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Gardening - work now to ensure a rich and healthy lawn by next spring

PUBLISHED: 22:20 23 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013

A well cared-for lawn sets off the garden

A well cared-for lawn sets off the garden

Put in some work now to ensure a rich and healthy lawn by next spring, says our gardening expert Martin Fish

A lawn in good condition is definitely an asset to any garden but keeping it looking good requires some work at certain times of the year and autumn is traditionally one of those times.

This summer lawns have remained green and growing as a result of the record amount of rain fall. But the wet conditions have not meant good news for all lawns. Fungal diseases have appeared and poor drainage has caused some root problems which need to be tackled before winter arrives.

The first thing to do is remove the thatch. This is a layer of dead grass and debris which gives the lawn a spongy feel when you walk on it. Removing thatch allows more air to the base of the grass, which can help prevent fungal attack and it also stimulates new grass growth.

Small lawns can be raked with a wire rake or electric lawn rake, but for larger lawns it is worth hiring a petrol machine for a weekend.

The next stage is to aerate the soil. This can be done with a garden fork pushed into the ground about every 10cm. This gets air down to the roots, relieves soil compaction and helps with surface drainage over the winter months. Spiking your lawn will really help root growth. For large lawns its worth hiring a petrol lawn spiker or use a garden fork and concentrate on small areas where the soil is compacted.

Feeding is very important and will strengthen the grass before winter arrives. Only use an autumn lawn fertiliser which is high in potash and phosphorus, but low in nitrogen. Fertilisers that are high in nitrogen will encourage lush, soft growth which is more susceptible to disease and frost damage. Fertiliser should be applied evenly across the lawn following the instructions on the box. Lawns treated with an autumn feed are more disease resistant and grow better next spring.

Over-seeding is well worth carrying out at this time of the year while the ground is moist and the soil still warm. This is a technique used by professional green keepers for many years to improve grass coverage.

The idea is to lightly sow grass seed over the whole of the lawn replacing grass which has naturally died out and to thicken the lawn making it more difficult for weeds to grow.

The grass seed is simply broadcast across the lawn at a rate of about 25g per sq metre. The seed will germinate during autumn and by next spring the lawn will look much more luxurious.

The most common disease at this time of the year is Fusarium and in minor attacks the lawn recovers but where damage is more extensive, treat the grass with a lawn fungicide to halt the disease.

And finally, while the grass is still growing it will need cutting on a regular basis, although at this time of the year you can raise the height of cut slightly.

A little effort now really will pay dividends next year and even if you are not able to scarify or aerate feeding and over-seeding alone will still greatly improve the quality of a lawn.

Martin Fish is show director at the North of England Horticultural Society, organisers of the Harrogate Flower Shows. He is a qualified horticulturalist and writes for several gardening publications and broadcasts for the BBC.

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