Fun Fall Container Gardening
Soil is perhaps the biggest secret to a good lawn. But to get it right we need to understand what it is, what it does, and how we can improve it without actually digging up the lawn first.
I visited a small Yorkshire farm the other day and watched as the farmer patiently worked on a small field with his tractor. Although not as refined as lawn maintenance, the aims were the same – to repair and reinvigorate the soil beneath the surface in order to continue to grow good pasture grass for the cows.
Good farmers know how to work with nature to get the best results and we lawn owners should be doing the same. We need to take a look inside our soils and understand how they can make the difference between a strong, healthy lawn and a patchy and bedraggled patch of grass.
A modest handful of soil contains more micro-organisms than there are people on the planet. And these beautiful things are there for a good reason, playing a vital role in maintaining healthy soil. And what about water? Healthy soil can store an incredible quantity of water, some 9200 tonnes per single acre.
But healthy soil also harbours something we’ve all grown to hate, CO2. Thank goodness it does, and thank goodness the grass we grow in the soil gives us back good, clean oxygen in exchange for this. It’s not just the plants that need healthy soil – we do too.
The problem with lawns is that we simply don’t see the soil beneath them. We don’t get to dig it over, feel it in our hands, smell it… But it’s there, and it needs our help. We need to be putting goodness and health back into the soil as much as we need to throw fertilizer on top of it.
And the most valuable thing to put back into the soil is air. Oxygen breathes life into your soil, literally as air is essential to help those lovely little microbes and bacteria do their job.
We have a number of different ways to oxygenate the soil, from hollow tine and solid tine aeration to slitting and even air injection. The best method for lawns is with a hollow-tine machine. This carefully removes tube-like plugs of soil without compressing the remaining earth. The resulting drainage channels allow air back into the soil, as well as rainwater, de-compact the soil, allow fertilisers to work better too. Solid-tine aeration and slitting are good too, but mainly as a secondary technique, in conjunction with hollow-tining. And air-injection is a great invention, used for large high-profile lawns, but unlikely to reach the domestic market.
The other soil-care technique we can all do is to apply top dressing, but as an improver, not just filling it with inert material like sand. Compounds with loam and soil conditioner will add more bacteria, whereas sand by itself can improve drainage but add back none of the essential goodness that the plants feed on.
The bottom line is that the soil under your grass is alive. It needs to be to keep your grass alive. And the grass is essential in exchanging CO2 for the air we breathe. So a little TLC for your soil seems a fair deal to me!
David Hedges-Gower is the UK’s leading lawn expert and has more than 36 years of lawn and turf experience. Professional grounds people, landscape specialists, commercial property developers and leisure gardeners – have benefited from David’s enthusiasm and knowledge.
David is a National Trust advisor and was formerly advisor to Homebase, he is a regular on BBC Radio and a favourite on the national horticultural lecture circuit.
David’s fantastic new book on Modern Lawn Care extends his love for and knowledge of the topic. This is the first comprehensive and authoritative guide to lawn care for over 40 years!
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