When did you last prune your lawn?
Or to put the question another way, when did you last scarify your lawn?
It’s amazing how much difference one word can make isn’t it? Scarification comes with all kinds of connotations – “it’s hard work, it requires big, complex machines, and it makes a terrible mess of your lawn”. Even the word itself sounds, well, a little ‘scary’!
So it’s little surprise that I prefer the word ‘pruning’. It’s actually a much more helpful description, both of the process and of the outcome. And if more ‘so called’ gardening gurus would talk of ‘pruning’ the lawn, I’m sure many more people would be happy to prune theirs each year.
So, what is pruning? It’s something gardeners have been doing for hundreds if not thousands of years, a necessary intervention to develop and redirect plant growth. It removes old, straggly growth and dead plants, and it promotes vigorous new growth and a much more attractive looking plant.
And isn’t that what we all want for our lawns?
Of course it is. And I bet by the end of this article you will be eager to get ‘pruning’. You may even feel as annoyed as I do that gardening books and magazines have failed to get you doing this sooner, but they’re rarely on the ball when it comes to lawns.
Firstly, mowing itself is one form of pruning, but of course it is mostly to create a tidy dense finish. The real structural lawn pruning uses a special machine – the scarifier – a brilliant invention that means you don’t have to prune each and every grass plant individually!
When you scarify, you’re actually slicing through the stolons and shoots of the grass, not just slicing off the tops of the leaves. You’re opening up the sward by removing the weakest and the dead parts of the grass plants. And this means our natural grasses will be reinvigorated and fill back in, thick and lush.
Using the right tool is important right across your garden. Would you use hedge-cutters to prune your roses? Or a small pair of secateurs to tackles a large apple tree? No. And the one thing I can guarantee is that trying to scarify with a garden rake is like trying to clean up a mud-coated long-haired dog with an eye-brow brush – pointless, so just don’t.
Lawn scarifiers come in different types – fixed-blade, flail-blade, verti-cut blade, spring-type blade – and yes, it can all be a bit of a mystery knowing which exact one to use, but any of the above will work.
The important thing is to get the right operating instructions – and to follow them.
So please, do not be put off by images on Google of ransacked lawns. Yes, scarifying can create a mess (it won’t if done regularly) but it’s very short-term and it’s a requirement to promote new growth every year. Healthy grass is fantastically strong and will grow back fast. Aim to scarify at least once a year – or twice if you’re feeling enthusiastic and you’ll get away with just a light scarification in Spring and then again in Autumn.
And if you’re still struggling with the whole concept, just change the word; think ‘pruning’ and suddenly it all makes perfect sense!