeds just before rain is forecast, at the rate specified on the packet – usually about a handful per square metre. Scatter it as evenly as possible, or use a lawn-feed spreader with a trough, calibrated to the correct application rate. If it doesn’t rain within a day or so, water it in.