The A – Z Of Lawn Care
THE GREEN, GREEN GRASS OF HOME . . .
A beautiful lawn in one of the most desired features in gardens all around the world.
Aerating is important as grass roots need air in order to breathe and grow. Unless you have sandy soil, you are likely to find that your soil does not allow sufficient air to the roots resulting in stunted growth. To get around this problem people ‘aerate’ the soil. This basically involves stamping ‘holes’ into the lawn, then filling the holes with coarse sand. This allows water from the surface of the lawn to flow away whilst also supplying the roots with oxygen. On small lawns or problematic areas you can do this using a simple digging fork, however for larger areas purchase one of the specially designed aerators which will make the task easier and quicker.
Bumps or hollows in a lawn not only make the lawn look messy, they also make mowing the lawn more difficult. On an existing lawn the best thing to do is to use a spade to cut under the lawn and roll back the turf – then you just need to either add or remove soil to level the surface – then roll the turn back into place. Although a tedious task, in the long term your lawn will look better and be easier to maintain.
Cutting the lawn regularly actually helps the lawn to remain healthy and thickens the grass. The main tip when cutting a lawn is little and often – most of the year you should be aiming for the lawn to be 5cm high – although in the summer if you leave the lawn a little higher this will help it withstand periods of draught better. When cutting switch directions and patterns each time you mow so that the grass isn’t pressed in the same direction every time – although some gardeners will make a feature of grass direction and will purposely cut the lawn the same way every time.
Daisies and dandelions, clover and plantain are just a few of the weeds you might find taking up residence in your lawn. In fact there are so many weeds which you might find in a lawn that you need a regular ‘de-weeding’ routine using the tools – and sometimes chemicals – available to you. Most weeds can be removed by mechanical means – small weeds such as clover, veronicas or moss can be removed using a scarifier – weeds with long roots such as dandelions and daisies can be removed using a root weeder like the Speedy Weedy which will remove the full root to prevent re-growth. If all mechanical means fail to remove all the weeds from your lawn then it may be time to turn to herbicides to provide the solution.
Edging your lawn makes it look neat and well cared for. Ideally cut the lawn edges before mowing your lawn – in this way the grass you cut as you trimmed the edges of the lawn will be picked up by your mower. It’s a good idea to trim the edges of your lawn at the end of August, when the strong growth phase of the lawn is over so that paths and paving stones do not becomes overgrown and the flower beds have a neat edge throughout the autumn and winter months. There are many types of tools on available to help you keep lawn edges looking neat with ease, these include the Swivel Shears.
Fertilising your lawn is important as every time you cut the grass nutrients are removed so you need to replace these to help the grass remain healthy and achieve maximum growth. From the beginning of spring (mid March) you should fertilise the lawn every 4-5 weeks- ideally purchase a lawn fertiliser which will have the correct NPK values to produce a healthy, beautiful lawn. As a general rule, decorative lawns require slightly less fertiliser than those lawns which are frequently walked on.
When preparing your lawn for the winter months in early / mid September use an autumn fertiliser which has a low level of nitrogen but a high level of potassium within it. This type of fertiliser will strengthen the cell walls and increases the salt content in the grass cells, by doing this the freezing point of the cell sap is reduced which in turn reduces frost damage. By applying lawn food in early autumn you are also enabling the lawn to put on some strength so that it can combat some of the diseases which can occur during the wetter months on the year such as those diseases which would lead to unsightly fusarium patch.
Grass is available in a wide range of species and knowing the species of grass and the conditions under which it will thrive will make the different between a healthy green lawn and something far less appealing. The common grass species which you’ll find being used for lawn in the UK include the following:
Annual Meadow Grass – this fine leaved variety is a favourite for bowling greens and golf course greens as it produces the very best surfaces and can be cut down to just 4mm. It thrives under regular care and stays looking good all year round.
Common Bent – also known as brown bent, colonial bent, common bent-grass, fine bent and highland bent. Surviving under a vast array of conditions, from acidic grassland to damp soils, meadows to rough ground, even growing in nutrient poor soil, this makes it one of the more common wild grasses in the UK as well as being favoured for domestic lawns.
