PLANNING YOUR LAWN
When deciding what sort of lawn is required, it is important to consider the overall look as well as the amount of use it will have. Lawn seed / grass seed mixtures are always described as with or without ryegrass.
If the lawn needs to stand up to a lot of wear, with children and pets playing on it, then a grass seed mixture with ryegrass should be chosen.
Ryegrass is a harder wearing and more aggressive grass. It grows more quickly than the other grasses. However the new modern dwarf turf perennial ryegrass are much improved and finer in appearance. They grow more slowly needing less mowing and maintenance.
It will pay to choose the right grass seed mixture and to get a quality product which will look good and last for a long time even if it does cost more.
If on the other hand you are considering a front lawn that is to be envy of all to see, then a grass seed mixture without ryegrass made up of the very finest grasses, namely chewings fescue, creeping red fescue and browntop should be selected.
PREPARING THE GROUND
After removing all the stones and other rubbish from the lawn area, prepare the ground. The better prepared the seedbed, the better the lawn will be. Good drainage is important and deep digging will help.
For a first rate lawn, apply a top dressing on an annual basis. The mixture is usually made up of compost, loam or sand. Miner hollows will be removed which have developed and an improved soil surface is gradually built up. The layer of top dressing stimulates the formation of new shoots and promotes the development of runners resulting in a denser growth of grass.
For lawns on heavy soil add more sand. Drainage will be improved.
If the soil is light or sandy, work in a good amount of peat or compost to give body to the soil and prevent drying out and loss of nutrients.
At this stage, any levelling should be done and care must be taken not to remove to much topsoil from any one area. Sub-soil does not make for a good seedbed; it is low in nutrients and will give variations in growing habit and colour.
The initial digging of the ground should be done over the Autumn and the soil left 'as dug' in as large lumps as possible over the winter. This will enable rain and frost to break down the soil and make it crumbly. In the spring, when the soil is starting to dry out, prepare the seedbed. Either roll or rake the ground, or tread it down and then rake it. First go one way across the area, rake it over, then firm and rake again, until a firm level seedbed is achieved.
Finally, lawn feed can be used as a pre-seeding fertiliser and should be raked into the soil. This will stimulate root growth and provide the essential early feed to get the lawn off to a good start.
When to sow:
Grass seed mixtures can be sown any time from mid March to early October, providing that in periods of dry weather the seedbed is kept constantly moist until the grass is about 5cm (2in) high. Always water with a fine spray; too great a force of water will displace the seeds.
During periods of drought, constant watering may well be necessary to get growth started and to avoid the tender young seedlings from being scorched and killed off.
There are many points in favour of a September sowing. The ground is warm after the summer; there tends to be more moisture about, the grass seed will get off to a good start before the winter and weeds will be minimal. During the autumn, a good root system will develop, as opposed to top growth, and the lawn will be ready to withstand hot, dry spells in the spring and summer.
How to sow:
To get a good establishment, 35 grams of seed per square metre (1 1/4 oz per sq. yard) is recommended. Allow a little extra for any subsequent filling in or patching that may be necessary at a later stage. A small area somewhere else in the garden can be sown so that there is a ready supply of matching turf for any repair work that may be required.
An easy way of sowing the grass seed is to divide the area into easily manageable sections and then to divide the grass seed into as many lots as thare are sections. Then sow half the grass seed for one section, from the left to the right of the section and then the other half across the first sowing, from the front to the back of the section. this will help ensure an even spread of types of grass seed over the area.
MOWING YOUR LAWN
The few mowings are very important to allow good establishment of the grass.
When grass is 5-8cm (2-3in) high, cut for the first time. Trim lightly and gradually lower blades to an ideal cutting height of 25mm (1in).
Mow regularly but try not to remove more than a third of the growth at any one time.
When grass is 5-8cm (2-3in) high, cut for the first time. Trim lightly and gradually lower blades to an ideal cutting height of 13mm (1/2in).
Mow regularly but try not to remove more than a third of the growth at any one time. Do not mow whilst the grass is damp.
If the mower does not have a roller, then the lawn can be rolled after the first cut. This will encourage lateral growth, this making a more closely knit turf.
The best advise for mowing a lawn is 'little and often'. For the last few cuts of the year, gradually raise the height of the blades.
We recommend that the cuttings should be removed and used for compost or mulch.
FEEDING YOUR LAWN
Apply lawn feed as a pre-seeding fertiliser to the seedbed a few days before sowing the grass seed.
