Life

The Casual Gardener: Do the graft now for a healthier lawn

To ensure you lawn flourishes over summer John Manley recommends some closed season TLC

A healthy lawn requires occasional maintenance

THE textbook will tell you that September is the best time to embark on autumn lawn care. Yet I imagine the information in most gardening manuals dates from the time before our weather got screwed up.

Whoever it was concluded that you should carry out lawn maintenance in what in the early 21st century is arguably the best month of the year weatherise is now most likely retired. It's even possible they're ‘pushing up daisies' – or more appropriately, pushing up lush green sward on a weed-free patch of perfect grass.

In my opinion September is too soon to be embarking on autumn lawn care as very often the grass is still in use, both for leisure purposes and aesthetically as a foil to still vibrant beds and borders. Wait until mid-October as I do and you can kill two birds with one stone while ensuring you're not making your grass look unsightly at a time when it should be shining.

Before I pass on this wisdom it's important to point out there's a small element of risk with this strategy, as colder, shorter, damper days means fewer opportunities arise to get the work done and you may ultimately be tempted to let the whole exercise slide until the spring.

This won't be fatal but experience has taught me that spring tends to be a much busier time than autumn so if a window of opportunity for lawn maintenance opens this month use it.

All lawns, from formal to hard wearing, need some occasional TLC. If at any stage over the past year you've found your grass wanting, whether it's bare patches or moss, then a timely intervention will help reduce the chances of these problems reoccurring next year. Few long-term solutions to lawn problems can be found in a bottle or box on the garden centre shelf though all products will promise you results but say nothing about the consequences.

It seems a successful, healthy lawn is ultimately down to hard graft, whether it's regular mowing or seasonal maintenance. My autumn lawn regime begins with a mow, which with the blade set high lifts and shreds the fallen leaves, as well as cutting the grass – that's the two birds-one stone bit, incidentally. As well as reducing the amount of derbris you'll need to pick during you maintenance session, this leaf/grass mix is much more amenable to composting.

Follow the mowing with scarifying, a process that involves short, sharp scrapes of the grass with a spring-tined rake. This energy-intensive exercise removes ‘thatch' – the mat of grass clippings and debris woven between the blades of grass. Allow thatch to build up and it will suffocate the soil beneath, preventing moisture and sunlight getting through and therefore inhibiting new growth.

The better you scarify the worse your grass will look in the short term. Next up is spiking, which is carried out with a fork with the aim of reducing compaction and aerating the soil beneath the lawn, giving the grass roots room to grow. Plunge the fork in to a depth of around six inches and wiggle it, then continue to do this at six inch-to-one foot intervals.

If you have serious compaction problems use a hollow tiner to remove plugs of earth. the numerous perforations created during spiking and hollow tining will also make it easier for the soil to absorb essential moisture.

Complete the process with a top dressing of sharp sand (up to 80 per cent) and soil, spreading it in evenly with a yard brush. This is also a good time to add some fresh seed to fill out those bare patches.

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