The grass is greener

David Hedges-Gower of Lawn Solutions explains how to care for a lawn and offers his tips on keeping it in top condition during the colder months

When taking on a self-build project the house itself is of course a focus, but that doesn’t mean the garden should be neglected. It’s often the finishing touches outside a property that make or break the overall look, and a neat and tidy lawn is sure to impress.

Grass or lawn?

It may seem a silly question, but what constitutes a lawn? Is there a difference between grass and lawn? Of course, we all call what we have in our gardens lawn. But what about parks, verges, green areas within industrial or shopping areas, football pitches, golf courses and fields. These are all grassy areas, so when does grass become a lawn?

It’s estimated that there are around 10 – 20 million lawns in the UK, but that figure depends on your definition. Often a lawn is considered to be an area of grass that is cared for and looked after. But what many people don’t understand is that one way of caring for grass is simply cutting or mowing it. And whether by a lawn mower or animal, almost every area of grass you can think of receives this treatment. Therefore, while that figure of 10 – 20 million may be accurate for domestic gardens, in the grand scheme of things it’s probably closer to hundreds of millions, covering an enormous area.

So with so many lawns out there, how do you make sure yours stands a cut above the rest? Grass is often not recognised in the manner it deserves. It’s one of the most natural plants in existence and has adapted and survived for thousands of years. Perhaps it’s this ability to adapt that means so many of us take lawns for granted. These are just some of the mistakes people make when it comes to lawns:

  • Forgetting that just like everything else in your new garden, grass is, put simply, a plant growing in soil. Why treat it with any less care?
  • Not realising how simple lawn care can be – did you know mowing is a form or pruning?
  • Getting rid of cut grass clippings. This actually serves as a natural food for grass, so by removing it you then need to replenish the grass to compensate.
  • Not adjusting the way we care for lawn to keep up with changing weather patterns.
  • Not understanding what natural grass actually is and what makes it grow. Lawn care should be taken seriously as it’s vital to our living environment and more importantly, to our planet.

Lawn care myths

So what about the various things we’ve been told over the years about looking after our lawns? There are some real ‘tall stories’ out there! We all love a good fable but some myths are not so entertaining. Some examples of these lawn maintenance myths can be found in the next few paragraphs.

Using a springbok rake for moss control

This is a myth that needs clarifying. Moss control should actually be taken care of by controlling thatch, as moss is a by-product of allowing thatch to build up. Scarification performed using a machine not only controls thatch more easily, it also prunes our natural grasses. This allows them to self-produce new plants, saving you the job of adding them yourself. Springbok rakes (the ones with long, thin tines) can remove thatch and moss, but so could a dinner fork!

Aerating lawns with a fork

Another myth that needs busting is that a fork should be used for aerating. This will actually only fractionally improve less than one per cent of garden lawns – only lawns with near-perfect lawn soils will see an improvement. A fork is a tool that will make holes like a stiletto. For longer-lasting results, hollow tining is the way to go. This allows air space to remain in the soil for longer. A solid mass, i.e. a fork inserted into a near-solid mass cannot relieve compaction. Lawn care professionals across the world don’t use garden forks for aeration – if it’s not good enough for them, it shouldn’t be good enough for us.

Springbok rakes and forks are tools that have been adapted from their original design and purpose – a springbok for raking leaves and debris and a fork for digging over vegetable patches and flowerbeds. They are not designed for use on our lawns. It’s little wonder many lawns don’t improve with these myths still in circulation.

Colder months

Although summer is the time we enjoy and make the most of our gardens, our lawns still need tender loving care through the colder months. So how should we look after our lawns during autumn? Here are some hints and tips to help you get the most out of your lawn care over the coming months:

  • Mowing: Growth should be starting to slow down so you can begin reducing the regularity while at the same time gradually increasing the cutting height
  • Aeration: If conditions are moist enough you can consider an early aeration, but beware of any late ‘Indian summer’ weather when the lawn can easily dry out.
  • Scarification: This is a good time to start light thatch control.
  • Feeding: If you are scarifying, apply a good balanced autumn feed afterwards.
  • Moss control: This is the perfect time for moss treatment. Remember to do this after scarification, not before, so that it kills moss plants and spores at the base of the sward.

Keep to these autumn rules for a healthy, happy lawn… it will thank you for it!

David Hedges-Gower is a leading lawn specialist and owner of Lawn Solutions