[Infographic] How to create your urban garden?
There is no such thing as the perfect lawn, only the lawn that’s perfect for your individual needs. And that is why the old-fashioned approach to lawn care – a ‘one size fits all’ methodology – is wrong. It all depends on the prevailing conditions and the way you use your lawn.
So, to improve your grass you need an approach that understands and respects the plant and how it ‘works’ in your own garden. And when nature throws a spanner in the mix with unexpected weather, tough diseases or six-legged plagues, we need to work with nature to solve the problems.
I call it Modern Lawn Care. And while it can be adapted for everything from the simplest back lawn to a bowling green, it always starts from the same founding principles:
Many people practice reactive lawn care. Other than mowing, they do nothing unless they can see evidence of a problem. But by then it can be too late for an easy remedy. As with any other plant in the garden, the best approach is to be proactive. When you understand what your lawn needs through the year you can plan in advance and prevent problems from developing or getting out of control.
Clever marketing makes us focus on what we can see – the green parts of the plant. It persuades us that all our lawn problems can be solved by surface applications – fertilizer, weedkiller, moss killer, etc. But often the main problem lies a few inches beneath our feet. The basic principles of modern lawn care help to maintain a healthy growing environment for the entire plant, not just the green tops that we see.
Unlike the flower and vegetable beds, the lawn’s soil never gets a good digging over. Instead it gradually becomes more squashed, expelling all the air and leaving the grass roots suffocating. The answer is aeration but you must do it properly. Ignore the bad advice to use a garden fork; using a proper hollow-tine implement opens up air space without further compressing the soil. And don’t do what our sports turf experts do – leave the new air channels open rather than filling them with sand. Aerate just once or twice a year and you will be making an enormous improvement to your lawn’s condition.
No, not the grass but the thatch – all the accumulated dead grass, decaying shoots and other debris that can choke the grass and prevent water from reaching the soil. The technique, called scarification, is mistakenly regarded as a moss removal intervention. But it’s not! Done properly it actually prevents moss. Scarifying also mimics the pruning that keeps other plants healthy. But unlike tree or shrub pruning, if you only scarify rarely, when you see a problem, you risk thinning out too many healthy grass plants. Make it a more regular activity (once a year is good) and you won’t suffer weeks of bald-lawn-syndrome.
We are all guilty of starving our lawns; each time we mow we’re removing some of the grass’s food storage and tossing it into the compost! So don’t be mean and feed only once a year. Plants need food – and they need the right food for each season. A good lawn feed programme is easy to devise and follow – and it make a huge difference to the strength of your lawn, however many times you mow.
…so don’t give them any. Keep your lawn healthy, lush and thick and there simply won’t be room for any other the most determined weeds to take hold. Nasty chemical remedies are for gardeners who keep an unhappy lawn, not for you
Moss is one of those reactive issues I mentioned earlier; much better to prevent the problem from getting out of hand. And typical moss killers only kill the plant, not the spores that hide away in the thatch. So, embark on a moss-minimization plan – keep the thatch at bay, keep the lawn clear of debris especially in autumn and winter, and use moss killer only after scarifying, not before, so it can get right down to the base of the nuisance plants.
Bad mowing – cutting too short and cutting with blunt blades – causes tremendous damage to lawns everywhere. Yet the solution is simple; never cut more than one third of the existing length, and sharpen your blade several times a year. It also pays to observe the optimum grass lengths for different times of the year.
Keeping notes through the year – what you did, how the lawn responded, what prevailing conditions intervened – will teach you more about your lawn than any book or website. When something goes wrong, turn first to the right book to find out why, but then turn to your lawn to select the most appropriate remedy, one that makes sense in your garden.
Lawns are often left to fend for themselves during the winter months. But with our erratic climate this can be a costly mistake. Your grass may not shut down completely, and milder conditions will let diseases establish more easily than before. The tips above, including debris-clearing and a winter feed, will prepare your lawn for what lies ahead, and your observations will help you modify your preparation year on year.
The topic of lawn care has never been glamorous – lawns just don’t make good TV. And over the years this has led to all kinds of bad and inconsistent advice. The result is a generation of gardeners that tries really hard but rarely achieves the simple thing we all want – a happy and healthy lawn. Grass should be simple. In the wild it grows all over the place and in all kinds of tough conditions – and it thrives. In the garden it is the same tough and versatile plant; it just needs to be understood.
So, to start your own lawn renaissance, why not begin with these founding principles? Remember – it’s your lawn in your garden. The challenge and the huge reward come from learning how it works – uniquely – for you.
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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