How to get That Perfect Lawn
If you worry about slugs you must be serious about gardening, and if you’re serious about gardening you’re probably passionate about your lawn.
Many people think, “I know... I’ll devote a big expanse of outdoor space to grass; that’ll take care of most of the garden.”
I remember my Dad, a professional gardener his entire life, always telling me, “Maintaining a perfect lawn requires more care and attention – and work – than maintaining it as garden.”
He was right too!
New lawn preparation
Like so many things, the secret to a good lawn lies in its preparation. My own lawn’s a good example of that. Much of it was laid by the house builder, and I shudder to think about the quality of topsoil (or lack of!) beneath the turf. There are parts where I struggle to stab a fork deeper than an inch before hitting rubble! Needless to say, a couple of weeks of hot weather and those areas are parched and brown. Other parts I laid myself over a decent layer of topsoil, and those stay green, even after weeks of summer drought.
Whether seeding or turfing, start with a well cultivated layer of good quality topsoil; at least 10cm (4”) and preferably 15cm (6”). Using a standard garden rake, break down the larger clods and comb over the surface to produce a fine tilth, removing any stones and other debris as you go.
Now heel well in; that’s walking over the surface in tiny steps, putting all your weight on your heels to compact the ground. It might look silly but it’s the most effective way, unless you have a large enough area to warrant hiring a heavy roller or soil compactor.
Seed or turf
While many experts argue that seed creates a better lawn, turf does bring instant results, and without worrying about birds feasting on the seed before it germinates.
Turf comes in different grass mixes for different uses. Tough and durable for the kids’ football pitch; finer quality for the ornamental lawn that experiences a more sedate life.
Rolawn turf has simplified this decision for you by reducing the choice down to just two:
- Medallion Turf – Specially cultivated to produce a lawn of outstanding, fine leafed appearance that’s hard wearing, slow growing, easy to maintain, and drought tolerant.
- Minster Pro Turf – A premium fine bladed fescue turf, ideal for feature lawns and formal gardens, with deep rooting characteristics to give improved tolerance to drought and shade.
Turf needs to be laid, or at least unrolled, within 24 hours of arrival – sooner in warm weather – so plan your preparation time and delivery date carefully. The problem is ‘overheating’.
Think about the way a good compost heap soon heats up. Acting like a mini compost heap, a roll of turf generates and traps heat within; heat that very quickly wilts, and eventually kills, the grass.
Turf laying tips
- To ensure the prepared soil remains level, always work standing on your newly laid turf, but use planks to distribute your weight.
- Stagger the joints to create a brickwork pattern.
- Never stretch turf to make it fill a gap. Instead, push the joints together.
- Fill any small persistent gaps with a little topsoil, perhaps mixed with a pinch of grass seed if you have some to hand.
- Thin sections of turf at the edge will easily dislodge and dry out, so use whole turfs at the edges, with any smaller pieces further in.
- A small hand saw or old bread knife makes a good turf cutter, as does a good sharp spade or ‘half moon’ edger.
- More turf laying tips...
If you have time and patience, and a means of bird protection, seed often yields a finer finished lawn. Like turf (see above), lawn seed contains different blends of grasses for different types of lawn. The same Rolawn lawn seed choices are available:
- Medallion Premium Lawn Seed – A superior blend of seed for a healthy, green and hard wearing lawn.
- Minster Pro Ornamental Lawn Seed – A blend of fine fescue grass seed for a lawn with an outstanding appearance, that’s shade and drought tolerant.
With lawn seed, you get what you pay for, but a reasonable quality cheaper alternative for a general purpose lawn is:
Seed sowing tips
- The best time to sow lawn seed is spring and autumn, depending on weather conditions and temperature.
- The garden is less used in autumn, giving the new lawn time to establish. Less watering is required, and there’s little weed growth to compete with the emerging grass seedlings, so all in all, autumn has a lot going for it when it comes to grass seed sowing.
- Apply seed evenly at the rate specified on the pack. A good rule of thumb is 50g/m².
- Divide the area into 1m squares using canes or garden line. Evenly sow half the measure in one direction, then the other half at right angles to the first, thus creating a more even spread. A seed spreader really helps for larger areas, and can be hired or bought.
- Lightly rake in the seed, and water well with a fine spray. Keep the ground moist until grass seedlings are established.
- Unless you wish to feed the birds, protect the area with horticultural fleece or nylon netting. Wire netting can be useful for small areas, but it takes on a life of its own when attempting to wrestle it over a larger area, disturbing your carefully sown seed.
