Lawn Weed and Feed Programmes
Like any other plant, grass needs its fair share of nourishment if it is to remain vigorous and healthy. Weeds will rob the grasses of food and living space, and if they are not controlled they will soon make a takeover bid for large patches of the lawn. Treating weeds regularly, before they have had time to take a firm hold, will save much time and labour later. The two operations of weeding and feeding go together to a large extent. Programmes of weed control should always be accompanied by applications of a suitable lawn fertilizer to stimulate the growth of the grass. It will then quickly fill in any bare patches left by the dead weeds. