Hello and welcome to Master My Garden by John Jones. This blog is titled Mastering the perfect lawn.
Many of you have sent in questions on how to have the perfect lawn the been past few weeks. Questions such as, how to get rid of moss and weeds from lawns. How to get my grass to thicken up. My back lawn is so wet and grass is not growing what can I do? So in this blog we will try to answer all these questions. The first part I will cover is lawn treatments for moss, weeds and thin grass. In existing lawns and in the the second part I will discuss lawn structure, drainage etc.
All of these questions are in part due to the fact that February 2020 was one of the wettest on record. Both Ireland and the UK and so any underlying problems in your lawn come to the fore.
There is a great set of books called the Expert collection written by Dr.D.G.Hessayon. I’m sure many of you would have heard of these. If not they are well worth checking and cover many different topics in gardening. For example the “Rose Expert”, “Tree & Shrub Expert” “Lawn Expert” etc.
The reason I mention this in an episode about lawns. Is that there is a great feature in one of those books “The Lawn Expert” . Essentially it is a step map which allows you to fully recognise which lawn type you have. Starting in a position and answering a set of yes and no questions. Until you end up at the type of lawn you have.
The book looks at the following topics “worn out” (the worst type which needs re-seeding). First Rate (think bowling green top quality).Broken into First rate luxury & First rate utility. Second rate ( Reasonable lawn with some issue which can be remedied). The majority of lawns in Ireland and the Uk fall under Second rate. So don’t take offence if the answers you give guide you to this lawn type. Essentially what it means is that you fundamentally have a good lawn but it just needs a bit of TLC.
So generally lawns need care and attention every year. Just as I have said in previous episodes. Healthy plants are less susceptible to pests and diseases the same is true for lawns. If you do a couple of jobs on a yearly basis then you will have a healthy lawn. That looks well and doesn’t suffer from any of the major lawn problems such as moss , weeds, bad colouring etc.
So firstly lets looks at the important steps to maintaining existing lawns to ensure we don’t get any major issues.
One of the most important points to having a perfect lawn is cutting at the correct height for the lawn type that we have. Now most people have utility lawns or standard lawns. Utility lawns should be mowed at a height of 1.25 to 1.5 inches or 3 to 3.5cm ( approx ).
One of the most common problems seen in gardens is lawns been cut too short for the type of lawn. It does look tidier and sharper when cut low. If cut too low regularly it caused the grass to weaken and makes moss particularly almost inevitable.
I find that settings are not universal on lawn mowers. To get the correct height cut a little strip, get a ruler or tape and measure the height and adjust accordingly. Another point is always make sure the lawn mower is sharp. Do this yourself or get it done when serviced. It’s easier on the machine and better for the grass. Then when mowing don’t always travel the same direction. This can lead to lawn leaning or growing in a certain direction.
Aeration is the process of spiking or piercing the lawn. Using a garden fork to spike to a depth of 3-4 inches. You can also get hollow tine aerators, shoes with 1.5 \ 2 inches spikes. Some hire centres will have mechanical versions available. We aerate for a few reasons number one it gets air down to the root zone. This is vital for healthy root growth and in turn healthy lawn.
It also allows water to percolate or drain down in wet times and so prevents water-logging and grass dying off. The next reason is in most lawns you get a build up of dead material. In the top 1 inch of soil especially if you mulch and this can inhibit drainage. As it creates a film etc this layer needs to be broken down to promote healthy roots etc. Deep aeration is best done in September or October and shallow aeration can be done in spring and summer. Thats aeration a hugely beneficial and important practice.
Scarifing is the process of heavily scratching the surface of the lawn to pull out any dead grass know as thatch etc. This also pulls out any existing moss that may be there. What it does for the lawn is it makes the grass thicken and fill the gaps with healthy vigorous growth. Which inhibits the establishment of moss and weeds. It also makes the lawn look thicker and fuller.
Again there are many tools for this job from simply heavily raking the lawn with a garden rake. There are also mechanical versions available to rent in most hire centres. This process is particularly good if you have moss problems. Timing wise it is best to do this in summer and early autumn. When soil is hopefully a little drier. By doing it in very wet times can lead to healthy grass also pulling out of the ground.
This really is an essential part of having the perfect lawn. A healthy lawn is using good quality lawn food. We want a food that is slow release so it feeds for 3 months or 100 days at a time. This means that we get a controlled release of nutrients. Which leads to the sod thickening and growing in a more balanced way. Thankfully there are a lot of really good options of fertilisers now using technologies used in the golf industry where good sod is hugely important.
If you have weak or thin grass then a really good option would be to use a fertiliser with mycorrhizal fungi added. As this really strengthens the root zone. The start of spring is the best time to for the feeding of these fertilisers. This is because the lawn is actively growing. You can do this again anytime through to September.
Don’t neglect feeding in autumn. I guess people are outside less from autumn on and many don’t see the benefit of feeding at this stage. However autumn feeding of lawns is an essential part of having a healthy lawn. This is a specific food with higher levels of K (Potash) than the spring and summer food.
This higher level of K has a couple of benefits firstly it strengthens the roots to help the lawn get through the coming winter and come into the spring with vigour. Secondly it hardens the grass itself and again helps it to keep its colour and vigour over the winter months. It really is an essential but often neglected part of the feeding needing for a healthy lawn.
If you are at the point where you have some lawn problems. Which may include patchy ground, moss and weeds, but your lawn is fundamentally in good condition. Then you will need to do some form of treatments before continuing with the maintenance measures which we went through above. So let’s look at the common issues and the best treatments for each of them.
