The centrepiece to the majority of gardens is the lawn and, especially if you have children, it doesn't always appear as the verdant sward that we all dream about. Your lawn needs as much, if not more, care and attention as other elements of your garden, and David Coton has this advice to keep it in the best condition.
To achieve the perfect lush, weed and moss free lawn demands a continuous programme of feeding, mowing and maintenance, with particular emphasis on spring and autumn care to produce strong and healthy grass.
Scarifying and Aeration
At regular intervals and before applying spring or autumn feed, any 'thatch' i.e. dead grass and other debris should be removed, this is particularly important if you having collected grass when mowing the lawn during the summer. Use a normal garden rake, not too vigorously, and you may be surprised at the amount that is collected.
Aeration is probably the single most important task throughout the year. Lawns need to be spiked to introduce air and allow water to seep deep into the roots. It's a good idea to concentrate on areas that receive the most traffic and are therefore the most compacted. Aerating the lawn will increase its vigour and resistance to both drought and waterlogging, spike the lawn making holes a few inches apart (a fork with hollow tines will extract plugs of earth) and then brush in a top dressing of loam, sharp sand and organic matter.
In the spring, your lawn will be in need of a spring feed that releases its goodness over a period of several weeks. The resultant healthy growth will discourage many potential problems. Three ingredients for an effective spring feed are a high percentage of nitrogen for colour and growth, phosphorous for a good root system and potash that strengthens the grass so that it will better survive stress such as drought.
If there are a large amount of weeds present or extensive moss, invest in an all-in-one feed which contains weed killer. Whatever you choose, always read the application instructions carefully. You can scatter the feed by hand or purchase a spreader. If you spread by hand, perhaps mark out a small area first and practise applying the correct amount.
In the autumn, you lawn will be suffering from inevitable wear and tear. So, before the temperature drops too much you should put in place a grass recovery programme. Start by removing any leaves that may have collected to form a blanket of decaying vegetation that will suffocate the grass. Continue to do this as long as the leaves are falling from the trees.
Next step is to scarify and aerate the lawn before applying a fertilizer specifically designed for the autumn. These are slow release and rich in phosphate and potash, and should be applied when the soil is moist but the grass is dry. With this autumn formula there is no growth surge and the roots are strengthened in readiness for winter. Don't use a spring fertilizer as this will contain too much nitrogen. As with your spring application, always follow the manufacturer's instructions, either spreading by hand or using a wheeled spreader specifically designed for applying granules evenly across the entire lawn.
Repairing and Re-seeding
Autumn is a good time to flatten any bumps and level dips in the grass. Use a spade to cut around the area and roll back the turf, then either remove excess earth to level or insert soil to make good a trough.
Patches of threadbare grass may well have developed over the summer in specific areas, perhaps where the children's goal posts have been, or they could have been caused by pets. The autumn is the perfect time to repair these patches and sow fresh seed as the ground is still warm and rain will be expected in the coming weeks.
Proprietary mixes of seed, coir and fertilizer are available that will repair small patches, and there are many types of grass seed on the market, some multi-purpose, others designed to be very hardwearing for play areas or tolerant of shade and drought.
Follow the instructions on the pack, the traditional method is to rake over the patch, breaking up the surface. Then spread a layer of compost, mixing with the soil before levelling and firming. Sprinkle the grass seed and lightly rake to level, then firm the soil and water. Moisture can be retained by pegging a sheet of clear polythene over the top. This will also deter birds and should be removed when seedlings appear.
Eliminating Moss and Weeds
Moss is a symptom not the primary cause of a poor lawn and is usually the result of damp shady conditions. Areas of your lawn with poor drainage and/or overhanging trees will provide conditions much better suited to the growth of moss than grass.
If the lawn has been laid on ground with poor drainage and re-laying on better prepared soil it is out of the question, drainage can be improved by spiking the surface and then brushing equal parts of sharp sand and loam into the holes.
Weeds can be dug out individually, always removing the tap root, but you may have to resort to a moss and weedkiller whether on their own or as part of a multi-purpose lawn feed. Once the moss and weeds have died, scarify the area, aerate the soil and re-seed.
Shade is another contributing factor, so think about cutting back any overhanging vegetation to let through more sunlight. Cutting down trees may be impractical or undesirable but where possible thin out branches allowing more light and air to reach the lawn.
Healthy well fed grass that grows vigorously will help discourage moss and weed. There's a huge choice of rotary and cylinder mowers, the former tend to be better for hard to cut areas while the latter do better on well tended lawns. Electric, petrol or battery powered is down to personal choice, but if you want nice stripes then your mower needs a roller in addition to wheels.
Choose a dry day and brush away any worm casts before starting. It's best to collect cuttings and remove cuttings so that this dead material doesn't build up and remember to cut in opposite directions each time.
Regular mowing is recommended, every 14 days in the spring and weekly during the summer, but remember not to cut your lawn too short. For the initial spring cut at the start of the growing season set the blades high, about 40mm and then reduce this to 25mm.