- Remove any weeds that appear or they’ll out-compete the new grass seedlings. This highlights the importance of good soil preparation beforehand.
- Start mowing when the grass is 5-8cm (2-3”) high, then gradually trim down to 3-5cm (1-2”) as it thickens up.
When measuring grass seed, weigh out the first measure, then mark the level on your container. It saves weighing each time.
Some people make the mistake of mowing too short; you’re not maintaining a bowling green! 3-5cm (1-2”) is a good height for the average lawn. Less than 2.5cm (1”) actually weakens the grass unless you give it lots of TLC, making it prone to disease and die-back in dry weather. Weaker grass also lets other lawn invaders – weeds and the dreaded moss – move in.
Don’t reduce grass height by more than a third in a single mowing. Shorten very long grass in stages.
It always confounds me when people spend a fortune on fertilisers to encourage their lawn to grow, and then insist on scalping it to within an inch of its life when it does just that!
Did you hear what God said to St. Francis about the matter?
Put your grass cuttings in the compost bin for some lovely free compost in a few months time. If you have lots, mix in some drier material too to prevent the contents becoming a sludgy smelly goo.
Contrary to common belief, grass clippings don’t contribute to a build up of ‘thatch’; they decompose to enrich the soil. It’s only really practical for short clippings though because an excess does look rather unattractive as they lie there yellowing. This is a good practice after feeding your lawn because the clippings contain nutrients that are returned to the soil.
During the hottest months, give both yourself and your lawn a break by mowing only when the lawn needs it. Some people wheel out the mower religiously each week regardless, which is particularly damaging in hot dry conditions.
In mid summer, raise the mower to maintain a lawn height of around 5cm (2”). Long grass is more attractive than dead grass!
It’s surprising how many people take the time to mow their lawn, then fail to add the finishing touch; edging it. It really does make a stunning difference.
Don’t believe me?
Go and edge your lawn now, without mowing it. How much better does it look?
If time is short; simply edging your lawn has a greater impact than mowing it.
Long handled edging shears are the tool for the job, and the other tool you’ll need for nice crisp edges is a ‘half moon’ edger. Use it sparingly or you’ll find your gardens are expanding while your lawn mysteriously shrinks! I find neatening up the edges once in spring is usually sufficient.
Both tools make excellent slug termination devices too. I’ll leave it to your imagination!
Speaking of slugs; overgrown lawn edges provide a favourite slug shelter from the heat of the day. Where lawn meets path, untrimmed grass creates long cool tunnels for them to lurk, so keeping lawn edges trimmed has both practical and aesthetic advantages.
It’s best to leave a 1-2cm (¾”) gap between lawn edge and paths or paving to slide your edging shears along. I prefer to see a small gap like that – it separates lawn from path – but if you really like very tight edges, a ‘wheel edger’ allows you to get the finish you’re after.
Remember; you cannot mow flush to a wall or fence, so unless you allow a border of at least 5-8cm (3-4”) you’ll be left with an untidy uncut strip that requires clipping by hand each time.
For that finishing touch, having edged around paths and paving stones; flick a besom broom along the channel. (That’s one of those witch’s brooms!)
Lawn edging products
One thing to remember is the multitude of decorative lawn and path edging products now available to give that finishing touch to your lawn.
Some people reel out the hosepipe at the first sign of a dry spell, but if lawn preparation was done properly it shouldn’t really be necessary; the one exception being newly laid turf. In fact, watering can be detrimental to the lawn because it makes the grass lazy. It learns that water is always there just below the surface, and doesn’t encourage the deep root growth that reaches down to the naturally moist soil further down.
Once you start watering, you really need to keep it up throughout the entire dry spell. When you stop, that top inch or so of ground soon dries out and the grass quickly turns brown. This presents a particular problem if the local authorities then decide to impose a hosepipe ban, not to mention the cost as more and more homes find themselves with a water meter.
If lawn watering is required, a good soaking once a week is far better than a light sprinkling everyday.
Chafer Grubs and Leather Jackets are the two most common lawn pests; larvae of the Chafer Beetle (May Bug) and Crane Fly (Daddy Long-legs) respectively. Both dwell below ground munching on grass roots, and their subterranean habit makes their presence hard to detect until they do enough damage to cause brown patches and areas of poor growth.
Badgers and foxes feed on these grubs, and while ridding your lawn of this nuisance, their foraging activity causes more damage than the grubs themselves.
