Grass takes a real battering over summer, and if you have children or pets it will be even more downtrodden. Some serious maintenance is called for in autumn.
The aim is to provide the best conditions possible – balanced fertile soil with plenty of soil life – so that less time needs to be spent on problem control.
After our long, hot summer wait until there’s been enough rain to soak the ground and the grass is growing again before embarking on our six-step fitness plan (better to wait until October if it’s still dry).
Mow as usual.
Scarify – rake out moss, weeds and thatch with a lawn scarifier. If you didn’t do this in spring you may rake out large quantities of rubbish and the lawn will look patchy, but it will soon recover.
Mow again, at right angles to the first mowing. This chops off the weeds raised by raking.
Aerate the lawnby spiking to let in air, this improves drainage and alleviates compaction.
Add a special low-nitrogen autumn formula to toughen the grass up ready for winter.
Top dress. Not essential if you have good soil, but well worth doing if you garden on clay, chalk or sandy soils. Sprinkle the grass with a thin (5mm) layer of turf dressing or your own compost, topsoil and sand mixture, then work it in with a stiff garden broom so that most of it disappears.
If you have broken lawn edges, bald patches or bumps and hollows, September is a good time to deal with them. New lawns from seed can be sown from around the middle of the month, but delay laying turf until October or November (see article March 2018).
Spring is feeding time and it’s worth going around the borders with a bucket of fertiliser now, so plants start the season topped up with the nutrients they need.
In most cases there’s no need to buy separate fertilisers for different plants – an economy-sized bag of general purpose fertiliser will do. Sprinkle a light dressing on soil around your shrubs, evergreens, roses, climbers and perennials and lightly fork it in (preferably before you mulch). Treat areas where you plan to grow bedding plants in the same way.
The multitude of fertilisers available can be confusing, but are basically split into two types – inorganic and organic. Inorganic fertilisers are synthetic, and are usually more concentrated and faster acting. Organic fertilisers are derived from plant or animal sources and are usually slower acting. Fish Blood & Bone, Bone meal, Seaweed, Hoof & Horn, Poultry Manure Pellets and Liquid Comfrey or Nettle feeds are all examples of organic fertilisers.
Lawns need a good feed to set them up for the summer as a healthy lawn helps to fight off weeds and moss. Wait until early May if you live in a cold area or it’s a late spring with bad weather (you don’t want all that lush new growth clobbered by freezing weather). Products that combine a fertiliser with a weed or moss treatment are time-saving, and choose one with slow-release nutrients for long lasting effect. Lawn products can be applied by hand or with a spreader.
Plants that do need a specialist feed are acid-lovers such as rhododendrons, camellias, pieris and azaleas, unless they’re being grown in acid soil. In the fruit garden, blueberries also fall into this category. Signs of nutrient deficiency are leaf-yellowing and discolouration.
As a general rule, the faster growing the plant the more they will benefit from fertilisers, so it’s important to feed your fruit and vegetables regularly. Plants in containers also need regular feeding as they rely solely on what you give them.