Dwarf Ryegrass – this species has been specially bred to have a shorter growth period and to produce more stems of grass resulting in a thicker lawn. It has become a firm favourite when it comes to domestic gardens as it established itself very quickly. The only thing to note is that it prefers moist soils and doesn’t do well in shaded areas.
Red Fescue – this shade loving, low maintenance grass requires very little in the way of fertiliser, water or mowing. This species does well in dry, shady environments but is not as wear resistant as other varieties and can be slow to germinate.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue – related to Red Fescue above, Slender Creeping Red Fescue is a slender, more attractive species which takes hold quickly when it’s planted, making it ideal when you’re establishing a new lawn. This grass grows best in well drained soil and can cope well in periods of drought.
Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass – this grass is a great survivor of droughts and damage due to its extensive root system. This attractive grass has a dark green leaf and is broader than many other popular species. It’s the perfect choice for nature gardens as it’s known to attract a wide range of wildlife.
How high should your lawn be? If you’ve laid a lawn from seed then the first cut should be done when the grass has reached about 8cm in height and you would cut the lawn back to be about 5cm high. After this first cut you can start to cut the lawn shorter – aiming for an average height of about 3cm. The best way to cut your lawn is little and often – this is because the grass stalk needs to have a certain height to enable photosynthesis – so waiting for the lawn to grow really long before you cut might be less work for you but it won’t produce the healthiest of lawns.
Insects can live within your lawn and feed on the grass. Many feed on the root of the grass causing rapid deterioration resulting in large areas of discoloured lawn and ultimately dead grass. Common insects and pests which will cause you problems include ants, chafer grubs, frit flys and leatherjackets.
Ants – ants themselves don’t damage the lawn, rather it’s the ant’s activities that can cause issues. Ants will push small piles of fine earth onto the surface of the lawn (known as ant hills) that not only create an uneven surface, but can also smother existing grass and provide the perfect place for weed seeds to take up residence. Lawn can thin out or turn yellow or brown around active nesting sites.
Chafer grubs – common within the UK, these hatch in May and June – hence you may also hear them called ‘June Bugs!’. Although the adult beetle causes no damage to your lawn, their larvae or ‘grub’ likes to dine on grass roots. In most instances the damage caused is minimal, however if there are large numbers of the grubs they will cause noticeable damage and drying. Plus, the grubs are an attractive meal for birds, badgers, hedgehogs and even foxes – so you may get damage caused to the lawn by these visitors making your lawn their dining table!
Frit Flies – also known as Grass Flies are a small black or yellow fly which inhabit grassy areas. Again, it’s the larvae that can cause damage to your lawn – as they feed in the spring they can destroy the central stems of grass (such as bent’s fescues or ryes). In large enough numbers the larvae can cause patched of yellow grass to appear within your lawn.
Leatherjackets – these are the larvae of the Crane Fly (also known as Daddy Longlegs). Although the crane fly in its adult form causes no problems, their larvae will feed on the roots of the grass and if found in large numbers can cause the lawn to have severely dry patches and it’s easy to pull out the grass. Just like the chafer grubs above, the leatherjackets are a favourite amongst wildlife – so your lawn could be damaged as they search out these grubs to eat.
James Sumner designed the world’s first practical steam powered lawn mower in 1893. Prior to this time lawn mowers for domestic gardens had to be pushed by hand – or medium size mowers took two people to operate – one to push and one to pull. Whilst the largest machines were pulled by horse or pony. Sumner’s design was basically an existing horse drawn mower – with the horse replaced by a steam engine mounted on top of the mower. A simple arrangement of gears transferred power from the engine to the rear roller. This machine was suitable for large areas such as sports grounds, but too expensive for the domestic market and very few models were actually made.
James Sumner was based on Leyland, Lancashire and in 1895 he renamed his company the Leyland Steam Motor Company. It was this company that became synonymous with the British car industry and eventually became British Leyland.
Killing moss is a matter of making your lawn a place where moss won’t grow. To understand how to make your lawn unsuitable for moss you need to understand why moss appears in lawns. Moss is an opportunistic plant, when it appears in your lawn it hasn’t killed the grass where it is living, it has simply taken advantage of empty earth left as a result of the grass dying. So, if moss doesn’t kill the grass, the question is what does and how can we stop it! There are four main reasons which can result in grass dying:
Compacted Soil – if the soil on which your lawn is growing is compacted then this can kill the grass. Compacted soil limits water infiltration, reduces the availability of oxygen to the roots and physically restricts root growth. To check if the ground is compacted try pushing a pencil into the soil when it’s dry – if you can’t push it in the ground is compacted. To solve this problem you should aerate the lawn – we discussed aeration at the top of this page.
