Looking after your Lawn
Lawns are wrongly regarded as a low maintenance part of the garden – they can be low maintenance but not if you want them to look good. What follows is a range of tips and advice on how to maintain your lawn in tip top condition.
Many problems can occur due to the grass being left too long between cuts and then being cut too short. If at all possible cut grass as soon as it is about half an inch (12 mm) longer than the length you are aiming for. For a general purpose lawn it is best to keep it to a length of about 1¼ in (35 mm) during Spring and Autumn and reduced to approx 1 in (25 mm) in Summer. A fine quality lawn whose main purpose in life is to be admired rather than walked on can be trimmed to ¾ in (20 mm) in Spring and Autumn and as short as ½ in (15 mm) in Summer.
Lawns can be fed as soon as they start actively growing in early Spring i.e. late March to April to maintain vigour and to ensure grasses leave no room for weeds and moss. Use a Spring/Summer lawn food. If you are removing the clippings from your lawn then it is particularly important to feed throughout the growing season every six to eight weeks. Autumn feed must be with a specific Autumn lawn food that is high in phosphates and potash and low in nitrogen to encourage strong root growth rather than leaf growth.
It is essential to scarify the lawn. This just means raking the grass really vigorously to get rid of all the dead matter that builds up. Use a spring-tine rake for smaller areas or invest in a mechanical scarifier.
Lawns can become compacted, particularly where there is heavy traffic to and from one part of the garden to another. Compaction leads to poor drainage and this can encourage moss. Small areas can be aerated by inserting a garden fork into the lawn at regular intervals. However this can become tiresome if you have a large area and a simple manual push aerator will greatly speed up the process. A well aerated lawn will allow water and nutrients to get down to the roots of the grass where they are needed.
The best time for repairing or sowing lawns, or laying new turf is in the Autumn when the soil temperature remains high and there is adequate moisture to promote growth. Rake areas of existing lawn to be repaired thoroughly to loosen the surface and remove dead matter. An ideal way to provide a fine tilth for grass seed is to use a garden riddle to sieve dry topsoil/compost over the worn patch before sprinkling the seed evenly.
Use a proprietary moss killer to get rid of moss – it is inevitable that the lawn will look worse before it looks better as the moss dies and turns brown. Once the moss has died you will need to rake the lawn to get rid of the dead moss and any other dead matter. Moss in lawns is an indication of a problem - probably poor drainage – see aeration above - or poor soil condition which can be, to some degree, rectified by regular feeding.
Should cuttings be collected?
Cuttings are a pain especially if the grass is regularly walked on as they are easily trailed in to the house – and they look unsightly. However leaving cuttings on the lawn is a great way to return some of the nutrients to the lawn as they break down and compensate for the continuous removal of soil nutrients. Many mowers now mulch the cuttings specifically for this purpose and it will benefit the lawn greatly if you can leave the cuttings on there for at least part of the year.
If you have inherited a lawn in very poor condition with large worn areas, infestation of perennial weeds, and largely the coarser long-stemmed wiry grasses then perhaps the answer is to remove the top, cultivate the soil, prepare a new seed bed (or base for turf) and start afresh. There are though few areas of grass that cannot be renovated into a lush green area, be it for playing on, relaxing on, or as a background to the plants in your borders. Of course if you have your heart set on a very lush green sward consisting solely of the finest blades you not only need to start from scratch but you are looking forward to a rigorous maintenance programme as described above. For most of us a general purpose lawn with an attractive carpet of grass that acts as a perfect foil for flowering plants as well as somewhere to relax and play is what we are after. This type of lawn can even be created from almost any starting point so whatever grass you have inherited could be turned into a reasonably attractive lawn with a little effort - and by that I mean much less effort than creating an entirely new lawn from scratch!
Creating a lawn from a patch of rough grass
The first step to renovating a patch of rough grass into a lawn starts with mowing. Assuming the surface of the lawn is also rough, this is best done with a rotary type of mower that will also cope with couch grass. Do not try to cut the grass short in a single cut but instead try not to reduce the height of the grass by more than a third of its height at one cut. Long grass is usually best cut without a collecting box but do remember to rake up the mown grass. Once you are able to cut the grass shorter you may discover bumps and hollows indicated by patches of scalped lawn and longer grass. The worst of these can be dealt with by cutting with a spade or half-moon edging iron across the centre of the peak or hollow. Cut either side of the bump or hollow at right angles to this centre cut and to both side of the first cut so you can slide the spade under the turf in order to roll it back like a piece of carpet on either side of the bump or depression. Now you can either remove soil or add soil as required to level the area before gently tamping the turf back into place. Larger depressions can be treated by vigorously raking before sprinkling a sifted layer of soil or soil/compost to fill the depression before sowing seed. Once you are able regularly to mow the grass reasonably closely you will also find that many of the weeds disappear. The very best way to get rid of troublesome perennial weeds is with a weeding tool made for the purpose that you slide under the roots of e.g. buttercups or dandelions so you can prise them out; the small gap will soon disappear. If you insist on a lawn without anything other than grass growing in it then you may need to use a selective weed and/or moss treatment but remember moss is usually a sign of other problems and it is best to deal with the causes of moss first – see above.
Dealing with weeds in the lawn
An area of rough grass can rapidly become a pleasing lawn and the time and effort required after the initial effort depends largely on whether you can tolerate clover, daisies and buttercups in your lawn. Although buttercups are attractive they are so invasive it is best to get rid of them. The regular application of a good weed and feed mixture is by far the best way to get rid of daisies, buttercups and clover. It is entirely possible to have a modestly acceptable lawn by doing no more than mowing regularly, collecting the grass, and feeding in spring and autumn. However such a lawn is likely to slowly deteriorate and all areas of grass benefit from additional maintenance as described above.
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