Lawn Care Activities: What, Why, How, When for Beginners

In our post on how to look after your lawn, we mention some of the more common lawn care activities.  For some, all those names might be a bit meaningless; for others, they might be things you do each year, but don’t really understand why.

This post aims to outline the what, why, how and when for some of the more common lawn care activities.


What: Scarifying removes thatch (old grass cuttings & debris) and moss that builds up in the lawn, especially at soil level.

Why: Allows grass more space to grow, improves drainage and air circulation around grass, and hence reduces fungal diseases.

How: Scarifying can be done with a lawn rake, but it is hard work!  For those looking for a slightly easier option, manually operated and powered machines are commonly available.

When: Normally once a year in May is enough, although you may wish to lightly scarify in September too.  It is a vigorous process, and lawns can look a bit bare & thin afterwards (if you use a machine, you may end up with many bag loads of moss and thatch – you will be amazed!), so fertilising the lawn afterwards can help the lawn bulk up again more quickly.  Always ensure you scarify before top dressing, oversowing or fertilising!

Top Dressing

What: the process of adding material to the surface of the lawn – normally loam, sand, organic matter or a combination of these.

Why: Smooths the lawn surface, helps control thatch, improves the soil, and is particularly helpful when over sowing.  Also protects the grass over the winter.

How: You should apply the top dressing when the grass is relatively dry.  The dressing is normally worked in using the back of a rake or a stiff brush.  Don’t apply too much dressing – the grass should be visible once you’ve finished!  Water the lawn after applying, but do not mow immediately.  At ALDA Landscapes, we like to do a combi top dress / over seed (see below) by mixing lawn seed with a small amount of sharp sand and some compost, applying this mix to sparse areas of grass.

When: Usually late spring and/or early autumn – May and September.

Over Seeding (Over Sowing)

What: Over seeding (or over sowing) is where grass seeds are sown on top of an existing lawn.

Why: Over seeding is normally done for one of two main reasons – either to patch up/bolster any sparse areas of grass, or where seeds from a different variety of grass are scattered over the existing lawn, to change the appearance/qualities of the lawn.

How: There are quite a few things to mention here, so rather than going into huge detail, we’ve given you a couple of links to comprehensive guides on over seeding:

When: Usually late spring and/or early autumn – May and September.


What: Simply put, fertilising is feeding your lawn – giving it essential nutrients (usually nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in varying amounts).

Why: Fertilising your lawn will help strengthen roots, providing essential nutrients to help ensure  the grass can better combat heat/cold/drought/mowing/insects and all the other stresses and strains that come with being.… well, …. grass!

How: Fertilisers vary widely.  Importantly, there are special blends of fertilisers for the different seasons; at a very broad level, “lawn fertilisers” for spring/summer and “autumn fertilisers” for autumn.   It is important to apply the right fertiliser at the right time of year – don’t apply a spring/summer fertiliser, high in nitrogen, in autumn!  Doing so will encourage/feed lawn fungal diseases and discourage the grass from strengthening its roots over winter, ready for next year (instead, the lawn will grow strongly and become all lush and green – at the wrong time!)

It is important to apply fertiliser uniformly; this can be done by hand, with a rotary spreader, or with a drop spreader.  Always consult the packet for details on when and how to apply.

When: The answer to this one is…. it depends!  It depends on the weather, the garden location, the soil, and lots more.  If it is very wet for example, nutrients will rapidly be leached/washed out of the soil; if it is hot and wet, plants will be absorbing nutrients very quickly – and so in these cases, you may wish to fertilise more often.  In an ideal world, you should fertilise your lawn in spring, summer and autumn.


What: As the name suggests – the process of rolling a heavy weight across the lawn!

Why: To smooth it, and, in the case of rolling after laying turf or seeding a new lawn (once established), to ensure contact between the seed/grass roots and the soil.

How: Remember that rolling can do more harm than good – the heavy weight can compact the soil (particularly if it is clay heavy soil), preventing the growth and spreading of roots.  It can also mean that water just runs over the surface of the lawn, washing away nutrients, rather than penetrating the soil.

That said, there are some circumstances when rolling is a good idea – after laying turf or seeding a new lawn for example (although not immediately after – wait until the lawn is established, and then see if rolling is really necessary.  Don’t drag a roller over newly laid turf!), and also if you’ve had problems with moles or other animals.  Always roll when the ground is damp (not dry, but not soaked either – just damp).  Use as light a roller as you can – this should limit damage to the grass roots.

When: As infrequently as is necessary!  Annually is probably too often.  Always roll in spring, when the grass roots are actively growing.

Hollow tine spiking / Aerating

What: Hollow tine spiking / aerating is the process of removing plugs of soil from the lawn

Why:  De-compacts the soil and improves drainage – can be particularly helpful on heavy clay soils

How:  The hollow tine aerator (which again can be a manual tool or a machine) is rolled over the grass to removes plugs of soil.  Normally sharp sand is then brushed into the holes, to hold them open.  Again, done manually, this task can be very hard physical work.

When: You shouldn’t need to hollow tine spike your lawn every year – once every couple of years should be plenty.  Always do this after the summer, around September time.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment of give us a call on 0118 934 2958.  And don’t forget to take a look at our blog post on how to look after your lawn.

Photo credits: victoriapeckham.

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