Moss is the single biggest issue in lawns in Ireland and the UK. Main reasons include damp conditions, wet poor draining soils, areas sheltered by trees, acidic soils etc. There are a number of approaches and treatments depending on the level of infestation. We will look at treatment with different products first. The first product type is Bacteria products.
In the last number of years a new type of moss product has come on the market. A lawn food with good bacterias added that essentially eat away at the moss and strengthen the grass. These are great products highly effective and most are organic and environmentally friendly. There are a few cautions to mention with these before you use them. Firstly if you have more then roughly 30% moss starting then it is best to start with another treatment to get below 30% as the bacteria just can’t cope with this level of infestation.
Secondly the soil temperature needs to be above 10 degrees in order for the bacteria to activate. But this is a great option if the conditions and infestation level is right, essentially the moss just reduces over a few weeks time period and at the same time the lawn thickens and takes over the space left by the moss. Making it difficult for the moss to re-establish.
The second product type is Feed, Weed & Mosskiller This is exactly as it says an all in one product which has three functions. Feeds the lawn, kills lawn weeds and kills moss. This is a granular product available in many sizes. This is a good option if you have low levels of moss and weed problems. With this option the moss goes black and dies but it better to also scarify to get rid of the dead moss.
Lastly there are liquid iron lawn tonics available under various brand names. All of which are lawn tonics based on iron sulphate. Sulphate of iron powder also used to be sold for this purpose. Now it is only sold as a lawn tonic with no recommendation for killing moss.
If you have a high level of moss then this is a highly effective moss killer but you must rake out or scarify the dead moss. This is not something you should use year after year as it is acidic and will reduce the lawn ph over time. A good lawn ph is 6.5-7. However if used continuously then this can reduce the ph your lawn. The lawn becomes more acidic which is ideal for moss growth.
If we choose to treat the moss by mechanical means then we are looking at scarifying, aeration and fertilising as mentioned above but we will probably also need to over seed to fill in any gaps left by the moss particularly if the infestation is bad.
This is another big issue in lawns and is quite a bit more visible than moss so can be more of an annoyance. There are so many possible weeds that can come into a lawn but whatever they are, we are looking for a selective lawn weedkiller. Which means it is selective and will kill the weeds but not the lawn. Again there are a few options.
Firstly selective liquid lawn weedkiller . The newest formulations have a combination of chemicals and will kill all lawn weeds. These are available in ready to use format for spot treatment, if you only have a weeds here or there. It also comes in a concentrated format. Suited for larger areas and infestations this is mixed and applied through a *clean (no residue )* watering can or sprayer.
After treatment the weeds can look distorted before eventually dying back and disappearing. This is the best option for killing weeds on larger area. If you use this method it is important to feed the lawn after spraying as we need to fill in the gaps where the weeds were and some overseeing may be required.
The second product type is Feed, Weed & Mosskiller. As mentioned for moss. this is exactly as it says an all in one product which has three functions feeds the lawn, kills lawn weeds and kills moss. This is a granular product available in many sizes. This is a good option if you have low levels of weed problems. It also has the food built in so no need to add more feed in the short term.
There are many reasons for patches on lawns including compaction, areas of heavy traffic, pests, patches after killing weeds/moss etc. etc. but if you have brown patches we need to get a lawn repair pack of seed. These again come under many brand names but essentially what you get is a tough lawn seed mix that can be over seeded into the area. You need to slightly till the area, sow the seed and water. Do not mow this area too quickly. Make sure you give it a chance to establish by Keeping all traffic of the lawn.
It is important as I always say to have a healthy lawn with healthy roots and the only way to do this is to follow the maintenance measures mentioned at the start. All of these done consistently over time will ensure your lawn looks in peak condition.
The final part for having the perfect lawn, I want to talk about is chronically wet water logged soils. Sometimes the measures mentioned above just won’t remedy the issue because the underlying problem are too bad. This can be a common problem in housing estates but can happen in any lawn situation.
There can be a number of reasons for this. Heavy machines can cause deep compaction, which may be an issue. Drainage for the gardens may not be in place, building debris can be buried under the topsoil etc.
The normal ground make up of subsoil and topsoil can be compromised. To the point where it just doesn’t function in the proper way. If you are in this situation then some drainage work or ground re-building is a must in order to have a long term quality lawn. If it’s a newly built house and you have just moved in. You may be able to discuss with the builder who may be able to remedy for you but I don’t know the ins and outs of property contracts etc.
You might be looking at getting some remedial drainage and ground work done. In order to allow the water to escape and the garden to dry. This can be a daunting prospect but getting it done may be the only option in some scenarios.
Covering the area with artificial grass is also an option. A straight forward procedure. Wet soil is dug out, replaced with hardcore and then artificial grass covering is laid down. You can end up with a highly attractive green space which you can use all year round with very low maintenance. You can add containers , raised beds etc to allow you to garden without having to content with the water logging and poor soil.
A quick re-cep on how to have the perfect lawn. I gave you the essential lawn maintenance tips to allow you have a healthy lawn. I went through the various treatments if you have an existing lawn issue. Finally we looked at what is needed to remedy a chronically wet water logged lawn. Now all that’s left to do is go play a game of football with the kids, chase the dog, or sit down with a cuppa and enjoy you lawn. Whether its second rate or a bowling green its you space enjoy it!
Thats it for this week until next time. Happy gardening!!
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