Autumn Lawn Care: How to Renovate Your Lawn and Prepare it For the Stresses of Winter

autumn lawn care

Autumn is the busiest time in the lawn calendar so, in this article, I’m going to show you my autumn lawn care program.

If you kept on top of your spring lawn care and your summer tasks went well, then autumn should just be about preparing your lawn for the stresses of winter.

However, if you neglected your lawn over the spring and summer, or for the past several years, then autumn is the perfect time to put that right.

This article is going to cover 9 steps to autumn lawn care. They are;

  1. Cut the grass quite short
  2. Apply a weed killer to kill any weeds
  3. Kill and remove any moss
  4. Scarify to remove excess lawn thatch
  5. Aerate with a hollow-tine aerator to relieve soil compaction and improve drainage
  6. Apply a top dressing to add nutrients back into the soil and create a more level surface
  7. Spread grass seed
  8. Apply an autumn lawn feed to aid grass seed germination and growth
  9. Water your lawn

This is the full autumn lawn care job list. Depending on what jobs you tackled in the spring, you might not need to do all of them

For example, if you scarified in the spring there’s no need to do it again. In which case skip step 4.

Also, if you have kept on top of your lawn all year and you’re happy with the way it looks, you might choose not to top dress your lawn. In which case, skip step 6 and save yourself the time and money.

And if the weather is on your side you shouldn’t need to water your lawn, the rain will sort all that out for you. In which case, skip step 9.

On the other side of the coin, if you’re doing a full lawn renovation, you’ll need to complete every step to get the best results.

So have a good look at your lawn and figure out what jobs you need to tackle.

 

When Should I Start Autumn Lawn Care or a Lawn Renovation Project?


It’s important you understand right from the beginning…

…Some of the treatments you’ll hit your lawn with as part of your autumn lawn care routing or during a lawn renovation project will be invasive. They will often leave your lawn looking a real mess.

You might even think you’ve completely ruined your lawn.

That said, they’re necessary.

Ever heard the term, ‘Things will get worse before they get better’?

Well, in the case of a full autumn lawn renovation, the same applies here.

No matter how bad your lawn looks right now, it’ll soon look a whole lot worse, but that’s OK because when it recovers, it’ll look spectacular.

The key word in that last sentence was ‘recover’.

You need the lawn to recover from these invasive treatments as quickly as possible. That’s why we choose autumn to do the jobs you’ll see in this article.

Autumn provides plenty of rain, sunlight and warmth, all the ingredients needed for grass to grow quickly.

The soil is still warm from the summers sun and there are typically a lot fewer weed seeds floating in the air so there’s less chance of them falling into and germinating in your lawn.

That said, if your lawn is in bad shape and you don’t want to wait until the Autumn, do it as part of your lawn care regimen in the spring. Just make sure you watch out for and manually remove any weeds that might pop up.

 

Your Autumn Lawn Care and Renovation Toolkit


Before you embark on your lawn renovation project you’re going to need the right tools. Below is a list of everything you need, in the order that you’ll need them.

Like I said at the beginning, if you’re fully renovating your lawn you’ll need all these tools. If you’re simply preparing your lawn for winter, figure out which jobs need doing and make sure you have the tools for those jobs.

Lawnmower

lawnmowerThe single most important tool for any lawn owner.

Cutting the grass fairly short right at the start will make doing the rest of your jobs that much easier.

If you own a rotary mower with a grass collection box, you can also use it to hoover up debris later on.

Selective Weedkiller

weed killer for lawnsIf your lawn is full of weeds you’ll want to kill them.

The key, however, is to kill the weeds without killing the grass. In order to do this, you’ll need what’s called a concentrated ‘selective’ weed killer.

Concentrated weed killers are designed to be diluted in water and applied to the whole lawn via watering can or knapsack sprayer.

Read: What the Best Weed Killer For Lawns? How to Kill the Weeds But Without Killing the Grass

Moss Killer

moss killerIf your lawn has been neglected it’s very likely to have moss residing in it.

In many cases, there will be more moss than grass. You need to kill it to stop it spreading further.

Dead moss is also easier to remove than live moss.

Read: What’s The Best Lawn Moss Killer? My 3 Top Picks

Watering Can or Knapsack Sprayer

knapsack sprayerIn order to apply your weed and moss killer, you’ll need either a watering can or knapsack sprayer.

I much prefer to use a knapsack sprayer as they enable you to cover your lawn much more accurately than a watering can. You’ll also usea lot less water.