One excellent product for dealing with this menace is the totally safe and completely organic nematode based treatments from the Nemasys range:
A tell tale sign of a Chafer Grub or Leather Jacket problem is when you see birds feeding on your lawn; particularly from the crow family (jays, magpies, and rooks).
Worm casts – those little coils of soil deposited on your lawn’s surface overnight – are a bit of a nuisance, but if you’re ecologically minded you should try to live with them. Yes; chemical deterrents are available, but earthworms are the gardener’s friend. Worm activity is a sign of healthy soil and shouldn’t be discouraged.
Worst times are spring and autumn, often when the soil is too wet for worms to breathe without coming nearer to the surface, but when the ground is neither too hot nor too cold to drive them deeper underground.
The best way to deal with worm casts is to wait until they dry, then brush them with a besom (witch’s) broom, or rubber or plastic rake. Another idea is to use the back of a springbok (wire tined) rake swung from side to side. It’s not necessary to clear them from the lawn; just disperse them.
Keeping the surface free from loose organic matter – leaves, grass clippings, etc – helps lessen the problem.
Spring lawn care
I like to do most heavy duty lawn tasks in autumn (see below), but one thing that’s vital at this time of year is to give your lawn a good feed.
Sometimes referred to as ‘lawn sand’ due to its granular nature, Evergreen Complete is one product I would recommend for a good lawn. Apply it in early spring and it feeds and nourishes the grass, while at the same time killing weeds and moss.
Rake out dead weeds and moss after a few weeks to give the grass chance to grow and thicken. This does leave the lawn looking a bit sorry for itself for a few weeks, but at this time of year it quickly perks up and will soon be looking better than ever.
A second application after 6-8 weeks should keep the lawn looking good all summer.
Don’t attempt to rake out moss before killing it. You risk spreading live spores all over the lawn.
Evergreen Complete – usage tips
- For best results, allow at least 2-3 days after mowing for the grass to recover from its haircut. Don’t mow for at least another 2-3 days to allow it to absorb the nutrients, and to avoid mowing up the granules as they lie on the surface.
- Don’t over-apply; it won’t make for a greener lawn. Instead, it’ll turn your grass black!
- Watch the weather forecast and apply when rainfall is imminent. Evergreen Complete needs to be washed in, so if rain isn’t forthcoming you’ll need to reach for the hosepipe. Left on the surface for more than a few days, it begins to blacken the grass.
- Keep Evergreen Complete off the garden and away from plants, taking extra care around the edges of the garden. The active weed killing ingredient is effective at killing many garden plants too!
- To prevent the transfer of granules from lawn to garden on your boots as you walk around, avoid walking over the lawn until they’ve been washed in. It can stain the carpet and flooring if you happen to trample it indoors.
- Evergreen Complete is harmless to animals, but do try to keep pets off the lawn for the above reason; spreading the granules to other areas.
- For larger areas a lawn spreader makes even application much easier, although packs with an integral hand spreader (shown above) are now available. A good tip for the smaller lawn is to divide off a small strip with canes or a garden line; it’s then easy to evenly treat that small area. Once complete, simply move the divider to create the next strip, and repeat across the lawn.
- Don’t compost grass cuttings for 4-6 weeks after application. They contain traces of the active ingredient and could damage the plants in your garden. The exception is when you don’t intend to use the compost for at least 12 months.
Why not check out the latest Evergreen lawn care product range that now includes lawn feed, moss and weed killer, lawn seed, and lawn spreaders?
A light spiking with a garden fork in spring allows rainfall to better penetrate to the grass roots instead of running off, but leave the heavy duty aerating until autumn.
Autumn lawn care
Both spring and autumn are good times to do lawn work, but I prefer autumn whenever possible, and I’ll tell you why as I go along.
First things first; fallen leaves. They may look beautiful, but rake them up as soon as they fall. Don’t be lazy and wait until they’ve all dropped; the dense carpet robs the lawn of much needed light and air, and when you finally do clear it you’ll find a very unhappy lawn underneath.
A carpet of fallen leaves also harbours slugs, providing both shelter and decomposing organic matter to feast upon. So that’s another good reason to keep them regularly raked up.
But don’t just dump them; turn those leaves into free leaf mould. Don’t put them in the compost bin though because leaves decompose much slower than other organic material; requiring at least 12-18 months. I compress mine into old compost bags with a few holes spiked for drainage. Give it a water and weight the top down with a couple of bricks, then leave for a good year.
Well rotted leaf mould makes an excellent soil conditioner for heavy clay soils.
Think about a thatched roof... It’s basically a layer of dead organic material, but it keeps the elements out and the house dry for many tens of years.
