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Garden Lawn Care and Maintenance

Renovating a Lawn

Garden LawnWhen we moved house the lawn looked a bit careworn and sad to say the least but having done duty as a cricket pitch, football ground and general play area that wasn't much of a surprise.

Digging it up and re-sowing or laying turf wasn't really an option, far too much to do just after moving to spend that sort of time on the garden and lawn. Because it had been hard worked, it was a fair bet that the ground would be compacted so the first job was to loosen and aerate the ground. This is a job you can do at either end of the season, but we'd moved in November and the rainy season was underway so improving drainage was a priority.

This is easily done. Take your fork and push it about six inches into the ground, rock it back and forth, remove and repeat about six inches to a foot further down the lawn. The result is to loosen the soil allowing air in, the worms find it easier to do their job and the water drains away. I then brushed some sharp sand in, which goes into the holes helping to keep the lawn open, You can buy special spiking tools that remove plugs of soil for a better result but for an ordinary lawn, rather than a bowling green, they may be a bit of overkill! It's quite a lengthy job but as part of an annual lawn maintenance plan it pays dividends.

The only other job I undertook in the winter was to give a dusting of ground limestone. Applied at a rate of about 4oz per square yard – 150gr per square metre for the metric minded – it has two major benefits. First – it decreases the acidity of the soil. Grass is pretty hardy and will grow in a wide range of conditions but increasing the pH (reducing the acidity) helps it make the most of nutrients available. Second – because it tends to stick to the leaves of broad-leaved weeds, it acts a little like a selective weed killer, scorching the weed while taking the acid condition away that many weeds are evolved for.

Spring Lawn Care

Getting the lawn ready for the new season starts with scarifying the lawn. Simply put, take one of those springy lawn rakes and scratch out the dead thatch that has accumulated. This will allow the grass to grow into the space opened up and gives a much better looking lawn for the summer. It looks a little sad for a couple of weeks but the effect soon goes. You can get electric scarifying machines – with a large lawn they are probably worth it but I am not convinced that they are as effective as elbow grease and a lawn rake!

Lawn Weeds and Moss in the Lawn

There are a number of weeds that cause problems but the worst are probably creeping buttercups, daisy and dandelions. With all of these I find a sharp knife is enough to keep them under control. Cutting them out and cutting the dandelion root as deep as possible so they don't re-grow allows the grass to fill up the space. Clover is another problem in lawns but it tends to thrive when there is a lack of available nitrogen, which hampers the grass but not clover that produces its own nitrogen. Good feeding will keep clover in its place as much as anything else. Moss can be a major problem but here again a good lawn care and maintenance plan will help the situation. Moss likes a waterlogged, acid lawn so increasing the pH and improving drainage combined with scarifying will keep the problem under control if not eliminated.

Chemical Treatments

You can buy broad leaf weed killers that you apply to the lawn and they don't harm the grass but do kill the weeds. The problem is that if you compost your mowings, you will not be able to use the compost on anything but a lawn as the poison remains active for around nine months. If you're buying lawn feed be careful that it is not 'weed and feed' or the same problem as with weed killers applies. Unless things are really out of control, try and avoid selective weed killers. You could try traditional lawn sand – it is still a chemical but it won't do any harm to the rest of your garden or anything you use your compost on.

Lawn Sand Recipe

  • 19 parts by weight of fine dry builder's sand
  • 3 parts of sulphate of iron
  • 7 parts of sulphate of ammonia

Apply at a rate of 4oz per square yard and put a pinch on top of weeds. Apply in the spring. The sulphate of ammonia adds nitrogen, boosting growth but scorching those weeds with a pinch on and the sulphate of iron deters the moss. For serious moss problems, dissolve 1 oz of sulphate of iron in 2 gallons of hot water and water onto the patches (when it's cooled!).

Feeding The Lawn

You can buy lawn feeds formulated for spring, summer and autumn but fish blood and bone is probably just as good for the normal back lawn where the kids run rampant. A light application in the spring, summer and early autumn is better than one big dose.

Lawn Mowing

Grass grows when the temperature is above 8 C and with the recent weather changes this is becoming more common in the winter. If the grass grows too high, mow it. In the autumn and winter, adjust the mower to a high setting. We want some protection for the grass when it does get cold and snowy. Never cut the grass too short after the season starts or it will look a yellow mess and take a while to recover. After the first couple of cuts you can reduce the height for a neater effect. Little and often is much better with lawn mowing, try not to let it turn into a meadow then cut it back. Easier said than done, though. In dry spells, especially if you cannot use a sprinkler, let the grass grow a little higher and although it may brown it will recover quicker.

A Final Tip for your Lawn Care

If you do let your lawn grow a bit too long, it will look a lot better and not so noticeable if the edges are neat. I don't know why but it fools the eye.

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