That said, use what you have.

Scarifier / Lawn Rake

scarifierA huge part of autumn lawn care and lawn renovation is removing moss and other dead organic material that resides in your lawn.

If your lawn has been neglected for some time, there will be an enormous amount.

The only way to extract and remove it is with a lawn rake and a scarifier.

You can hire them from your local hire shop but they’re usually industrial machines and it’s often cheaper to buy one for home use.

You can buy hand scarifiers as well as electric and petrol versions.

If you have a very small lawn and you’re up for some hard graft, a springbok rake and hand scarifier is the cheapest option. But be aware, you’ll get blistered hands and you’ll ache for a few days after!

Opting for an electric or petrol scarifier will save you from the physical work and blisters.

Electric scarifiers are perfect for use on smaller lawns up 100m², after that, they start to become hampered by their power cords.

If you have large lawns, consider a petrol scarifier.

Many powered scarifiers come with two cassettes; one for raking the moss off the surface and another for scarifying thatch from the root zone of the grass. My advice would be to invest in one of these as they enable you to do the job more thoroughly.

Read: How to Choose the Best Scarifier For You and Your Lawn

Springbok or Plastic Garden Rake

springbok rakeYou’ll be shocked at just how much dead matter raking and scarifying will extract from your lawn.

The best way to collect it all up is with a springbok or plastic garden rake.

Again, if you’re a sucker for punishment, you can use a springbok rake to do the hard work of tearing the moss off the surface.

Lawn Aerator

hollow tine aeratorAnother fundamental part of lawn renovation is aeration.

In particular, hollow-tine aeration.

This involves removing cores of turf to relieve soil compaction. This allows nutrients, air and water to penetrate the soil more easily which, in turn, stimulates grass growth.

You can buy manual hollow-tine aerators for not a lot of money, although the work is hard.

You can also buy ones that can be towed on the back of a ride on lawn mower or you can hire a machine from your local hire shop.

Top Dressing Topsoil

top dressing soilA neglected lawn typically lacks nutrients in the soil that comes from rich, organic matter so, it’s important to add them back into the soil.

The best way to do this is to spread good quality top-dressing topsoil over your lawn.

This not only helps to stimulate new grass growth, but it also helps to level out your lawn. You can buy top dressing topsoil by the bag (typically 25kg) or in bulk hoppers.

Landscapers Rake

landscapers rakeIn order to work the nutrient-rich top dressing into your lawn, you’ll need a landscaping rake.

The wider the rake the better because it’ll help to create a flatter, more even lawn surface.

Grass Seed

rolawn medallionBy the time you have raked and scarified your lawn, you’ll need to replace the grass that has been removed.

If you’re renovating a neglected lawn there might not have much grass left so, you’ll need to replace it.

Choosing the best type of grass seed for your lawn requires some consideration.

Don’t just go to B&Q and buy the first bag of seed you see on the shelf.

In order for your lawn to look as good as you want it to, you’ll need to choose a grass seed that’s well suited to the environment in which your lawn sits, as well as how you plan to use it.

Read: What Type of Grass Seed Should I Use in My Garden?

Grass Seed and Fertiliser Spreader

seed fertiliser spreaderIf you have a small lawn it’s entirely possible to spread grass seed and fertiliser fairly evenly by hand.

That said, it’s more accurate to do it with a spreader. And if you’re renovating a large lawn, a spreader is a must.

You can buy little, hand-held spreaders for small lawns or bigger, wheeled versions for larger areas.

Pre-Seeding Fertiliser

lawn establishment fertiliserWhen you have overseeded your lawn you’ll need to add a fertiliser.

This will give the new grass seed all the chemical nutrients it needs to germinate and grow as quickly as possible.

Without it, growth will be slow and you’ll run the risk of weeds and/or moss growing back where you want the grass to grow.

If you’re simply preparing your lawn for winter, use an autumn/winter lawn feed. If you’re fully renovating your lawn, a pre-seeding fertiliser will be a better choice.

Read: Which are the Best Lawn Feeds? My Top Recommendations

Hose and Sprinkler

garden sprinklerOnce you have prepared your lawn you’ll need to keep it watered.

There should be plenty of rain in Autumn but if it’s dry you’ll need to water your lawn yourself.

Make sure your hose is long enough to from your outside tap to your lawn and choose a sprinkler that has a finer spray setting. This will wet your lawn without causing the soil and seed to wash away.

