The Casual Gardener: Love your lawn
John Manley urges gardeners to prepare their lawn for the months ahead with some timely TLC
OVER the years I've been penning this column I have written about lawns on many occasions. Variously I’ve praised them as a foil to surrounding beds and borders, while also cursing and disparaging them to the point where I considered tearing up my own lawn and replacing it with something much more productive – a vegetable garden? – or much more beautiful – a wild flower meadow?
This often contradictory narrative effectively sums-up my opinion of lawns – it’s subjective and dependent on the circumstances. A secluded, oval expanse of lush, well clipped sward surrounded by mature shrubbery and mixed borders sounds delightful, whereas a square acre of grass with a bleak pebbledash bungalow in the middle veers nearer to frightful.
In my garden I retain something that can loosely be described as a lawn. Its already sorrowful state has further deteriorated in recent months with the arrival of Bella, the springer spaniel whose pee stains the grass, while her penchant for digging has left the surface pocked with dog’s snout-sized craters. She is, in more than one sense, a wee bitch.
It’s wrong to blame the dog for the state of the grass, however, because its poor condition is largely down to my neglect and the fact that I’ve failed in recent years to give my lawn any spring and autumn TLC.
Spring lawn care is laborious and if carried out correctly usually leaves your grass looking far worse than when you began – for a short time at least. Nonetheless, it is a necessary chore if you are to maintain a healthy, lush lawn that won’t resemble the Serengeti come summer.
A treatment usually begins with a cut that better helps identify problem areas requiring special attention. Mowing will also help remove a lot of debris like moss and thatch that otherwise will need to be raked out.
The raking, normally carried out with a spring-tine rake, is called scarifying and makes room for new growth to emerge, while also ensuring light can penetrate down to ground level. If you are intent on having a weed-free lawn, now’s a good time to remove any daisies and dandelions that are threatening to colonise. Use a specially devised tool or an old knife. The holes you gouge out will initially look unsightly but are easily repaired.
After scarifying, aerate the ground using a fork, or for bigger areas, a spiking machine. Aerating relieves soil compaction, improves drainage and allows the grass roots to breathe. Reseed in areas where growth is sparse or where you’ve removed weeds. After levelling out any hollows and bumps, spread a top dressing mix of loam, fine compost and sharp sand across the entire lawn. Brush this in with a yard brush and then stand back and look at the absolute mess you’ve made.
Within a matter of weeks, however, it’ll be looking great again, by which time you may wish to apply a spring feed. Applying a spring lawn feed, available commercially as granules or liquid, will give the grass a nutritional boost for the growing season ahead. Apply the feed evenly and water in well if there’s no rain after a couple of days. Personally, I don’t bother as feeds speed up the rate of grass growth considerably and create cuttings heavy in nitrogen and growth accelerants – ie bad for composting.
If done correctly, a good scarify, aeration and top dress should be all that is required to keep your lawn in tip-top condition without the need for costly chemicals.