Do you hanker after the perfect lawn? Peter Dowdall has advice on maintaining healthy green areas
There's been much talk over the last few years about the importance of protecting pollinators and promoting biodiversity in general. One of the important messages is that not all grass areas should be maintained and preened to within a cm of their life. That’s an important message but what if you want the perfect lawn in your garden? That’s not a bad thing and whilst it may not be for everyone, many do hanker after the “perfect lawn”.
To maintain a good, healthy, green lawn does require a bit of time and effort, but what it doesn’t need is chemicals. A bit of old-fashioned hard work and knowledge of what is needed is all that is required.
The best way to ensure a moss-free lawn with no weeds is by sustaining, good, healthy grass growth and to achieve that, we need to go back to basics.
To create that sought-after, manicured lawn, we must understand what the lawn needs and what a lawn requires is a well-drained, uncompacted soil with a slightly alkaline pH in which to thrive
To help with drainage, you will need to aerate your lawn at least once a year.
A hollow tine aerator is ideal as it will remove plugs of soil which leads to improved air and water movement and better root development underground. Regular walking, playing and even mowing of the lawn will lead to compaction and so this is an important piece of the jigsaw. There are several other methods of aeration but, this hollow-tining is the most effective. I would say that the ideal time to do this work is anytime from now until early March.
You can use a hand tool for the task and there are many available in garden centres but it is a bit back-breaking. It’s up to you whether you choose to cancel your gym membership and get your aerobic workout from the garden or, for larger lawns you could invest in or rent a mechanical aerator.
Thatch, which is a build-up of dead and dying tissue on the soil surface is the other main maintenance issue.
It’s a natural accumulation of dead grass plants, stems, shoots, grass clippings moss and weeds. Thatch increases and becomes a problem when this material builds up quicker than it can break down. The problem can be exacerbated by mowing the lawn in the same direction each cut.
A build-up of thatch leads to ideal conditions for the development of fungal infections and also creates the perfect environment for moss to thrive.
Remove it at least once a year using a scarifier. This is like a mechanical rake which will physically remove the thatch and break the soil surface again, improving the soil conditions for good grass growth. Again, there are hand scarifiers available or you can get a petrol operated machine. However, for most of us, the solution is more simple, you can get a scarifying blade which fits on to your own lawnmower and turns your own machine into a scarifier as and when you need to.
Textbooks will say that you can scarify your lawn during September and you can but I would suggest that it is better to do this work in March as the lawn will look worse after scarifying and will improve and rejuvenate quicker with the increasing temperatures in the spring and early summer, than it will as we enter the autumn/winter months.
Finally, you will need to maintain the correct pH level so that moss cannot re-emerge and also ensure the correct nutrient balance through the seasons.
There’s no point giving a high nitrogen feed to the lawn now as we don’t want to increase grass growth above the ground. Over the next few months, we should focus on phosphorous and potassium to develop the root system below the ground.
Lawn Gold Winter Protect is what I will use soon as we enter autumn/winter. Moss loves our warm and damp climate and it cannot be controlled by one application of any product in spring. The lawn needs to be maintained to ensure it doesn’t return.
I don’t like to use Lawn Sand or any product based on sulphate of iron as, whilst this may kill the moss quickly, in the longer term it ensures that it will come back as it reduces the pH to a level at which moss will thrive. Also, using sulphate of iron turns the moss orange and black which I don’t particularly like. As I said the best way to prevent moss on your lawn is to maintain good healthy, grass growth.