When it comes to the lawn, thatch is that matted layer of dead grass, lawn clippings, moss, and other debris that accumulates over time. It acts in a similar way, keeping light, air, and moisture from reaching the grass roots below. It also provides the perfect conditions for the dreaded moss to thrive.
A thin thatch layer – up 1cm (½”) – is beneficial, acting like a mulch to protect and conserve moisture. But too much keeps the lawn soggy and waterlogged during wet weather, while impeding the absorption of summer rain.
If your lawn has accumulated a thick matting of thatch, give it a good rake over to remove some of it. The ideal tool for the job is the ‘Springbok’ wired tined rake. It’s the perfect activity to warm you up on a chilly autumn morning!
Mechanical ‘scarifiers’ are available for the larger lawn, and you can get attachments for some cylinder mowers.
This is another simple job that makes a big difference, loosening the soil and letting air and water penetrate to the grass roots. Heavy summer use has probably taken its toll and left the surface compacted, so autumn is the ideal time.
For a small lawn you can use the garden fork. Stab the ground to a depth of 10-15cm (4-6”) every 30cm (1’) or so, and give it a little wiggle to widen the holes. Choose a time when the ground is moist but not too wet. Purpose made aerators – both manual and mechanical – do a better job by removing little cores or earth. I’ve even seen special spiked soles to strap to your wellies that you trample over the lawn with.
Hmm... I’m not entirely convinced! Perhaps sufficient for a light spring spiking, although I can see me becoming stuck fast with my heavy clay soil!
For heavy, poorly drained clay soil like mine, brush a little horticultural sand into all those holes to improve drainage. On sandy free draining soils, brush in a little light compost to retain moisture.
The above tasks invariably leave the lawn looking a little worse for wear for a while, which is why I prefer autumn rather than spring. The garden is now past its best anyway, and the lawn has plenty of time to recover ready for next year’s explosion of spring grown.
Don’t use soft or ‘play’ sand to improve lawn drainage; it’s too fine. Always use ‘washed’ sand, or wash it yourself, to ensure it’s salt free.
Early autumn when the ground is still warm is an ideal time to re-seed bald patches. While you’re at it, scatter a little seed over the rest of the lawn to thicken it up.
Rake over the surface first to loosen the soil if you haven’t already done so while removing thatch. There’s still time for the seed to germinate, but watch out for hungry birds. Be prepared to protect the area if necessary.
Spring sowing always creates something of a mowing dilemma. The established areas need frequent cutting at this time of vigorous growth, but this doesn’t give the newly germinated seed time to establish its roots before being whisked from the ground by the whirring blades. Later season sowing gives the new grass plenty of time to establish itself at a time when there’s little mowing activity.
Autumn lawn feed
While not so vital as spring feeding, autumn feed does give the lawn one final boost to help it through winter.
If you wish to give your lawn an autumn pick-me-up, ensure it’s one designed specifically for the season, like Evergreen Autumn.
Other lawn fertilisers promote too much lush growth which will turn mushy after a few hard frosts, whereas Evergreen Autumn is designed to strengthen the roots.
Forget about the lawn; it spends most of the winter frozen or sodden. Trampling over it in either condition invariably leaves you in a similar condition, while doing more harm than good to the grass!
Pull your favourite armchair up to the fire, sit down with a nice hot cuppa and some good gardening books, and start making plans for your garden next year...
As Europe’s largest producer of cultivated turf, and one of Britain’s leading suppliers of high quality topsoil and bark chippings, Rolawn’s prestigious client list includes The Royal Horticultural Society, championship golf courses, and many national house builders. Rolawn products featured in no less than 20 medal winning gardens at the 2011 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
If you’re considering a lawn project, their site is well worth a look.
Did you know...
Millions of years ago, in a time before shoes were invented; the foot conveyed a lot of information to the brain about the environment in which a person stood; telling it what to expect and how to respond. It’s no coincidence that your feet today possess some of the most densely packed areas of nerve endings of your entire body.
As you feel the spongy, cool softness beneath your feet, don’t be surprised if you start feeling a wonderful sense of calm, and of being connected with nature...
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Slugs have been present in the British Isles since the end of the last ice age
Were incorporated into many of last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show’s prestigious show gardens, including 20 medal winners, 7 of which were gold awards.
If Chelsea inspired you to give your garden a makeover, I think Rolawn’s product range is well worth a browse.
I like this cute little ornamental snail.
Simply top him up with beer and place him among your plants.