Nature doesn’t waste precious energy and resources, and you needn’t either. So, starting this spring, why not take a fresh look at how you look after your lawn?
“My lawn looks dreadful…” “I just don’t have the time to maintain my lawn…”
The lawn is the most misunderstood part of the garden. Yet it is simply a cultivated area of one of our most enduring and adaptable plants. And if nature can grow grass so successfully, we can too; but first we need to understand how nature does it. My approach, Modern Lawn Care, is better for your grass; with just these 6 tips you will see measurable improvements. And it’s simple, efficient and effective because it works with what grass naturally needs – good working soil, sufficient nutrients, air and water.
TIP ONE – learn!
The world of gardening is packed with experts – but few really understand lawns. In fact there is more rubbish talked about lawns than any other aspect of domestic gardening – and so it’s time to step back and separate out the nonsense and myths from the truth.
Fortunately, finding the truth is easy.
Start with nature and observe how grass grows naturally; in our gardens we need to replicate this as much as possible. We need to understand the environment that grass needs – the soil conditions, the oxygen, light and water – and the nutrients that are vital to strong growth. But as tips 3-6 will show, working with these is simple when you understand why and how.
TIP TWO – plan!
Lawn care tends to be a reactive not a proactive process; we ignore our lawn all through the winter and only take notice when we realize that it’s started to grow again.
But by then it’s too late to do some of the basic things that will give you a beautiful lawn right through until next winter. So this year let’s do it differently.
Planning is everything – and right now, in March, is one of the best times to do it. Use a diary or wall planner; consult your lawn care book (or mine), and revise what needs to be done and when. A spring feed (Tip Five), repairing the soil (Tip Three) and sorting out the thatch (Tip Four) can all be done in the next few weeks. And you will see the benefits before summer sets in.
TIP THREE – breathe…
One of the most important and beneficial things you can do for your lawn is to help it to breathe – but I’m talking about aerating below the surface, not up on top.
Do not use a garden fork – just don’t! This is was designed for digging, not for aerating your lawn. An ordinary fork actually squashes the, already compacted soil even more, making conditions down there even worse.
You need a hollow-tine aerating tool, one that carefully removes tubes of soil without disturbing the surrounding earth. Buy a hollow-tine fork or hire a mechanical hollow-tine aerator. And you don’t need fill up the holes with sand – ;( finding a correct sand with the right particle size and shape is hard enough) you need the air to work on the soil microbes and bacteria and by leaving them open the oxygen can work for many months. Let your soil breathe!
TIP FOUR – grooming
Think I mean mowing? Think again. I’m talking about scarification. Some people avoid this because it makes a terrible mess; but that mess doesn’t last for long, and is replaced by beautiful, strong renewed growth.
Scarifying is our way of pruning our natural grasses (yes, we prune other plants and know what results that brings)– it also thins out the thatch layer. You should scarify once every year but the rewards are worth it.
Remember though, your lawn needs some thatch – just not too much. And by keeping it under control you will also deter moss (see below). A healthy thatch layer will also protect the soil from the effects of the sun but still allow rainwater to percolate through and fertilizer to break down efficiently.
A wire rake is good for tidying, but to scarify use a proper machine. This slices through the shoots and stolons (pruning), and this is what gives you the thick grow-back. You can buy or rent one very easily. And the thatch you remove makes great compost!
TIP FIVE – eat well
Learn from nature – where grass flourishes despite harsh conditions it’s because it can store plenty of nutrients in its leaves (longer grass). But in our gardens, every time we mow we steal valuable food stores from the plants. So it’s only fair and sensible to put some of this back!
Aim to feed your lawn four times a year (even in winter it will enjoy a simple spray of ferrous sulphate). Ideally your lawn needs a different ratio of phosphate, potassium and nitrogen depending for each season, but finding this can be tricky; if so, go for a moderate Nitrogen (5 to 20%) and with luck it will also have elements of phosphate and potassium as well. Also remember that lawns love consistency – and a feed only lasts 8-12 weeks, so plan for the whole year.
So, right now scarify first and then apply a spring feed – your ‘pruned’ grass will soon fill back up without you having to waste time and money on top dressing and overseeding.
TIP SIX – the two ‘M’s, mowing and moss
Good mowing is really simple.
1) never remove more than one third of the current length of grass – this then leaves it with some nutrients and intrinsic strength.
2) never use a blunt blade. I recommend sharpening your mower blade every 2 to 4 weeks during the cutting season. You’ll really notice the difference.
And moss? Buy a specific moss product such as sulfate of iron instead of a combined feed, weed and moss product as these make it hard to use the correct amounts. And apply after scarification, not before, to make sure it gets to the base of the moss plant. And don’t aim to remove all the moss in one go; let a combination of scarifying, moss killer and a strong healthy lawn do the job.
A NEW LAWN? – turf vs seed
Both options will eventually give you a super new lawn if you prepare properly and do the required after-care. Choosing comes down to cost, time and species of grass. Let’s start with turf.
Turf is much more expensive than seeding. But of course it gives you an instant lawn that requires regular watering but little else as it establishes itself. However, turf offers less choice of grass type - but does this matter? Most turf has a lot of ryegrass (not a native plant) which is tough and great for wear and tear. But it can require more feeding and doesn’t fill out as much, which can lead to a thinner appearance.
Growing from seed gives you a greater choice of grasses including ones tolerant of shade, ones that can suit how you wish to maintain your lawn and believe it or not, even grasses that can stay green during dry conditions. Preparing a seed bed is no more arduous than preparing the ground for turf. And seed is a lot cheaper than turf! You just need the patience to wait for it to germinate, and to look after the tender new shoots as they establish.
Study your lawn area in question and learn a little about the different types of grasses (my book will help with both of these). Turf is great for smaller repairs of course, but there’s something magical about watching a beautiful new lawn being born from seed – tough choice!
Spring is one of two times in the year when a lawn can be really tinkered with and if done correctly, the summer will all be about enjoying the fruits of your hard work. So rather than having to worry about giving your lawn a drink, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy one yourself…