Fun Fall Container Gardening
While things are quiet in the summer garden, it’s a good time to clear out some old rubbish that’s been lying around – and I’m talking about the bad techniques that get passed on to gardeners who simply want to enjoy a healthy lawn.
Before specializing in lawn care I was at the top of the profession in sports turf care, specifically golf course management. This means I know the similarities with lawn care – and the differences. Unfortunately, much of the lawn care advice in circulation comes from people who don’t.
They have tried to borrow snippets of wisdom from that sports world and apply them to the domestic lawn. And because they only half-understood the techniques, they give incomplete advice, cobbling together whatever sounds convincing – and creating a style of lawn care that is hard work, expensive and over-reliant on chemicals!
One of the most important jobs in sports turf care is aeration, making sure the soil (and roots) never run out of oxygen and moisture. So the gardening ‘experts’ decided we should aerate our lawns too. But they told us to use a garden fork, and just once a year.
For a start, experts will never use a garden fork (it wasn’t designed for lawns) and of course, they will aerate more times in a year than we would dare to ask. In lawn care, we want maximum benefit for minimal input and this will come from hollow tine aeration.
The same incomplete advice concerns scarification. Seeing the sports turf people doing this, the so called ‘experts’ said we should too; but they told us it was to remove moss. It is not; that is simply a by-product. The reason sports turf and garden lawns need scarifying is to prune the grass plants and control the thatch layer. If you use as a moss control, it’s purely reactive lawn care, not proactive, as we should be learning.
So, once again, it requires the right tool, and that’s not a garden rake.
Another great myth that has come at great cost, both financial and environmental, is weed control. Here’s the problem. Weeds are opportunists that take hold only when you let them. So in good sports turf care, they never get a look in. And those so-called experts rightly believe you have the right to the same weed-free grass in your lawn.
But unlike sports turf professionals, they don’t understand that the best defense is healthy grass and so encourage us to use weed killers. The truth is that thick and well-fed grass won’t leave any room for a significant weed problem. It’s that simple.
And talking about fertilizer, yes, they use it in sports turf care; but our ‘experts’ have never properly understood how or why. That’s why we’re often told to feed just once a year, in the spring. This is complete nonsense.
Grass is capable of growing all year round in the right weather, but it has different growing needs in different seasons. In addition, any feed will only likely last a couple of months, leaving the grass malnourished for the remainder of the year.
So, do what they do in the sports turf world, but do it properly – feed as often as the grass needs it, and with the right mix.
One another area where you really don’t need to mimic the golf greens is in watering. Of course lawns need water to remain lush and verdant in dry weather. But you can do a lot to reduce just how much water is required.
First, feed prior to the dry season. Then remember that, unlike the golf green, you don’t need to maintain a billiard-table finish. So raise the cutting height of the mower, sharpen the blades, and give your grass the lightest of trims mid-summer. Let the clippings lie on the ground and they’ll return some valuable moisture.
Better still, if your lawn needs to shut down in extreme heat, just let it. As soon as cooler, wetter weather returns, so will your beautiful green grass, without wasting a drop of precious water.
If you were left without any advice, you would work all this out for yourself. So please ignore incomplete advice – it’s the worst advice of all!
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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