Once the lawn is established, it will require feeding regulary with lawn feed, both to ensure good establishment and also to keep it in first class condition, The lawn should then be fed once in April, again in mid-summer and once more in September or October.
Fertiliser applied in April and mid-summer should have a good Nitrogen content to encourage growth and colour. Fertiliser applied in September or October should have a lower Nitrogen content but a higher phosphate and potash content to encourage root growth and resistance to frost, drought and disease.
By sowing new lawn seed into an existing lawn,a technique used by professional groundskeepers and known as overseeding, it is possible to keep a lawn green and healthy. (For further information see the overseeding section of this guide.)
WEEDS AND DISEASES
Weeds and other undesirable intruders can be broken down into four main catergories:
- Annual weeds - These are mainly apparent in newly sown lawns and usually disappear with mowing.
- Perennial weeds - These appear in all lawns and often will not disappear with mowing but will have to be treated with a weedkiller.
- Coarse weed Grasses - These cannot be eradicated by selective weedkillers as they have the same characteristics as the proper lawn grasses. The only effective way of getting rid of them is to cut out the roots with a sharp pointed knife.
- Moss - This is usually the biggest problem of all and can be caused by a number of factors. Lack of fertiliser, mowing too close, poor drainage, shade, dripping from trees, over-rolling, compaction, lime shortage, too little topsoil. To get rid of moss, first find out which of the above factors is causing the problem and then rectify the matter. A proprietary moss killer can also be used.
No matter how good the preparation of the site, some weeds will almost always appear. It is therefore desirable to leave the seedbed for a new lawn fallow for a few weeks. This will give many weed seeds lying near the surface of the seedbed a chance to germinate. They can then be destroyed before the lawn seed is sown. Many of the weeds that appear in a new lawn will be annual weeds and will disapear with mowing. Others that persist can be treated with a proprietary weedkiller but only after nine months of growth.
While a new lawn is in its early growth stage,weeds may be pulled out by hand but if this is done, great care must be taken not to disturb the surrounding grass seedlings. Weeds can also be cut out with a sharp pointed knife.
Established lawns can be treated with weedkiller anytime from May to September but not during periods of drought as the weedkiller will not be effective and may scorch the lawn.
Other common lawn problems include:
- Fusarium - This is a common lawn disease which can appear at any time, although autumn is the most likely period. Patches of grass anywhere from an inch to a foot in diameter turn brown. Treat the patch and surrounding areas with a liquid fungicide. Do not use a high Nitrogen content fertiliser in autumn or winter.
- Corticum (Red Thread) - Usually associated with dry, sandy soil and shortage of Nitrogen. Usually appears in late summer or autumn in patches that are small at first and which spread rapidly to a yard or more in diameter.
It is recognised by tiny, thin, red needles projecting from the leaves of the dead grass. Treat the patches and surrounding area with a liquid fungicide and apply lawn sand in the spring.
New and existing lawns can be helped in periods of drought by watering. If really dry weather follows the sowing of grass seed, water the area with a fine spray, keeping the seedbed constantly moist until the grass is about two inches high. Once the lawn is established, a plentiful amount of water should be applied, either with a sprinkler or a perforated hose, enough to reach the roots. Too much water does more harm than good as, although it encourages growth, it also produces a shallow root system and a thin sward will result.
Although relatively important it is hard work and normally one good raking a year, in the spring, is all that is needed. Use the special type of spring rake for this purpose, not an ordinary garden rake.
The benefits of raking are:
- It removes the dead grass, which prevents drainage and holds up growth
- It lets air into the crowns of the grass plants
- It sets up creeping weeds ready for mowing
- It also encourages the formation of new shoots
This can be done once a year but it too, is hard work and need only be done when renovating a neglected lawn or if the soil is badly drained or compacted. It is also desirable to spike the lawn prior to top dressing in the autumn.
Spiking can be done with an ordinary garden fork, with a special hollow-tined machine or with a solid spoke machine.
The benefits of spiking are:
- It lets air to the grass roots
- It improves soil drainage
- It stimulates the growth of new roots
- It makes the lawn more resistant to drought in the summer
Generally, rolling does more harm than good and, since most mowers have a roller on them, there is no need for further rolling.
If your mower does not have a roller, then a very light roller can be used when the grass has had its first cut. A light roll will gently crush the stems of the new grass prompting new shoots to grow resulting in a denser sward.
Ensure worm casts, leaves, etc are removed before rolling and do not use the roller as means of flattening out bumps.