 

Autumn Lawn Care and Renovation in 9 Simple Steps


With your tools in hand it’s time to make a start.

Again, here are the steps;

  1. Cut the grass quite short
  2. Apply a weed killer to kill any weeds
  3. Kill and remove any moss
  4. Scarify to remove excess lawn thatch
  5. Aerate with a hollow-tine aerator to relieve soil compaction and improve drainage
  6. Apply a top dressing to add nutrients back into the soil and create a more level surface
  7. Spread grass seed
  8. Apply an autumn lawn feed to aid grass seed germination and growth
  9. Water your lawn

It’s important to not be in too much of a rush. You should be able to to get most of the work (steps 4 to 8) done in a couple days. However, steps 1 to 3 will need some patience.

Now let’s look at each step in more detail.

Step 1: Cut the Grass Quite Short

mow the lawn in the autumn The first step in this whole process is to cut the grass.

You’ll need to cut it quite short. Doing this will mean you can get to the weeds and moss more easily. It’ll make raking a scarifying easier too. So cut it down to around an inch long. If the grass is quite long now, cut it down gradually over the course of a few days.

If you just hack it all away in oce chop you’ll stress the grass and it won’t be able to recover as quickly. So be gentle and lower the mowing height by a setting each time you cut it.

Then, wait for 3 days until the grass starts to grow again.

Step 2: Apply a Weed Killer to Kill any Weeds

The next step is to kill any weeds.

Most weed killers recommend no mowing for 3 days before and after application, hence why you should wait. Use a ‘selective’ weedkiller as these are made especially for lawns.

They are designed to kill the weeds like Dandelion and Cats Ear, Daisy, Plantain Weeds, Mouse Ear, White Clover, Black Medic and Lesser Trefoil without killing the grass.

The best one, in my opinion, is Scotts Weedol Weedkiller Concentrate. Measure your lawn and dilute the concentrate in water as per the instructions on the box.

Apply it with either a watering can or knapsack sprayer when the weather is dry so the rain doesn’t come and wash it off.

Then, wait for a week.

Step 3: Kill and Remove Any Moss

apply a moss killer in autumn After a week, the weeds should have started to wilt and look poorly. Now is a good time to apply your moss killer.

Depending on the type of moss killer you use (Iron Sulphate, for example), you may need to apply it in cool, damp conditions as the moisture will help it penetrate the moss. Either wait until it has rained or wet the lawn with a hose and sprinkler before applying your moss killer.

Like the weedkiller, dilute it as per the manufacturers’ instructions and apply it via a watering can or knapsack sprayer. Then wait for 7-10 days and you’ll see the moss start to blacken as it dies.

After around 10 days the moss should be dead and your lawn will look very black in areas.

Now it’s time to rake that moss out of your lawn.

This should be done on a dry day as it will make the job much easier. You can either do it with a springbok rake (but be prepared for some incredibly hard work and blistered hands), or you can use an electric or petrol powered lawn rake.

Either way, give your lawn at least two passes; Go the length of your lawn on the first pass; How to Scarify a Lawn And then 45 degrees to that on your second pass; scarifying a lawn After this, you should have removed most of the moss.

If there is still lots of moss present, give your lawn another pass. This time across the width and then 45 degrees to that if needed.

Be sure to rake up and collect the moss after each pass. For more detailed information about killing, removing and preventing moss from growing back, read my ultimate guide to lawn moss removal.

Step 4: Scarify to Remove Excess Lawn Thatch

autumn is the best time for lawn scarification With the moss gone you can now concentrate on the excessive build-up of thatch in your lawn.

You can do this on the same day but it should be dry. To remove lawn thatch you need a scarifier.

If you have a scarifier/lawn rake with changeable cassettes, even better!

Set your scarifier on a reasonably high setting and see how much material it removes. If there’s not much, lower it by one setting and try again. The aim is to remove as much thatch as possible without churning up your lawn.

Once you’re happy with the amount of thatch your scarifier removes, pass over your lawn in the same order as when you raked it.

Go up and down lengthways and then go over it a second time at a 45-degree angle, raking up the debris after each pass. You’ll be amazed at just how much the scarifier removes.

Your lawn should be looking pretty beat up now.

For more detailed information about scarifying your lawn, read my ultimate guide to lawn scarification.

Step 5: Aerate Your Lawn With a Hollow-Tine Aerator to Relieve Soil Compaction

autumn is the perfect time for hollow tine lawn aeration Now you have removed the moss and excess lawn thatch, you can concentrate on relieving the soil of compaction.

