The combined heat and drought will have shrunk the soil – guaranteed. And grass hates dried and compacted soil. It needs air and water to thrive and maintain strong root systems. So once the heat passes and the soil stops baking, we need to start our autumn renovation below ground with some aeration, because the key to any plant health is good working soil.
But PLEASE don’t follow the advice to go around digging into the lawn with a garden fork! Your mission is to decompact the soil, not just add some holes and using a solid tined garden fork will NOT achieve this. I cannot understand why we are still encouraged to use this crazy technique. It is back-breaking and delivers almost nil benefit.
Instead, use the tools designed for the job. Hollow-tine aerating forks and machines do exactly what your lawn needs; they remove cores of soil without further compressing what’s left, and this creates those essential small channels for improved root development, water percolation and nutrition longevity.
A machine can aerate a small-medium (250m2) lawn in just 20 minutes. A hollow tine fork takes longer but is still fine for a small area.
IS THE GRASS DEAD?
What’s the point sorting out the soil if the grass itself has died? Well, believe me that any healthy grass will not have died below ground. The dead brown leaves are simply what happens when it shuts down as the mercury rises and the plants’ own reserves are exhausted. So, having decompacted your soil, the autumn rains will soon see green growth reappear.
But those dead leaves will have created some excess thatch that we now need to sort out. So we need to scarify – think of it as an autumnal pruning.
Again, the right tool gives the best results. For small areas you can get by with a wire rake, but it will never prune as well as a powered ‘bladed’ machine. A purpose-designed scarifying machine will slice through the shoots, leaves and stolons, maximising the grass’s ability to regenerate from the re-emerging plants. So hiring – or even buying – one is a very sound investment!
Of course, some patches of lawn here and there may need the addition of new grass, and as you are improving conditions in the soil and on the surface you can also do some overseeding too. Choose between a blend of natural species (bents and fescues, or what is often referred to as a ‘luxury lawn mix’) or a dwarf ryegrass mixture for increased wear and tear.
It’s possible that your lawn actually stopped growing before the long dry spell. And since then it will have been living off its own food reserves, and will now be very hungry indeed. But what do you feed it? And how much?
Over-feeding should not be too much of an issue this Autumn, but in these conditions you should avoid a high nitrogen quick release fertiliser. Instead use a feed that has a small amount of phosphate and potassium, as well as nitrogen. A well balanced feed for these conditions would be something like a 15-5-12 fertiliser applied at 25gms2. This will give you just enough nitrogen to last for ten weeks or so.
So, these three things – soil work, pruning and feeding – are paramount if you want to see your beautiful lawn emerge once more this autumn, especially so this year. Of course there is more you can do if you are pursuing finer results, but whatever your goals, use the principles of Modern Lawn Care – working with not against nature – and you will achieve the lawn that is perfect for you.