It is easy to take a lawn for granted and think of it as a single entity, as something that needs mowing every so often, and provides a green space to play on or look at from the living room window. However, it is important to remember that a lawn is a living thing made up of thousands of plants with roots that don’t go very deep into the soil. A collection of plants that have very similar needs to the more precious plants that find themselves in the garden beds.
For a good quality lawn, the key lies in the preparation of the soil, long before any seed or turf is applied. The best time to start a new lawn or to repair damage is in spring and autumn when the soil is damp from the seasonal rains, but warm enough to encourage growth without being too hot or too cold.
Time spent preparing the soil by removing rocks, stones and lumps can be tedious, but well worth the effort in the long run. While you have the bare earth, ensure it is free from all trace of weeds, roots and all. It can be a good idea to leave the ground bare for a week or two and hoe off any seedlings that pop up from weed seeds in the disturbed soil that will compete with the grass seed. If it is a heavy germination rate, you may want to repeat the process until only a few weeds appear.
The soil itself needs to be a good quality topsoil that can sustain thousands of plants in their permanent position, so if necessarily enrich with organic material or lawn specific fertilisers.
It is also a good opportunity to address any drainage issues with the land, so the lawn doesn’t become boggy in wet conditions. A level lawn is a good lawn, but a slight gradient away from the house will help direct the water away from the foundations.
Once the lawn is established, it requires regular care and attention. The most obvious is the need to mow, and this is best done little and often. Grass is different from other plants in the garden in that the growing point is at the base, not the top and cutting often does no harm to the plant. Aim to remove no more than a third of the grass height at a time.
Grass will grow faster in warm moist conditions and slower in hot dry weather. In warm conditions it is best to have the grass at 4–5 cm long. This helps shade the base of the plant and conserves moisture, and also gives a lusher appearance. In cool conditions it can be shorter, but no less than 2 – 3 cm. Take care not to scalp the lawn as this can harm the plants and allow weeds to get a foothold. It is also best to avoid mowing frozen grass.
A good quality lawn mower with sharp blades can make all the difference. If the clippings are thick and heavy it is best to use a catcher to avoid suffocating the grass below, but if it is fine and light it is good to leave it in situ to return nutrients to the soil and feed the lawn.
It is also beneficial to use a lawn fertiliser to rejuvenate the lawn in spring and autumn. The key nutrients a lawn needs are Nitrogen (N) for lush green growth, phosphorus (P) for root health, potassium (K) for overall wellbeing, pest and disease resistance and iron (Fe) for the lush deep green colour and to help suppress moss. Follow the directions on the packet as too much can cause problems. Evenly apply the fertiliser to the lawn. A spreader can help with providing good coverage, and making the job easier, quicker and more effective overall.
Like all plants in the garden, a healthy lawn needs good watering. An irrigation system is a good way to ensure the lawn gets even and regular watering when the rain is inadequate. However, in summer a lawn can struggle due to a lack of water which can be exacerbated by high temperatures – especially if it results in drought conditions and watering bans. If these conditions are a seasonal problem in your area, it is best to select a grass seed suited to a low water environment.
The best time to water the garden is every few days in the early morning with a good deep soak so avoid watering with a little and often approach. You can have too much of a good thing though, and over watering, as well as poor drainage or compact soil, can be just as harmful as not watering enough.
Keeping on top of the weeds in the lawn will keep it looking nice. Regular mowing can reduce the vigour of perennial weeds and certainly don’t let them get long enough to set seed. Rake up fallen leaves in the autumn and don’t allow items to lie about on the lawn for extended periods as this can prevent the lawn from being able to photosynthesis and can ultimately kill the grass beneath.
A lovely looking lawn, with the best preparation and regular care can improve and extend your living space, and a fresh green outlook can add to a sense of peace and wellbeing in a busy or stressful world.