Poor drainage – if your lawn is always damp or even swampy in areas the roots of the grass are suffocated and the grass dies. Unfortunately moss thrives in damp areas so it will quickly take the place of any dead grass.
Low pH – lawn grasses prefer soil with a pH between 5.5 – 7, anything below this favours moss growth. If the pH is low and you are getting moss in the lawn than you can raise the pH of the soil by spreading garden lime evenly over the lawn – this is best done in the cooler months of the year.
Shade – regardless of might you might read, no lawn is truly shade tolerant. There are only certain grasses which have wider leaves and are therefore more capable of living in shade, but even these will not grow satisfactorily. Unfortunately, however, moss likes to grow in shaded places so will soon appear and flourish on lawns which are often in shade. The only solution, we think, is to replace the lawn with a different type of ground cover – mountain gold, aubrieta, leptinella, saxifrage, roman camomile, blue haze are just a few alternative plants which you could grow instead of grass and can cope well with being walked upon now and again.
Leaves on the lawn if left for any length of time can cause mould to form – and in the autumn months when most leaves will fall and there could be lots of rain or snow leaves left on top of the lawn will stop air from reaching the grass resulting in grass rotting. Ideally keep the lawn leaf free using a lawn rake – one with plastic prongs will be gentle on the lawn yet effective at gathering up leaves, or a rake with wide spread wire prongs so clearing large areas quickly.
Mowing your garden lawn should be easy, even enjoyable. Here are a few tips to ensure your mowing the lawn correctly so that it remains healthy:
Mow regularly – get into a routine of mowing your lawn, depending on the type of grass this could be every week or every couple of weeks. Mowing as little as possible actually weakens the grass – so don’t be tempted to leave the lawn until it becomes very tall before you mow it. Also, don’t think that you can stretch out the time between mowings by cutting the grass really short – you weaken the grass by cutting it too short and it also gives weeds more chance to become established.
Winter mowing – the autumn and winter months are when the lawn grows at its slowest. However if it does start to put on height wait until the grass is dry and is free from frost before mowing it – if the lawn is wet when you mow the blades of grass are likely to be torn and look ragged. Before mowing go-over the lawn with a stiff brush to scatter the earth casts that worms leave behind. And when mowing in these months set the mower blades to high.
Mowing direction – unless you are aiming for a lawn with stripes, you should change the direction in which you mow your lawn each time – so north-south one week, east-west the next. Changing the mowing direction prevents uneven soil compaction and actually helps the grass to grow upwards.
Remove the clippings – if you leave clippings on the lawn it can clog up the surface of the lawn and also increases the chances for diseases to set in.
If you’re sown a new lawn you should leave the new lawn to grow for a minimum of 3-4 weeks but you should only mow once the lawn is greening over and the blades are at least 3” tall.
New lawn seed can now be bought which are ‘labour saving’ seed mixes that have been developed to grow flatter and around a third more slowly – so in the long term this means less mowing and fewer trimmings to remove. When sowing a new lawn from seed ideally wait until the soil temperature is around 14*C as the seeds will germinate more quickly and the young plants will grow faster. Depending on the seeds used, you’ll need to use around 30-40 g of seed per square metre.
Once you’ve sown a new lawn you’re best to wait between 3-4 weeks before trimming the lawn for the first time. But check the following before cutting – the lawn should be starting to green over and the blades of grass should be around 8cm tall – if the lawn hasn’t achieved this then wait longer before doing the first cut. When cutting for the first time cut it to around 5cm tall – you can reduce the eight to the standard 3cm after the 3rd or 4th cut when the lawn will be thicker.
