WE ARE a country of lawn lovers. Nowhere else in the world does something so simple give so much pleasure — and so much frustration!
So why is it so difficult to maintain a lush carpet of grass in our own gardens? It’s not, says David Hedges-Gower, lawn expert and adviser to the RHS and National Trust.
‘Grass is a plant — the most valuable yet undervalued plant we have on earth. It covers 25 per cent of the planet and actually absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees.
‘Every garden is its own unique eco zone, with unique levels of light, shade and airflow, and even a personalised zoological mix of bugs, bees, butterflies and birds determined by its geography and planting. And it’s the same for lawns. But there’s currently a dangerous trend to replace them with plastic grass because it’s easy and convenient. Twenty years ago, we were losing gardens to decking.
‘That’s because there is a misconception that lawns’ are difficult to maintain, but modern lawn care is very different.
‘And yes, summer can take its toll on any lawn, big or small. But some basic understanding of how lawns work and of the impact of our variable weather can combat the most common summertime problems. Just remember, your lawn doesn’t have to be perfect — just perfect for you!’
Here are David’s top tips for a sumptuous summer lawn.
How should I treat my lawn after a period of warm, wet weather?
Lawn lovers usually welcome the weather conditions we’ve experienced recently, but that glorious, lush growth brings its own problems! And if ignored, the lawn will soon start to go downhill.
‘You’ll rarely get rainwater pooling on the surface, but it’s still saturating the soil beneath. And very few of our garden plants like to sit in water. So, the answer has to be aeration: helping the water to percolate and letting vital air into and through the soil profile.
‘Hollow-tine aeration is a really useful job to do before the onset of winter. It will create a healthy, open soil profile by allowing cracks and fissures to develop – perfect for future root development. Solid-tine aeration is fine if you have really good soils but never ever use a garden fork – leave that for digging the beds.
‘Of course, the other danger arising from wet summers is disease. The worst of these is red thread, which thrives in these conditions and can really ruin the look of a lawn. A good prevention method is to keep your lawn properly fed.
‘You can also use some moss control products (those containing Fe) to keep the disease in check.’
How do I revive my lawn after a hot, dry spell?
‘It’s all too easy to enjoy good weather and forget the toll it may be taking, especially if the lawn looks fine up top. But down below, the soils will be shrinking and compacting as they dry up, starving the roots and harming the essential microbial culture. Meanwhile, the sun is also baking the surface hard. Hollow-tine aeration after a prolonged dry spell will relieve this compaction, allowing air and rain to reinvigorate the soil. And, by also breaking up the surface compaction, this will assist in water percolation and discourage moss.
‘Feeding plays its part, too. In these tough, dry conditions, the grass will be forced to use up more of its leaf-stored energy and will also develop more thatch (much loved by moss).
‘A good quality, balanced feed will restore much needed vigour to the plants as they adjust to the relieved soil and surface conditions. And it will lead to quicker recovery times, too.’
Can I weather-proof my lawn?
‘If only! But the answer is a resounding ‘no’, unless you have a professional groundsperson’s resources and time. The lawn is like any other part of the living garden – it always needs a little help from us, but it rewards us many times over. We have to be realistic about weather and its impact – it’s part of the fun and the challenge of nurturing a living outdoor room.
‘All plants need food, water, air, sunlight and warmth, and our job is to balance out some of this if nature decides to go its own way and buck the seasonal trends. Nature is massively capable of “beating” us – we just need to work with it, not against.’
Lawn to-do list
■ Aerating: ‘The single best thing you can do for your lawn. A hollow-tine aerator will put air space into the soil and will give oxygen and maximum benefit for minimum effort, and keeps your soil working — essential!’
■ Scarifying: ‘A really important way to help your grass to grow properly. Do it at least once a year with a bladed machine. This slices cleanly and hygienically through the shoots and stolons to increase plant productivity — the lawn equivalent to a good prune.’
■ Feeding: ‘Would you thrive without good nutrition? It’s easy to follow a simple 12-month feeding programme, using appropriate seasonal fertilisers, and this way your lawn will always bounce back more quickly from any tough weather.’
■ Mowing: ‘Yes, I know you do, but do you do it right? Height of cut is important — remember that the leaves store essential nutrients. Sharp blades are key to preventing trauma from ripping the leaves. Remember that a good mow isn’t just removing the top — it also encourages the grass to spread sideways. And if it’s still growing in winter, carry on with some light mowing.’
■ David Gower-Hedges is lawn adviser at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park and The National Trust. For more lawn advice, visitdavidhedges-gower.com