Lawn Advice: Everything You Need to Know
The quality of a lawn depends, to a great extent, on the amount of work put into its initial preparation and subsequent maintenance. Such preparation is important whether a new lawn is being made from seed or turf. There is no need to dig over the site to a great depth unless the builders, as is so often the case, have spread the infertile subsoil from the foundations over the prospective lawn area. Otherwise, a light forking over should be sufficient. You should remove all perennial weeds, such as dandelions, ground elder and bind-weed, as this operation progresses; annual weeds can be buried so that they will rot down to humus.
When you have forked over the entire site for the lawn, you should give the surfacean initial raking. Break down large clods of earth by treading or by pulling a light roller over them when the soil is comparatively dry. During the raking process, remove any large stones and level out all bumps and hollows. If your garden is on a slope, don’t worry too much about getting the site dead level. You will save a great deal of time and trouble if you aim instead at a properly graded slope that follows the natural contours of the land.
Tread and rake the entire surface several times until it is firm and of a fine crumb-like texture. About a week before sowing the seed, or turfing, a dressing of lawn fertilizer should be raked into the surface soil at the rate of 60 g/m2 (2 oz/sq yd).
Lawns from seed
This is a cheaper way of making a lawn than by turfing and should also result in a better, more weed-free lawn. The main disadvantage of making lawns from seed is the additional work involved in preparation and the longer waiting time before the grass is fit for use. Set against this, however, is the fact that you can select a seed without coarse grasses, which will produce a lawn that will need a lot less time spent on maintenance and cutting than one made from turf. A seed mixture containing rye grass would, however, be a better choice where the lawn is likely to be subjected to a good deal of wear and tear; such a mixture is cheaper than one containing fine grasses only.
Grass seed can be sown either in spring or autumn. Autumn sowings save labour as the soil is warm, germination is more rapid and there is less likelihood of birds eating the seed. Spring-sown lawns have to face the hazards of long spells of dry weather, and regular watering will be needed in the initial stages. In spring, food for the birds is in short supply and they may eat much of the seed unless you protect the site with netting. However, it is possible to buy seed that has been treated with a chemical that makes it unpalatable to some seed-eating birds (the treated seed is harmless to humans, birds and other animals).
Sow the seed at the rate of 45-60 g/ m2 (1-1/2 – 2 oz/sq yd), and to ensure even distribution, divide the seed into two equal lots, sowing one batch in one direction and the other in a direction at right angles to the first. A light raking will be enough to cover the seed. Germination should take about 15 days in spring and a week in autumn. The first cut can be given when the grass is 5 cm (2 in) tall, with the blades of the mower set high.
Lawns from turf
Making a lawn from turf involves less work than making one from seed. The preparation of the surface need not be as thorough and turf can be laid at almost any time of year. Turves are of standard size and uniform thickness. They measure 1 m x 30 cm (3 x 1ft) and are approximately 4 cm (1-1/2in) thick. The best turf is the so-called Cumberland variety, but this is not for the busy gardener. Cumberland turf needs a site prepared by an expert, great care in laying and endless attention once established.
Parkland turf, if you can get it, will make a fine lawn. Failing this, down-land turf, in which the finer grasses predominate, will be quite satisfactory. With regular mowing and fertilizing, these finer grasses can be encouraged at the expense of the coarser varieties. Turf can sometimes be obtained from local builders or nurseries; failing this, go to a specialist turf supplier (see Yellow Pages).
Lay the turves as soon as possible after delivery. If you have to delay this job for more than a few days, you should lay the turves out flat and water them in dry weather.
Begin turfing at one corner of the site and, after you have laid the first row, use a board to stand on to lay subsequent rows, to protect the turf. Never stand on the prepared soil surface, as this is liable to make hollows, resulting in an uneven surface when the lawn is finished. Lay the turves like bricks in a wall, with the joints staggered in adjacent rows. Never lay small pieces of turf at the edges of the lawn. If you cannot complete a row using whole pieces only lay a whole turf at the edge and use the pieces inside.
When you have finished laying, fill in the joints between the turves by brushing in a mixture of sifted soil and sand. Autumn-laid turf will not usually need its first cut until the following spring. Make the first few cuts with the mower blades set high, gradually reducing the height to about 1.2 cm (1/2in). Cutting too closely is not the time-saver it might seem to be; it makes for a lot of unnecessary work later by creating bald patches in which weeds will gain a foothold.
If you are starting from scratch on a new plot of former pasture-land, it is often possible to transform this into a passable lawn, provided that the site is reasonably level. Such lawns, however, will need more frequent cutting and attention to weed control. In the long run, therefore, you will usually save labour by making your new lawn from seed or turf.
A well-kept edge greatly enhances the appearance of any lawn, but edging can be a time-consuming chore. There are two alternatives for the labour-saving garden. Special metal strips can be bought, or a narrow row ofstones can be laid along the edge. Either method will help to keep the grass from encroaching on adjacent beds and, at the same time, prevent edging plants from spilling over onto the lawn.
Lawncare Tools and Equipment
The choice of tools and equipment for the lawn depends largely on the area of grass involved. Even for the pocket handkerchief plot, however, you can buy a small, powered rotary mower that will take the backache out of grass cutting and keep the lawn in tiptop condition. Such small power mowers are usually mains-operated. Models with more conventional cutting blades are also obtainable, powered by batteries.
Large petrol-engined rotary and hover mowers are useful labour-savers where larger areas of grass are concerned (up to 1/3 or 1/2 an acre). The former kind are now usually obtainable with a grass-collecting box – a worthwhile labour-saving extra. The ultimate in labour-saving luxury is a sit-on powered mower, but these are only a practical investment for really large lawns.
There are many kinds of sprinkler for every size of lawn. The travelling kind, that you can turn on and forget for several hours, is the easiest to operate but less sophisticated kinds would be more suitable for small lawns. However, it is very important to conserve water supplies, and your local authority may well impose a ‘no-hose’ ban in dry summers. There is no need, however, to break your back carrying cans of water for the parched grass. Your lawn may turn brown and look a sorry sight, but grass is exceptionally resilient, and even after the near desert conditions of the summer of 1976, most lawns made miraculous recoveries once the dry spell was over.
Spreaders of various kinds, both hand-held and wheeled, are useful for the application of fertilizers and weedkillers. Another useful tool is a wire-tined rake for scarifying the lawn before the first cut in spring to remove dead grass, moss and clover.