Regular scarifying or raking program:

The task of scarifying in lawn care is also known as commonly known as dethatching or raking, all three are basically the same operation. Scarifying is carried out by a powered machine that has a series of vertical blades or tines mounted on a rotating shaft. These tines or blades rotate at great speed, and in doing so they slash/cut into the base of the lawn removing unwanted thatch and moss. This operation should be carried out at least once a year, preferably twice a year, during the spring and autumn. If it is only done yearly then autumn is the best time for scarifying, however is moss is a problem in the springtime, it will need doing again.

The main aim of lawn scarifying is to remove thatch from the lawn. Thatch is the build up of organic matter, caused by dead leaves, stems, roots of the grass plant. A little thatch is desirable for the lawn as it helps add wear tolerance and resilience to the lawn.

However when it becomes too excessive it causes problems. These problems include poor rooting, resulting in weed grasses susceptible to drought conditions, poor drainage and an increase in weeds and disease.
The end result is a weak lawn open to a host of lawn care problems.

Lawn aeration

Like people, lawns require air to breathe and remain in a healthy condition. If aeration is neglected then it is likely the soil will become compacted, with the air being squeezed from the soil resulting in poor growing conditions.
This results in:

  • Shallow rooted grasses that suffer in drought conditions.
  • Poor drainage that encourages disease, moss, weeds etc.

A lack of soil organisms and micro organisms. These organisms (which require air to survive) are important to the health of the soil as they break down organic matter, thus controlling the thatch layer in the lawn. Lawn aeration should be carried out, at least once a year during the autumn. It is often included in the autumn lawn care renovation program, which also includes scarification, overseeding and top dressing. In severe cases of compaction it can also be carried out during the spring time too. Lawn aeration can be undertaken with either a powered machine or a simple hand fork. The size of your lawn and your budget will determine which type you choose. A choice of tines are available for this task, including solid, slit and hollow tines, with each having their own benefits.

Correct use of fertilizer

It is true that grass requires nutrients to maintain optimum health. However it is important that it receives the correct amount and the right types of nutrients at certain times of the year.
There a 3 key nutrients:

  • Nitrogen which encourages growth
  • Phosphorous which encourages a strong root system
  • Potassium which helps harden the plant against disease and other problems

Nitrogen is applied during the growing season, never during the winter.
Phosphorous and Potassium can be applied at any time, but are especially important during the winter months.
Almost all lawns will have different fertilizer requirements, due to different soil types, different climates and other influences. What is important is the lawn receives just enough to maintain healthy and consistent growth.
Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen can cause unwanted problems with thatch build up and diseases problems.

The correct use of water or irrigation

Another important factor in lawn care is the correct use of water during hot and dry weather conditions. Too many people rush out with the sprinklers as soon as it turns dry and this can do more harm than good.
Keeping the lawn constantly soaked restricts soil air and encourages the build up of thatch, due to the lack of micro organisms. Most lawns will tolerate a certain amount of drought stress and in fact it will benefit the lawn if the soil is allowed to dry out somewhat. Therefore water the lawn heavily and then let the soil dry out before applying more water. This practice encourages deeper rooting. If the lawn is watered every day the soil stays constantly wet, this creates shallow roots, disease problems and as previously mentioned the build up of thatch.

Another tip is to water during the coolest parts of the day, preferably early morning, prior to the hottest part of the day. Watering during the evening is also OK, but this can increase the risk of some lawn diseases, therefore morning is the preferred time.

Correct mowing regime

Another overlooked factor is the most common and simple task in lawn care, that of mowing the lawn. If done correctly it can make a difference to the lawn.
Starting with mower, it is important that the mower is sharp and cutting correctly. If the mower is blunt then it can tear and damage the grass. Another important aspect of mowing is the cutting height.
The shorter you mow the lawn the more stress is placed upon it. Although there isn’t anything wrong with mowing your lawn short, be aware that it will require more maintenance to keep it in tip top conditions. Therefore in most cases it is important to adopt a sensible cutting height that will reduce the stress to the grass plant.
During the autumn lifting the height of cut on the mower will also help it during the winter months.

Causes of moss

The conditions that moss favours are as follows:

  • Poor surface drainage – This encourages fern and tufted type mosses.
  • Lack of fertility or nutrients – Any lawn low in essential nutrients will be thin and weak and open to invasion.
  • Acid soil conditions – Soils with a low pH encourage moss.
  • Shaded lawns – Lawns which lack light tend to have poor grass coverage which leaves them open to invasion.
  • Mowing lawns too close – Mowing too closely weakens the sward resulting in thin grass coverage inviting moss into the lawn.
  • Drought – Lack of irrigation during drought conditions causes to grass coverage to suffer and moss can invade.
  • Compacted soils – These soils are likely to be lacking in grass coverage giving it the opportunity to invade.

Prevention & control of moss

Dead moss in the lawn

The above image shows a close up of the lawn following moss treatment. Note that the moss has turned black and died and it now ready to be removed with a lawn rake or scarifier.
To prevent the invasion of moss you will need to address the problems and conditions that favour it as outlined above. Addressing the following will help improve the quality of the lawn surface and help reduce the problems:

Improve the drainage – This will remove surface water keeping the surface drier.
Aeration – This reduces compaction and keeps the soil in good condition.
Correct fertiliser program – This promotes a healthy thick sward leaving the moss with little opportunity to invade.
Reduce the shade – Lets more light onto the lawn, again discouraging moss which favours shaded areas with very little light.
Raise the height of cut on the mower – Raising the height of the mower reduces the stress on the grass and encourages a healthier sward.
Irrigation – During dry periods water the lawn to maintain grass coverage and health.

If your lawn needs some tlc give Seth at Hedgehogs Outdoor a call on 07786 6104 88 or email him on gardening@hedgehogsoutdoor.com, alternatively use our contact form to get things started.