This is one of the busiest and most important preparation times of the year; work done now will save you time later. Trim back the long growth of winter with your mower set to twice the height you would normally use you’ll avoid the yellowing caused by cutting long grass too short and too early. A rotary mower is better than a cylinder mower, because you’ll avoid damage to the cylinder blades from any objects in the long grass.
If your lawn is prone to moss, scarify it, as it will recover more quickly at this time of year; although this looks destructive, it has many benefits. Small areas of light moss can be removed with the spring tines of scarifiers, but lawns that have dense patches should be opened up with the steel blades of a ‘verticut’ machine. If you use it in four directions, it’ll help to control the moss and slow the growth of creeping weeds, too. This is also the best organic solution, as using chemicals can make the dying moss very unsightly. Grass needs fertilising on only the poorest of soils once the moss is removed, you can apply a dressing of bonemeal.
Grass edges are often lost behind lengthy grass and should be given their first cut with long-handled edging shears. Cut the edge grass only at the top, and remove all grass or weeds below with a sharp spade or cut them back with a half-moon edging iron. Petrol-powered lawn edgers with a small steel blade on the end that rotates at great speed are very efficient.
Mow now, with the blades lowered to just above the summer cut, and you’ll put less strain on both the mower and yourself. Choose the type of mower for the finish that you prefer and also for the size of your lawn. Large areas are easiest to cope with on a ride-on lawn tractor. To avoid grass collection, their mulching decks cut down on the time you spend mowing.
You’ll get the best finish with a cylinder mower, but it has the drawback of grass removal. Also, the blades are very unforgiving if you hit a stone, so regular maintenance has to be taken into account. The walk-behind push or self-powered rotary mower is a must for hard-to-reach areas. Hover mowers are most effective for slopes and banks.
Smaller, creeping weeds, such as selfheal or bird’s foot trefoil, shouldn’t cause a problem if you mow regularly, but broad-leaved weeds, such as plantains and ribwort, can look unsightly, so remove them while they’re still small and the growing grass will cover the gap. There are various gadgets for the individual removal of weeds, but a small trowel can be just as good. If you have no other wildflower area in the garden, a few weeds in the lawn will attract beneficial insects some people even like daisies in their lawns. Chemical control should be a last resort, as should the feeding of lawns, because the more you feed, the more often you’ll have to cut.
Lower the height of your cut to your usual summer measurement in all types of mowers, but raise it if the weather is dry. Mow regularly. Only spring-sown lawns or recently laid turf should be watered with sprinklers: established lawns are surprisingly resilient to dry conditions, and will soon recover once it rains.
Let the heavy dews of autumn dry off before you start mowing and remember to raise the height of your blades. As the growth of grass slows, any areas of compaction or those liable to get waterlogged can be gently lifted with a garden fork pushed in and under to a depth of about 4in. Scarify any remaining moss if the grass is still growing so that it can recover before the first frosts.
Remove fallen leaves from your lawn especially before mowing, unless you’re using a rotary mower with a collection system. It will be more difficult to clear soggy leaves that have been left on the grass for weeks. Leaf vacuums make light work of collecting them; leaf blowers are efficient, too, especially compared with a lawn rake.
The grass will have virtually stopped growing after any late autumn frosts, so now is the time to get your mowers serviced—they’re a massive investment and should be properly maintained. There is nothing more frustrating than a mower that won’t start or cut properly when you need it.