Give lawns some TLC now to get your grass in shape for next year
The trouble with turf is that it never tops the list of gardening tasks. Sure, we manage a weekly cut, but the TLC lavished on our ornamental plants is rarely replicated on the lawn, which is why many are in slow decline with bare patches, weeds, yellowing blades and pests. But it is possible to revive a lacklustre lawn in time for next year. First you must eradicate the weeds competing with the grass for light, water and nutrients. Rosette-forming species, such as dandelions and plantains, can be removed with a garden knife, but those that are more enmeshed, such as buttercups and speedwell, call for chemical treatment. Selective herbicides can be applied that will solely target the broad-leaved weeds, leaving the grass untouched. Moss can also be tackled at this stage. Remove it with a spring-tined rake and compost it, or go for an outright kill with a ‘lawn sand’ or a moss eradication chemical. Several products, available at the garden centre, can deal with both weeds and moss and feed the lawn too. A scarifier is another option for removing moss. These machines can be hired for the day and have several benefits. Firstly, they drag moss and thatch (dead grass and debris) out of the lawn. Secondly, they cut into the grass rhizomes at soil level, causing them to tiller, which means they are triggered into producing further side shoots, thus thickening the sward. Insects can do a surprising amount of damage to turf. Chafer grubs and leatherjackets can infest a patch, gradually chomping through the grass roots. It’s often not clear that they’re present until dying patches appear, or carrion birds start pecking at the lawn. Pests can be addressed in summer and early autumn by watering in nematodes (microscopic parasites, available from nematodesdirect.co.uk), which will stop soil-borne grubs eating the roots. If you discover the problem later in the year, lay a black plastic sheet across the affected area overnight. Lift it in the morning and you’ll find the grubs have come to the surface and can be raked off. With the grubs removed, it’s time to address compaction, yellow grass and bare patches. Compaction often shows up as a poorly growing, yellowing sward, but this can be remedied by spiking the turf to allow oxygen, water and nutrients into the root zone. Use a garden fork, inserted 10-15cm into the soil in rows across the lawn at 20cm intervals. To speed up the process, it is possible to hire a mechanical spiker. Give the lawn a good feed By following all these treatments your lawn will be on course for revival. Rake over any bare patches to open the soil ready for seeding. Sow the patches, ensuring some seed spills out onto the surrounding turf, rake in and water. Wider areas of thinning turf can be ‘oversown’ by scattering seed into the existing sward. Keep well watered and it will germinate in 2-3 weeks, thickening up to be winter-ready by November. The final process to prepare the lawn for autumn and winter is feeding. This is usually applied as a granule and best done by walking behind a hopper to avoid over/ under dosing. Use a low-nitrogen, autumn-specific fertiliser to encourage rooting and sward toughening, and next spring your lawn will look as loved as the rest of the plot.