A verdant lawn makes a wonderful foil for flower borders and creates an emerald focal point in winter when color is in short supply. There are different types of turf for different situations but all lawns benefit from regular mowing, and care and attention in the spring and autumn.
Mowing and watering
Mow grass whenever it is growing, provided the ground isn’t too wet or icy to walk on. In spring, mow once a week with the blades at their highest setting, and gradually lower them as growth accelerates. Use a box to collect the clippings, which can be composted, or use a “mulching mower” which doesn’t remove the grass but chops it into fine pieces, returning nutrients to the lawn.
Rake off thick patches of clippings, which will damage the turf. In summer, a high-quality lawn may need cutting three times a week, but in autumn, as growth slows, once or twice a week should suffice. In dry periods, water newly laid turf, freshly sown areas, and high-quality lawns. Leave established lawns unwatered, but stop mowing because longer grass helps protect the roots. The grass may turn brown, but will recover once it rains.
The amount of fertilizer you need to maintain lush green grass depends on how rich the underlying soil is, and if you occasionally leave the clippings on the lawn, which help top up the soil nutrients. Apply granular or liquid lawn fertilizer at least once a year. Spring and early summer feeds are high in nitrogen to boost leaf growth; products for use in early autumn are low in nitrogen but high in potassium to aid grass roots in winter. Do not overfeed because it can result in weak growth and fungal problems.
Tips: Homemade to dressing
Applying a sandy top dressing, helps rejuvenate lawns, especially those grown on heavy soils, by increasing drainage and encouraging strong root growth. Mix your own dressing by spreading out a sheet of plastic close to the lawn. Then, using a bucket as a single measure, combine three parts good-quality topsoil or sandy loam with six parts horticultural sand and one part peat substitute, such as coir or ground composted bark. Let the mixture dry slightly so you can spread it more easily, and then work it thoroughly into the surface of the lawn.
After a summer of heavy use many lawns start showing signs of wear and tear by the end of the season. Early autumn is a great time to repair the damage and to ensure that your turf is in good condition for the year ahead.
Rake out moss
Kill off any moss with a lawn moss herbicide before vigorously scratching out dead material (thatch) from the lawn with a spring-tined rake; rent a motorized scarifier for large lawns. Raking improves the look and health of the turf.
Aerate the soil
Open up air channels in a compacted lawn by pushing a border fork into the soil, or use a hollow tiner, which pulls out plugs of soil. Work across the lawn at 4 in (10 cm) intervals. Repeat this process every two years.
Apply top dressing
After raking and aerating the lawn, work a top dressing into the holes. You can buy this premixed from garden centers and hardware stores, but it’s easy and cost effective on large lawns to make your own.
Brush in dressing
Work in the top dressing thoroughly using a stiff brush or besom, lightly filling the new aeration channels, and covering the ground to encourage strong rooting. Apply it evenly and make sure the grass isn’t smothered.
Feed and sow
Wearing gloves, apply a granular autumn lawn fertilizer evenly over marked out squares. Water in if no rain falls within three days of applying it. In early autumn, the soil is sufficiently warm and moist to sow grass seed too. Sprinkle seed to match your lawn type at half the recommended rate for new lawns to help thicken up any bald spots.
Tips: Weeding options
Acidic lawns are prone to moss and weed growth. Check soil pH in winter, and raise it by applying ground chalk or limestone at a rate of 2 oz per 10 sq ft (50 g per sq meter). Apply a lawn weedkiller in spring or summer, and repeat in early autumn. Organic gardeners can grub out creeping buttercups, daisies, and tap-rooted weeds, like dandelions, using an old knife.