Autumn lawn care

Andy McIndoe offers some autumn lawn care advice, including mowing, scarifying, collecting leaves and some top tips for keeping lawns looking good.

raking leaves
Rake up leaves periodically during autumn. Image: Andy McIndoe
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mowing lawn
Mowing is an important part of autumn lawn care. Image: Andy McIndoe

Have you noticed how much better the lawn looks in autumn? Even if the summer has been fairly cold and damp, grass seems to be at its best as the days shorten and nights grow cooler.  If I was writing this 50 years ago I would be telling you to prepare the lawn for its last cut; clean and grease your mower and put it away for winter. Those days are gone and most of us will still be cutting our grass every week or couple of weeks into winter.

Collect those fallen leaves

My mower works overtime at this time of the year. As the leaves fall I mow them up with the ride-on or rotary mover. I set the mower higher than usual and the leaves are efficiently gathered, chopped up a little and mixed with fresh green grass cuttings: perfect for composting. If you’ve only got a small garden with no space for a compost heap, empty the chopped leaves and grass into a thick refuse sack or a compost bag tuned inside out. Make sure the contents are moist, tie the bag at the neck and stack bags in a shady place behind the shed or in a quiet corner. In a year’s time you will have a lovely bag of mulch to spread over beds and borders.

Scarify your lawn

removing moss from lawn
Remove moss from lawns with a spring-tine rake. Image: Andy McIndoe

Now is the best time to scarify the lawn. Scarifying rakes out any dead material, known as thatch which accumulates close to the soil surface. It also breaks through the creeping stems of the coarser grass plants encouraging them to produce side shoots and more upright leaves; these are the ones that give the lawn a bright green appearance.

Scarifying involves raking it vigorously with a spring-tine lawn rake or lawn scarifier. You can also use a mechanised one which makes like easier on larger areas. Hire one if you don’t want to buy.

 Apply an autumn lawn fertiliser

After scarifying it is time to apply an autumn lawn fertiliser. This won’t make the grass grow vigorously, so don’t worry. What it will do is to feed the roots and strengthen the grass with potash. This increases its cold resistance. It will supply a certain amount of slow release nitrogen which keeps the grass fed and healthy. Vigorous, strong-growing grass means less moss and weeds. Most autumn lawn fertilisers contain a moss killer which will control those traces of moss left after scarifying the lawn.

toadstools in lawn
Toadstools in the lawn in autumn are perfectly natural. Image: Andy McIndoe

Now a few do’s and don’ts

  1. Do keep cutting the grass periodically through winter when it needs it. Leaving it to grow long and then chopping it down in spring will not do it any favours.
  2. Don’t walk on the grass, or attempt to work on it in frosty weather. Walking on frozen grass leaves results in black footprints.
  3. Don’t worry about a few toadstools appearing, unless they are arranged in a ring (a fairy ring). Toadstools in the lawn in autumn are perfectly natural and usually harmless. Don’t eat them!
  4. Do keep raking or mowing up leaves as they fall. Leave them lying on the surface of the grass and they trap moisture and block light; this can cause damage and encourage disease.
  5. Don’t scalp your lawn at this time of year; leave it a little longer than you would normally. Mow it too short and you are more likely to weaken the grass and encourage moss to spread.
  6. If you are going to plant flower bulbs in grass, only do it where you won’t need to cut the grass before midsummer. Daffodil leaves take ages to die down. Group them under trees or close to a hedge where they won’t spoil the lawn.

To learn more about lawn care in autumn and throughout the year why not join me on my four week online Lawn Expert course at MyGardenSchool? Starts on the first Wednesday of every month – see you in class.

Andy McIndoe

About Andy McIndoe

Andy has over 35 years experience in retail and production horticulture. A regular contributor to a number of magazines, newspapers and BBC Radio he lectures to gardening groups and societies at home and abroad and leads numerous gardening tours. As Managing Director of Hillier Nurseries he was responsible for the Company’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 25 years, maintaining an unbroken record of Gold Medals. Andy’s special interests include hardy shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, flower bulbs and garden design and he has authored books on all of these subjects. His latest book, The Creative Shrub Garden is published by Timber Press in the UK and US. Andy blogs three times a week and is a tutor of several courses at the online MyGardenSchool.
@AndyMcIndoe
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