Fun Fall Container Gardening
In this article I share the basic techniques that will help you give your lawn (and your soil) a well-deserved seasonal tonic:
Here in the UK we may have been saved some of the tragically severe weather events that seem to be plaguing the world right now, but we’ve had the usual summer of contrasts, sometimes alternating daily between cool rain and scorching sun. Wherever you are, and whenever your summer finally begins to yield to autumn, there’s something we all need to do – and that’s get back on task with the lawn care.
You see for many of us summer is when we do the least to our lawns – some regular mowing and often that’s about it (although for the keen lawn-lovers there is always summer feeds, spot-weeding and edging to keep on top of). But when summer finally gives way to cooler and wetter autumn, all lawns will benefit from some special care. And that’s because your grass will begin to grow more vigorously once more, and both it and the soil it relies on will be tired after the summer months. So, a little extra care for grass and soil will soon get you lawn back into top condition.
1. AERATION is the primary method for maintaining good lawn soil beneath your lawn. It penetrates compacted or dried-out soil to open up tiny channels that allow oxygen (and rain water) back into the soil, support healthy root systems and good bacteria in the soil. Aeration is also hugely beneficial in utilizing nutrients, either those that you have added or even by unlocking those already in the soil.
In fact, aeration is just about the best thing you can do to look after the soil – and good soil makes for good grass!
If you’ve used your lawn through the summer – even just as a pleasant place to stroll – the soil beneath will have become compacted. Weather adds to the problem too – warm weather dries the soils which squashes out air space, and the wet spells we’ve all seen this year won’t have helped. This compaction needs loosening up to let air and rainwater nurture good root growth. But please – PLEASE – do it the right way!
My mantra is this: never use a garden fork except in extremis and only in the smallest of spaces. The curved solid prongs do not help, merely squashing the soil sideways and downwards. By contrast a proper hollow-tine aeration fork or machine has cylindrical prongs that actually remove tiny tubes of soil without disturbing the surrounding earth. And you can even recycle that wonderful soil in seed-beds or for repairing dips and damaged spots – a win-win.
2. SCARIFICATION is triple-win technique: 1) it’s a way of pruning your grass to encourage thicker sward; 2) it’s the method for thinning out the thatch layer to allow water to percolate through to the soil below; and 3) it’s also the ideal preparation before using moss killer.
Notice how I put the moss benefit last? Many people only scarify to remove moss but really the pruning and thatch reduction are the main benefits. Also, if you are tackling moss, you should scarify before, not after, treatment as this allows the moss killer to penetrate lower down.
After the summer a good prune helps your grass to fill out better, just like pruning a shrub or a tree (and this is why scarification can be done regularly to thicken the sward). And after all that summer mowing, your lawn will be hiding a thick layer of de-composing thatch left behind by the mower.
So, using the right tool – a manual or powered scarifier – you will slice the stolons to encourage good re-growth, and you can then rake off the loose thatch from the lawn’s surface. As a result, more air can reach your newly aerated soil, as well as all that lovely rain water that autumn brings.
3. AUTUMN FEEDING is important for putting back some of the nutrients required as the grass continues to photosynthesize. A fertilizer mix with low nitrogen inputs but plenty of potassium will aid post-summer recovery and give the grass hardiness.
People are sometimes confused about when to feed their lawn. Elsewhere in the garden everything seems to be slowing down a busy summer of flowering and fruiting. But not your lawn! It is still growing, and will grow more vigorously as the hot weather cools down.
It makes sense therefore that if the grass is growing, it needs feeding. Your lawn will really welcome a good autumnal feed that will build up its strength ahead of the harsher winter conditions.
4. INTELLIGENT MOWING is the process of keeping the grass at a usable length but without removing too much of the food that is stored in the leaves. So, even if you don’t want tennis court stripes, you still need to mow the correct way or you may cause more damage than good.
Love it or loathe it, mowing is the one thing we all have to do to keep a lawn at a manageable height. However, for a happy and healthy lawn we need to mow in the right way, the intelligent way that reflects what your grass really needs.
Ripping or tearing the grass is bad – and is exactly what you do when you mow with a blunt blade. So the first thing to do is get that blade sharpened! But the other key to intelligent mowing is never to cut off too much grass in one go. If you have long grass and want to reduce the length a lot, start high and gradually lower the setting successive routine cuts. However, leading into autumn is when you need to raise, not lower, the height to allow the grass to strengthen up. Together these techniques will ensure that your mowing is more like a gentle pruning than an aggressive crew-cut.
5. LAWN REPAIRS are often overlooked but essential if you want to maintain a lawn that looks really good. Dips and bumps develop over time and need levelling, and removing even a single weed like a dandelion can leave a bare patch. Lawn repairs put all of these right to preserve that uninterrupted living green carpet.
Autumn is a good time for repairs for two reasons: 1) the summer, with BBQs, football, etc, will have taken a heavy toll, and 2) autumnal weather can provide ideal germination conditions for reseeding small areas.
However, for very small bald or thin patches, you don’t even need to reseed. Instead you can use the soil cores you create when aerating to fill in these patches, and the surrounding grass will soon spread and fill back in. This means you maintain the same grass species and also an identical soil mix. You can do the same to repair lawn edges where plants have overhung, or for a quicker result you can returf.
David Hedges-Gower is the UK’s leading lawn expert and has more than 36 years of lawn and turf experience. Professional grounds people, landscape specialists, commercial property developers and leisure gardeners – have benefited from David’s enthusiasm and knowledge. David is a National Trust advisor and was formerly advisor to Homebase, he is a regular on BBC Radio and a favourite on the national horticultural lecture circuit.
David’s fantastic new book on Modern Lawn Care extends his love for and knowledge of the topic. This is the first comprehensive and authoritative guide to lawn care for over 40 years!
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