Overseeding is the term used to describe the method of sowing seed directly over an existing lawn to give it a ‘face lift’, getting rid of any bare patches and building up thin lawns. You can ‘overseed’ as long as your lawn is at least 50% grass or more (so the lawn has 50% or less of weeds). The best time to overseed a lawn is in autumn – the next best time spring. Before overseeding mow the lawn and rake out any dead grass or debris which can rest on the top of the lawn. If you haven’t already feed the lawn this season, apply fertiliser now. You can now seed the seed over the lawn. After the seed has been sown sprinkle a light layer of top dressing over the lawn (topdressing is an equal mixture of sieved soil and sharp sand). You can then water the lawn. Overseeding is then complete.
pH level is important when it comes to a healthy lawn. Lawns like a slightly acidic pH, between 5.5 – 7 – with fine lawn grasses preferring the lower end, broader leaved grasses a more neutral pH of about 6.5. Unfortunately lawn weeds also like a neutral pH. Because pH can be difficult to adjust and maintain accurately we would advise if the pH level measures 5.5 - 8 that you shouldn’t try to adjust it. However, if the pH is outside of this range then adjustments would need to be made.
Did You Know?
pH ranges from 1 acidic to 14 alkaline, with a neutral pH of 7 which is neither acidic nor alkaline.
Qualcast is the well known English brand that started making lawn mowers in the 1920s and continues to make lawn mowers today (although the company is now owned by Bosch). One of its’ first mowers – the sidewheel Qualcast Model E – was introduced in the 1920s and by the 1950s it was one of the most popular lawn mowers ever produced, with Qualcast manufacturing over two million mowers in the 30 year period. Even today, over 94 years later, the Qualcast Model E is still relatively common – although the look of the lawn mower has changed so that the traditional red and blue painted finish (that the first models were produced in) are now more unusual.
Reseeding may be required if you get large bald areas within your lawn which don’t regenerate themselves. Reseeding is best carried out after your lawn has been cut and aerated. For reseeding to be most successful ideally it should be done between April through to September. Reseeding can be done by hand or by using a spreader – such as our Hand Held Spreader. Firstly break up the surface of the soil where the seed is going to be spread – a hand fork, rake or grubber could be used. Then spread the seed in a random or criss-cross pattern to get a good overall coverage. After the seed has spread lightly water the area and cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost – this helps to protect the seeds from birds and will speed up seed germination. Over the first month of the seed being sown make sure that you keep the areas watered well and allow the new grass to grow to be about 4” high before cutting.
Scarifying the lawn involves removing the ‘thatch’ of dead roots and other debris from the top of your lawn to allow more breathing space for the lower parts of the grass and letting more light reach the lawn, both of which enable the blades of grass to grow stronger. Scarify the lawn prior to applying fertiliser so that the grass gets the benefits of the nutrients rather than the fertilising feeding the moss and decomposing bacteria forming the thatch. Scarifying your lawn has the added benefit of helping to combat weed growth. You should prepare your lawn for the winter months by scarifying or aerating the lawn during autumn – but don’t scarify too intensely at this time of year as whilst the grass grows slowly in these months the gaps produced by scarifying the lawn may get filled by weeds rather than new grass growth.
Tree pits are the best way of ensuring that trees growing in lawns are both protected from damage caused when mowing and allow air to the roots for healthy growth. A tree pit is basically an area around the tree which is kept free from grass. It should be wide enough so that when you mow the lawn the mower isn’t able to reach the tree to damage the roots or bump into the tree trunk and cause damage. If left as bare soil it’s best to keep the surface loose and weed free by hoeing. Or the area can be covered loosely with coarse grit (which allows air and rain through but reduces weed growth).
Turf is a quick and easy way of establishing a lawn in your garden – although it will be more expensive than starting a lawn from seed. When laying turf you just need to level the surface of the soil, rough it up a bit and you can then roll out the strips of turf close to each other. Although you can walk on the area immediately it will need about two weeks for the roots to establish themselves. Using turf rather than seed also means that you can create a lawn earlier in spring as you do not need to wait until the soil temperature is 14*C. And it also means you could create a lawn later in the year than if you were using seed.
Utility lawns are those lawns where a high level of activity is expected so they need to be both hard wearing, be able to cope with a high level of traffic and withstand heavy items being placed on them or moved across them, such as garden furniture, heavy toys, bikes etc. And at the same time they need to continue to look good. In the UK a seed mix with a high percentage of perennial ryegrass could be used to create a utility lawn as it is not only hard wearing it also copes well in cooler weather – if you’re lucky enough to living somewhere with hotter temperatures then you should look to use Bermuda grasses instead.
