[Infographic] How to create your urban garden?
How much water do lawns really need? How can we help them in dry periods? And what can we do to get the most from the natural rainfall? These are really important questions to think about, even when we seem to be getting more than our fair share of rain.
I was having a chat on a gardening social media site the other week with a gentleman who told me he hates lawns: “They need far too much watering and depend on toxic chemicals too.” He was shocked when I disagreed. Here in Europe, I explained, lawn care has moved on; we can enjoy healthy grass without chemicals and get more than sufficient water from Mother Nature.
“But I live in Australia!”
He had me there. It was soon explained to me that their lawns did require watering and their water is too precious to use in that way.
But my original response still stands. In moderate European climates our grass, whether growing wild or in a cultivated lawn, can survive perfectly well on the rainfall we get. And in hot countries the indigenous grass species thrive; it’s all to do with the way nature has designed them.
Grasses store water in their leaves, and soils store it too. And when it is simply too hot and dry, the grass plant has the ability to shut down until conditions improve. It’s one of nature’s countless miracles and one of the things I love about our most humble but much loved plant.
It does not, however, help you if you are trying to maintain a green lawn throughout a long, dry summer. But before your place an order for a new sprinkler, let’s just be absolutely clear about how you can prepare your grass first. Get the lawn in the right condition and you can minimize any need for your own watering.
Our soil is designed to store water in up to 25% of its entire mass. This is how shrubs and other garden plants remain alive and healthy in long periods without rain. And it’s the same for grass, but of course the roots are not as big and are closer to the surface in the zone that dries out first. So it is here, in that top layer of soil, that we need to do some work.
Aeration is the key, particularly if your lawn gets a lot of use. During a summer, soils shrink and you lose air space and you need to get some air and bounce back into the soil. Aerating (in the correct way) opens up channels for the rain water to percolate down, and of course to allow the continued input of oxygen.
Scarifying also helps. Even just done once a year, the removal of much of the dead organic matter, further ensures that every precious drop of rain water goes where you want it – down to the roots of each tiny grass plant.
So, if you need your lawn to remain a vibrant green throughout the summer, you may well have to resort to some additional watering. But with properly-looked-after soil, you can reduce this to a minimum. And if you’re not too worried by a short period of browning lawn, just chill. The autumn rains will soon revive the grass now that you have created some space for the water to find sanctuary in your soil.
For more about improving your soil, check out this post.
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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