• People in Helmsley Walled Garden

October 2016 – Autumn turf maintenance

Getting the thatch out
Getting the thatch out

Recently I received a call from a Mr Dunn who had visited the garden the day before and had seen an old reclaimed garden rake and wished he had purchased it. Could we send it to him in Portsmouth? Old tools are very popular, some believe the quality is better or that old wood handles or that the tools are better balanced. For Mr Dunn the rake reminded him of the rake he would fetch from the garden shed for his mother as a child.

The rake is a very useful tool at this time of year in carrying out autumn lawn maintenance. After completing the final cut, usually around the end of October, use the rake to make a drawing action across the grass producing a pile of ‘thatch’. This is the remains of grass cuttings, detritus from other plants along with any moss. If the thatch becomes too deep, the lawn deteriorates as grass starts to grow in the thatch and not the soil. Raking is hard work but the benefits are numerous; it allows space for grass to grow and the action damages the grass rhizomes in a useful way by splitting and breaking them up. At each break, new grass shoots develop, thickening up your grass. The drawing of the tines across the surface also helps to break up the hard pan on the surface. Remove the thatch and dispose of it in the compost bin. If you like to make your own Christmas wreath then keep a quantity and put it in a clear plastic bag, seal and leave in the light. The material will survive until Christmas and provide a good base for your wreath.

This process of removing the thatch is called scarifying and after completing it the next thing to do is to aerate the lawn. This is done by using a garden fork and treading the tines into the lawn. Some merely prick the surface or spike the fork tines into the lawn. But for the best result, tread the tines as deeply as you can and then rock the fork backwards until the lawn lifts or cracks from the sub-soil. This action improves drainage down through the tine holes and also along the sub-soil level. Initially it may look a little unsightly but the lawn will soon settle down again.

Some advocate applying winter feeds but I prefer to wait until spring and then apply a weed and feed type dual fertiliser. In the spring the grass and weeds are getting ready to grow strongly whereas in the autumn they are slowing down and aren’t as receptive. If you have moss in your grass it’s a sign of poor drainage. Scarifying and aerating will help improve drainage and reduce the moss. I don’t know if Mr Dunn will use his rake to improve the condition of his lawn or to ask his grandchildren to retrieve it for him, either is a powerful way to use this humble rake.

Mike I’Anson October 2016