Versailles was one of the first places in Europe to feature a lawn similar to those which we have in our own gardens today. Designed by Andre Le Notre in the 1700s the gardens of Versailles included a long section of perfect lawn that runs from the central fountain of Latona down to the great canal and is known as the ‘tapis vert’ or ‘green carpet’.
Watering is important to keep your lawn healthy and green throughout the year. How often you need to water your lawn will depend on the temperature and humidity. Signs that your lawn needs watering include the colour staring to change from a healthy, lush green to have a blue-gray tint and older blades of grass will start to curl up or wilt.
When you plant a new lawn you will need to water it once a day for between 5-10 minutes. The aim is to dampen the seeds without causing run off, enabling the seeds to germinate and a healthy root system to form. Once the grass is about ½” high you should still water once a day but now for between 15-20 minutes.
Traditionally lawns are watered using sprinklers during the day when you can manually turn the sprinklers on and off. However, the best time to water a lawn is between 3-6am – if you want to water at this time but don’t want to get up to do it then use a water timer or computer to control the sprinkler.
For established lawns your aim should be to water it just once a week – but to water it well! A weekly soaking helps the grass roots to extend into the ground for water – whereas as short period of watering tend to result in ‘thatch’ forming on the top of the soil resulting in an unhealthy and unattractive lawn.
Xeriscaping refers to the conservation of water through creative landscaping. Originally developed for areas affected by drought, as water becomes more expensive xeriscaping is gaining popularity when gardens are being designed, either commercially or residentially. Unfortunately lawns are seen as ‘thirsty’ when it comes to xeriscaping – replacing lawns with either patios or xeric planting (a clover lawn, native prairie etc) can cut water use by 80% or more.
Yellow patches of grass within your lawn can be frustrating but in most cases can be cured quite easily. The top five causes of yellow patches in your lawn and their cures are listed below:
Animal Damage – animal urine contains nitrogen so can burn your lawn resulting in yellow or brown patches. If keeping animals off your lawn is not possible – if, for example you have a dog that uses your garden – then the easiest solution is water the area before the urine gets a chance to burn the grass. For existing yellow patches the best course of action is to hose over the area to break up the nitrogen burns.
Chemical Burn – fertilisers, insecticides and other chemicals can burn your lawn if misapplied. The only solution is to water the area to flush away the chemical and wait for the grass to re-grow.
Drought – keeping your lawn well watered helps to keep it looking green and healthy. When there is too much sun, heat and not enough water, grass can dry out and turn yellow. To prevent this happening keep your lawn well watered – watering once or twice a week (depending on your soil), ideally early in a morning. If you are watering your lawn regularly but the grass is still turning yellow, consider when you’re watering – if you’re watering in an afternoon chances are that water is evaporating to quickly for your lawn to absorb it – simply changing the time to early morning could be the solution.
Lawn Rust Disease – yellow spots in your lawn can be as a result of various fungi (normally puccinia or uromyces species) taking up residence. There are no chemical solutions to clear the lawn of fungi – it’s all about having a good lawn care plan in place which will keep this from happening. Regular feeding (avoiding high nitrogen fertilisers in the autumn), regular cutting and pruning back trees and shrubs which overhang the lawn are all tasks you can perform to prevent fungi from setting up home.
Nutrient Deficiency – lawns lacking in nutrients will start to turn a sickly yellow colour. To restore the nutrient balance to your lawn and back to healthy green grass use a good lawn fertiliser.
Zoysia grass is a hard wearing grass suitable for heavy traffic. It was discovered by the 18th century Austrian botanist Karl von Zois – hence the name. Originating in areas of Southeast Asia, China and Japan, Zoysia grass was later introduced into America and can now be found in the UK. Although slow to establish Zoysia grass has the unique ability for a grass of being able to fight against weeds and other grasses from taking over its space. Unfortunately this feature also means Zoysia is a creeping grass, so will not only grow in the area it was planted but will expand out to cover further ground.
Did You Know?
Research has shown that green spaces lower blood pressure, improve attention and reduce fear and anger. Green spaces are also great for children – those children who spend more time in green play areas show reduced ADHD symptoms.