Put the goodness back into your grass with our gardening expert's guide lawn care

Raking leaves for your lawn care iStock

Raking out leaves promptly will make grass less prone to disease and lawn care simple (c)iStock

After a busy summer in the garden, lawns can be left worn out and exhausted – especially if the weather has taken its toll.

Where the soil is shallow, a shortage of rainfall and too much sun can leave ground parched and rock hard, and the lawn pale and straw-like.

Drying winds might leave exposed lawns struggling to cope with normal use, resulting in patches of dying or dead grass being overrun by tougher weeds. And an overabundance of summer rain can encourage well-fed lawns to produce soft, lush growth – as well as weeds – that can become damaged and vulnerable to wear and tear.

In worn, compacted areas waterlogging can be a problem – if roots are submerged, they are unable to ‘breathe’ and consequently drown.

Whatever shape your lawn is in, now’s the time to help it recover before the winter cold sets it.

Grass roots activism

Begin by assessing your grass. If lawn weeds prosper, you need to start by encouraging the
grass to grow well. Grass is always stronger and greener when fed and nourished – and it’s also able to withstand extreme weather conditions better than grass that is starving.

Nitrogen-rich fertilisers will encourage lush, green growth, which is perfect for refuelling grass during the mowing season. In autumn, however, this soft growth becomes vulnerable to frost, so it’s time to toughen it up with a one-off, balanced feed. Choose one with phosphates that promotes a vigorous root system and helps strengthen the grass, making it less susceptible to frost, pests and disease.

Specially formulated autumn feeds, which are low on nitrogen, can be applied any time from September through to mid-November. Some brands have added weed and moss killers, too; after two to three weeks weeds die and the offending moss goes black, ready for raking out.

Giving it a once-over

A lawn that is more moss than grass is a sign that something more serious is wrong. This could be anything from poor drainage, shade or starved grass to mowing it too close – so if you really want to eradicate moss from your lawn, then you have to find out what is causing it, rather than just treating it with chemicals. Moss can rarely compete with strong, healthy grass and will only take a hold when the grass growth is weak, so if you get it growing properly by routine feeding, raking and spiking, it’s likely your lawn won’t suffer from excessive moss.

Raking is an important autumn task. Use a metal spring-tine rake for the job, so you rake up leaves and debris at the same time as you scratch the surface of the soil to remove old grass clippings and dead moss that built up during the mowing season. If left, this ‘thatch’ would suffocate the growing tip, which is found at the base of a blade of grass, so by deep raking you will allow air to get to the grass roots, which will improve the grass’s ability to absorb water and nutrients.

While you might enjoy looking on to a daisy-studded sward in high summer, regular mowing will decapitate most of the flowers, leaving spreading patches of ground-hugging leaves. To avoid using chemicals, now’s a good time to dig them up along with dandelions and patches of annual meadow grass and top dress with fresh soil and re-seed.

Go over compacted areas of the lawn with a fork to allow for free drainage and air to reach the roots. Aim to penetrate the soil by at least 7cm. Level bumps and hollows by cutting and rolling back the turf, taking care to keep a good amount of soil with the roots to avoid damaging them. Then, either add or remove soil until the area is level and replace the turf and firm and water to aid establishment.

Just add flowers

Keep daisies in your lawn borders iStock

Keep daisies in your lawn borders if you mow regularly (c)iStock

If your goal is to take a more eco-friendly approach and encourage wildlife – but without allowing weeds to run wild – consider turning patches of the lawn into a flowery meadow. This attractive solution also saves time as it will only need cutting twice a year – in spring and autumn. Now’s the time to plant bulbs like anemones for spring interest and top up with summer-flowering wild flowers. For ultimate flower power, sow red field poppies, yellow corn marigold, white scentless
corn chamomile, plus purple corncockle, blue cornflower and white campion.

Tall, floppy border perennials such as catmint or nepeta have a tendency to lean over lawn edges and kill any grass growing beneath. To prevent this from happening, install a mowing strip such as a row of decorative paving or bricks around the lawn – and you need never trim the lawn edges ever again! Begin by repairing any worn edges by cutting out the damaged patch in a neat square with a half-moon edging iron and lift out with a spade. Lightly fork over the soil to loosen it, fit a new piece of turf, then set the pavers along the edge slightly below the level of the lawn so that the mower can glide over them and trim any straying shoots.

Beautiful borders often mean an abundance of autumn leaves to clear. Be vigilant and make the effort to rake them up before they build up and block out light, causing the lawn to become yellow and prone to disease.

When the going gets turf

A well cared for lawn has an enormous impact on the overall appearance of your garden, so if yours is proving to be more or less beyond repair, maybe it’s time to rip it up and start afresh.

Turf will give instant results – autumn and spring are the best times for laying it, provided the ground isn’t frosted or waterlogged. It needs to be put down as soon as possible after delivery on
to prepared soil that is weed-free and level. Do not walk on the turves while laying them – work from planks of wood and brush compost into the cracks to ensure they knit together well. Keep off the grass for the first couple of months and also during frosty weather, as frozen footprints will turn black.

For a cheaper option, choose grass seed. You can buy a shade-loving mix or ones that will give a luxury finish, or utility lawn to suit your site and the wear and tear it will receive.

Lazy lawn care

Lazy lawn care iStock

Artificial grass takes less time and effort when it comes to lawn care (c)iStock

If you’re finding the upkeep takes too much time and effort, then why not consider artificial grass?

Synthetic grass is easy to lay, hard-wearing and maintenance-free, making it a good choice
for family gardens, roof gardens, holiday homes and for older people who cannot physically mow their lawns.

However, it is comparatively expensive and not all materials used are skin-friendly – some have stiff, hard blades of ‘grass’ that might not suit the rough and tumble of younger children. Covering bare soil with a non-breathable blanket may also lead to flooding, as drainage water cannot easily escape.