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Down the THATCH

... and other tips to give lawns an overhaul after a summer of wear and tear

Martyn Cox

THERE’S nothing like an attractive lawn to set a garden off to perfection, but there’s no point pretending they’re low maintenance. As every owner of an emerald gem knows, they need plenty of attention to keep them perfect. Early autumn is the traditional time to give them a major service, carrying out repairs caused by summer wear and tear. Here’s my eight-step guide to keeping yours in great shape.

1 Get rid of thatch

If your lawn feels spongy underfoot, it’s likely that you have a problem with thatch. This thick layer of dead turf material builds up between the grass and the soil, preventing moisture, fertiliser, air and light reaching the grass roots. It is easy to remove from small lawns with a spring-tine rake, while a powered scarifier machine will make light work of larger areas. Raking also encourages the growth of grass plants.

2 Improve drainage

Heavy foot traffic on well-used parts of the lawn will lead to soil particles becoming compacted, reducing the amount of air and moisture the ground can hold. As a result, the growth of grass will become sluggish and drainage so poor that rain puddles will remain on the surface. Fix this by using a technique known as aerating. Plunge a garden fork into the ground as deep as you can and wiggle it about to form drainage channels. Repeat every 4in across affected areas and then spread ready-made top dressing (a mixture of loam and sand) over the surface. Drive it into the holes with a broom.

3 Repair damage

Bare patches are a common sight on lawns, whether caused by dog urine or scalping the surface with a mower. To repair, remove any dead grass, loosen soil with a fork and then rake level. Scatter grass seeds over the area, cover with a thin layer of sieved compost and sprinkle with water – protect the seeds from hungry birds by covering with horticultural fleece. It should take about ten days for the seeds to germinate but avoid walking on the patch for at least eight weeks.

4 Dealing with moss and weeds

Moss flourishes in poorly drained, damp, shaded and compacted lawns, forming a spongy layer above the soil that results in poor grass growth. Scarifying will help to reduce the problem but if it persists treat with a non-chemical moss remover, such as MO Bacter or Flower Power Moss Remover. Elsewhere, remove dandelions, daisies and other perennial weeds before they infest your lawn – shallow-rooted ones can be lifted with a hand fork, while those with long tap roots are best extracted with a weed-pulling tool.

5 Feed tired lawns

It’s not always necessary to feed lawns, but if yours is looking a little tired then give it a pick-me-up. Always use a fertiliser that’s formulated for using at this time of year, rather than one designed for spring or summer. Those suitable for autumn are high in phosphates and potash, which encourage strong roots, healthy leaves and toughens up grass prior to the arrival of colder weather. Granular products can be distributed by hand or wheeled spreader, while liquid feeds can be sprinkled from a watering can or sprayer.

6 Mowing tips

As temperatures cool, the growth of grass will slow down. Expect to roll the mower out of the shed every two to three weeks, although a weekly cut will be necessary during warm, damp spells. Reduce the stress on grass by raising the cut height, leaving lawns 2-2½in high. Never mow when the grass is wet and, later in the season, remove fallen leaves as they will block light and stifle growth.

7 Get rid of leatherjackets

Leatherjackets are the soild-welling larvae of the daddy longlegs, which nibble at the roots of grass in autumn. Above ground, dead patches will develop, while birds and other creatures will damage the surface as they dig them up to eat. The pests can be controlled with Nemasys Leatherjacket Killer (£16.99 from, a powder containing microscopic, predatory nematodes that can be added to a watering can and sprinkled over the lawn.

8 Turn on the colour with bulbs

Many varieties of daffodil, crocus and tulip, among others, are ideal for planting in lawns using a technique known as naturalising – simply grab a handful, drop from waist height and plant wherever they land. Repeat the process in several areas for a natural-looking display. Bear in mind that once the floral show is over, foliage needs to be left to die back before mowing can begin. Due to this, plant bulbs in a specific area, making it possible to trim a significant part of the lawn.





dmg media (UK)