Whether sowing a new lawn or reviving a tired one, we’ve got you covered.
Words Mark Rayner
Whether it’s creating a brand new lawn from scratch, injecting some much-needed life into a tired grassy expanse or simply keeping your existing swathe of green in tip-top condition, our handy guide aims to answer some often-asked questions when it comes to lawn care.
When creating a new lawn, seed is the cheaper and least labour-intensive option, but if instant results are what you’re after, then laying turf will certainly achieve this. Whichever route you decide to go down, thorough ground preparation is the first key to success.
Whether sowing seed or laying turf, ensure the underlying ground is free of any rubbish and rubble, well weeded, levelled or contoured with additional topsoil (if necessary), and fed with an appropriate fertiliser.
The best times of year to establish a newly seeded lawn are in spring and autumn when the soil is warm and safely away from scorching summer heat and the winter cold that slows both germination and growth. In theory, turf can be laid at any time of year, so long as it’s kept well watered during dry spells, although spring and autumn are best.
Starting a new lawn from seed is the most popular option. When doing so, consult the weather forecast first – any significant wind may play havoc with scattering the seed in an even manner and heavy downpours of rain are anathema to a freshly sown lawn, quickly washing the seed into dense patches and leaving other areas bare. A warm but slightly overcast day is ideal.
First, ensure the prepared ground has been well watered and fed with a phosphate-rich fertiliser (to encourage strong root growth), then divide the correct amount of seed in half (refer to the recommendations on the packet), scattering one lot in an east/west direction and the other in a north/south direction – this will help to create an even spread. Rake in the seed slightly to make sure it’s lightly covered with soil and, once again, water the whole area, using a soft spray attachment to avoid disturbing the seeds.
Keep the whole area of ground moist over the germination period, watering in the early morning and/or late afternoon. Once seedlings start to appear, keep up the watering regime, avoid walking over the area and – most importantly – resist the temptation to mow until the grass looks thick and healthy.
When irrigating a new lawn, it’s important to establish a deep root system; be vigilant about watering deeply rather than ‘a little and often’ as this will cause shallow rooting, making grass more susceptible to browning off in hot weather.
If your existing lawn is looking a bit past its sell-by date, now might be a good time to do a spot of remedial work to bring it back up to scratch.
Poor growth may be the result of a number of factors, including compacted soil, nutrient deficiency, overuse, shade or exclusion of light, dry soil, poor drainage and competition from weeds. One of the main causes of a lacklustre lawn is poor mowing practice – either cutting the grass too short on a regular basis or letting it get too long and then removing too much in one go.
Remember that your lawn is simply a mass of living plants, and all plants need a basic number of requirements in order to thrive: a suitable medium to grow in (aerated and containing appropriate nutrients), light, water and space.
Begin first by removing by hand any obvious weeds that will lessen the space the grass has to grow and also draw on valuable nutrients and moisture. Notice at the same time the condition of the surrounding soil. If an area of ground seems compacted (a clue to this might be spots that puddle when it rains or areas of high foot traffic), simply aerate with the tines of a fork and avoid walking on this spot until the lawn has recovered.
Your lawn will almost certainly benefit from an application of lawn fertiliser across its entirety and also a thorough deep watering if the underlying soil is dry. Check that overgrown shrubs or trees aren’t casting a dense shadow over areas of the lawn, and remove any objects such as hosepipes, children’s toys, piles of leaves or old grass clippings.
Finally, apply fresh seed to any terminally bald spots and then let the whole lawn recover by retiring the lawnmower to the shed.
Care for your lawn as it comes back to life, water it deeply and regularly to encourage deep roots, and keep it free of foot traffic or overzealous pets and children. Only once your lawn is looking lush and healthy should you consider bringing out the lawnmower.
The general rule of thumb is to remove no more than one third of the length of your lawn in one mowing (you may remove less than this, of course), allowing the grass to recover between trims. And the real secret to a sickeningly healthy lawn is to keep it long – have the mower set on one of its higher settings and keep it there from now on.
Longer blades of grass allow for greater photosynthesis, help to shade the soil (retaining moisture), elbow out the weeds and make for a lush, cool underfoot experience. Longer lawns simply look greener and healthier.
So, once you have established the final permanent height of your lawn, keep it at that length, removing no more than one third with each cut – this will involve more frequent cutting during the warmer months, but the effect will be worth it.
Finally, when it comes to mowing, always use the mulch attachment on the mower, feeding the lawn with its own clippings. On a very basic level it just reintroduces valuable nitrogen back where it’s needed, reducing the amount of additional fertiliser needed to keep the grass at its greenest.
Once you have established a regular and healthy mowing regime, continue to provide those little individual plants with their other basic requirements on a regular basis – deep watering to encourage stronger roots and an appropriate amount of nitrogen rich fertiliser (to encourage strong foliage) while the lawn is in active growth.