Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
To maintain a lawn you've got to mow regularly, but that's not enough if you want really beautiful grass. A variety of other processes, like adding fertilizer and loam, resowing, weeding, scarifying and watering are also essential tools in your arsenal. And at the end of the day, nothing beats good quality grass seed.
- Quality of grass seed
- Adding fertilizer
The better you look after your lawn, the more beautiful it will become...
Well of course you'll have to find a compromise you're happy with. Frequency of mowing will vary according to what you use your lawn for and - guess what - the time you're willing to put in! But bear in mind that the longer you leave between mowing sessions, the more work it'll be each time. You'll want to fit it in at least once a week from April to the end of June and September to October; these are roughly the periods of maximum growth in the year. An ornamental lawn that needs to be kept very short, say 2-3cm, should be mown twice a week. Note however that this type of lawn is more delicate, less able to withstand trampling and drought. Garden lawns are often mown to a length of 5cm, or a little longer if frequently trodden.
Whatever your intended use for your lawn, don't cut off more than 1/3 of the total height of the grass. In summer, and dry periods in general, keep your cutting height a little longer when mowing the borders. If your lawnmower is side-ejecting, make sure you eject the clippings towards the centre of the lawn rather than borders, beds, or the back wall of the house! Mow borders and the bases of trees with a nifty electric edge-trimmer or hand shears. Wait for the dew to disperse before you start mowing.
What to do with your grass clippings?
Grass clippings can be a big problem after a few laps with the mower.
Whether your lawnmower has a collection trough or not, clippings should be collected up (with a rake or, even better, a yardbrush) and added to your compost heap or scattered as mulch at the base of shrubs, on flowerbeds, or on vegetable patches. If mulching in this way, be careful not to exceed 5cm of depth to avoid fermentation.
Lawnmowers equipped with mulching systems save you having to collect the clippings, as the mower finely shreds and distributes them. However, repeated passes with this type of system can lead to an accumulation of waste which risks asphyxiating the grass.
It's a good idea to alternate between automatic mulching and collecting up clippings, if you have this option.
How to water your lawn?
Frequency of watering varies according to soil type. It's recommended that you water your lawn once or twice a week during the summer months and any other acute dry periods.
Just like for vegetables, it's better to apply a sufficient quantity of water (5 to 10mm) in one session rather than carrying out repeated light watering. If your soil is very sandy, water less but more frequently.
During prolonged periods of absence, equip your watering system with a probe to detect the humidity level in the soil and initiate watering when it gets dry.
What can you do about moss?
At the end of winter, you've probably noticed that patches of moss start to invade the garden, particularly in the shady spots - under trees and in the shade of walls. It's important to get rid of the moss, since it will suffocate the soil and stifle your grass. There are various ways of doing this, but scarification is definitely the best.
Scarification consists of using a specialized tool - a scarifier (!) - to aerate the soil and remove moss and thatch (accumulation of dead, dry roots developing on the surface of the soil). It's particularly important on older lawns, in clay-rich soil, or lawns subject to heavy footfall. In most cases, one scarification per year is sufficient, typically at the beginning of spring but potentially also in autumn. Work crossways, particularly on a very dilapidated lawn. Just like with lawnmowers, you can get various types of scarifiers - manual, electric or with a petrol motor.
What can you do about weeds?
As a rule, regular mowing discourages weed growth. However, you'll have to pull up any hardy culprits that slip the net (dandelions, plantains, buttercups, etc.) Do this while the soil is damp, with the help of a knife or gouge.
Don't use weedkiller unless the weeds are really invasive, always being careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Chemical herbicides pollute the soil, and at the same time there are several alternatives, like nettle manure for instance, that let you eliminate weeds more ecologically.
How to nourish your grass?
Loaming is the process of spreading loam - or ripened compost - in a dose of about two shovelfuls per m², to fertilize the soil.
Loaming is often done after scarification.
You'll find specialized fertilizers for grass which gradually release nutrients.
You can also get shock treatments for quick regeneration of dilapidated lawns. Always water after fertilization to help disperse the fertilizer through the soil.
How to revitalize your lawn?
You might be unfortunate enough to suffer bald patches in your lawn at some point. This situation can be remedied via resowing. Start by loosening the soil in the areas you want to reseed, then spread the grass seed by hand, using a seed mix as close as possible to the existing grass in order to avoid subsequent differences in appearance. Lightly disturb the soil with a rake to bed the seeds in, or cover with loam. Pack down with a board, your feet, or a lawn roller for larger surfaces; then sprinkle with a fine mist of water. Within a few weeks, your lawn will be as good as new!
To save yourself effort, why not combine scarification, resowing and loaming into one day's work at the beginning of spring?
Learn more about garden maintenance...
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Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 47 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.