The 'non-mowing' season is almost as long as the mowing season, there's only a month or so between them. While a lawn can look well in the main growing season, it can also look very well during the 'off' season if a few small jobs are carried out in autumn and not just through the winter months but right into the next year.
However, most lawns take on a shaggy, unkempt look during the late autumn and winter and this often persists until the grass is cut in spring. Then it may mean 'skinning' the lawn in spring. However, the grass takes some weeks to recover.
Grass growth surges in September into October, making a second peak of growth after a fall-off in summer. Although this late flush of growth is nothing like as strong as the late spring/early summer surge, it is very important for restoring a good appearance after the wear of summer. Even after the 'surge' is finished, growth continues tailing off into November and even December. Only from mid-December to about mid-February is there little growth. Soil temperatures below 6C halt grass growth, but there are short periods when the temperatures rise above this level and there are stop-start periods of grass growth that occur right through winter. This varies enormously around the country, depending on location and soil type.
In the southern half of the country and nearer the coast, much more growth occurs than in northern and central parts. More growth occurs at sea level than at altitude and this is directly proportional to the elevation.
Orientation can be a factor too, with northerly slopes being colder than southerly ones. The soil type can have an effect too: lighter soils drain better and are likely to warm up more quickly and have more short periods of growth than heavy, cold soil. A lawn with effective drainage pipes will hold less moisture and grass growth will be better, even on heavy land.
Autumn sees a shift in the balance between grass and lawn moss. The latter likes moist weather and manages to grow during the cooler part of the year when grass growth is slowed. This is the key time then to control lawn moss. Moss control products, mostly based on iron sulphate, or special bacteria, can be applied as a dry powder from a garden fertiliser spreader or sprays. If the dead moss and old grass thatch is ripped out, some lawn seed can be spread over the ground to restore the sward with new plants.
Apply a high potash autumn lawn fertiliser such as 0-10-20, or one with a small amount of nitrogen. This will give grass a late boost but also toughen it and leave it in good condition for the following year, as the phosphorus and potash is retained in the soil. About 20-30g per square metre of fertiliser can be applied.
Make sure tree leaves are removed within a fortnight or so of falling and before they begin to bleach the grass. Mowing should be carried out late into the season, as long as the ground is not soggy, so as not to cause soil compaction. In November and even in December and January, and certainly in early spring, the grass should be mown as needed. Keep lawn edges trimmed for a neat look in the season when neatness is lacking.
Usually this simply means two or three cuts during winter and that can make an enormous difference. If the moss is killed off and the grass is given some fertiliser, it will look green and healthy and if it is mown occasionally it will look neat. There will be little effort involved in getting the lawn into shape next spring and it will not suffer from having to be skinned back. It could be argued that the lawn is even more important in winter than it is in summer… it is certainly the most important evergreen in the majority of gardens. Lawns managed for wild flowers should be mown the same way, but use no chemical fertiliser or moss killer. However, if a lawn is tired and weak, chicken manure or similar can be used for a boost.
Historian Fionnuala Reid recounts the story of Corona North, the woman behind the restoration of the once-derelict Altamont Gardens, as part of Carlow's October-long Big Houses Festival. It's at 2pm this Saturday and though it's free, booking is advised. Just call 087 655 570.; carlowtourism.com/bighouses
If you're searching for ways to make a greener garden, author and environmentalist John Walker's 'How to Create an Eco Garden' is for you, with how to build soil, improve biodiversity, de-carbonise, and handy 'greenprints' for eco-projects. Out October 29, Lorenz Books, £10.50
How to preserve and grow from seed is explored at the two-day Living Seed Conference at Cloughjordan Eco Village, Co Tipperary, October 12-13. Expect farm walks, seed swap workshops and much more; price from €90; details on https://nots.ie/courses/the-living-seed/