This is done with a hollow-tine aerator.

If you’re renovating a lawn, hollow tine aeration is essential. However, if you’re maintaining a lawn it should only need doing once every couple of years. The years in between, aerate with spikes.

You can buy hollow-tining forks like the one you see above or you can hire a machine from your local hire shop. If you use a hollow-tining fork, this job could take several days depending on the size of your lawn.

If you have large lawns, hire a machine and you’ll get through it very quickly. Hollow-tining removes cores of turf from the lawn, creating hundreds, if not thousands of little holes all over the lawn.

If you use a fork, start off in one corner and remove the first cores of turf 4-5 inches from the edges of your lawn. Then, go up and down the length of the lawn moving 4-5 inches and remove another lot of cores. Move another 4-5 inches and remove more cores.

Told you it’ll be hard work!

These holes allow the existing soil particles room to relax into and separate from each other.

This, in turn, allows water, air and nutrients to get into the root zone of the grass and encourages new growth. For more detailed information about aerating your lawn, read my ultimate guide to lawn aeration.

Step 6: Apply a Top Dressing Topsoil to Add Nutrients to the Existing Soil

lawn top dressing in the autumn

After you’ve raked, scarified and aerated, your lawn will look like a complete wreck.

But fear not because this is where things start to improve. Take your top dressing topsoil and spread it over your lawn.

The easiest way to do this is to create piles of soil over your lawn every couple of meters. Then with the back of your landscaping rake, push the soil around and spread it out, working it into the holes left by hollow-tining.

This will put the nutrients in the topsoil directly into the root zone of the grass, exactly where they need to be.

Don’t apply the top-dressing too thick though. 75% of the current grass leaf should be visible.

For more detailed information about top-dressing, from measuring how much you need, to spreading it accurately, read my guide. I cover the subject from top to bottom.

Step 7: Overseed Your Lawn With New Grass Seed

how to overseed a lawn in autumn

Now it’s time to spread new grass seed over your lawn. It’s important to use a grass seed mix that will grow well in your garden.

For example, if your lawn is always covered in shade, choose a grass seed mix that will grow well in shady areas.

If you want your lawn to look more ornamental, choose an ornamental seed mix. Or, if you want your lawn to look nice while still being able to cope with the stresses of kids playing on it, use an all-purpose seed mix.

For more information about choosing the best grass seed, read my grass seed buyers guide. It’ll also give you my recommendations as to which one to buy.

For small lawns you can spread the grass seed by hand or with a little hand-held spreader. If you have a larger lawn, use a spreader, it’s far more accurate.

If you’re overseeding as part of your annual autumn lawn care, spread your grass seed at a rate of 20g-25g per m². In this case, you’d need 2kg-2.5kg for a 100m² lawn.

If you’re doing a full lawn renovation, use around 35g of seed per square metre. So if your lawn is 100m², use 3.5kg of grass seed.

For more information about how to overseed a lawn, read my guide: Why, When and How to Overseed a Lawn: A Green Keepers Guide

Step 8: Apply an Autumn Lawn Feed or Pre-Seeding Fertiliser to Aid Germination, Strong Root Development and Growth

apply an autumn lawn fertiliser In order to give the new grass seed the best chance of germinating, producing strong roots and growing as quickly as possible, apply a pre-seeding fertiliser.

For lawn renovations, the best one I have found is Rolawn’s GroRight® Lawn Establishment Fertiliser.

If you’re just preparing your lawn for the winter, I like Scotts Autumn Lawn Builder.

Spread it in the same way as you did the grass seed.

Read my guide on How to Fertilise Your Lawn.

Step 9: Water Your Lawn

water the lawn The last step in this whole process is to water the lawn.

If you time it right you could aim to have all the work done in time for the rain. That said, in my experience, things very rarely work out this way!

Should there be no rain and you have to use a sprinkler, water to about an inch deep, every couple of days. You can put a little tray out to measure it. Once the water gets to an inch deep in the tray, turn the water off.

Read my guide on how to water your lawn the right way.

 

Now it’s Over to You


So there you have it. This is exactly how I go about my autumn lawn care regime and lawn renovation projects. The process is exactly the same, each and every time. If you take you time to getting this right now, caring for your lawn in winter will be very easy.

Are you considering a lawn renovation and have a question? Or are you thinking about your own autumn jobs?

If you have pictures of your process, please send them in and I’ll share them with the community.

Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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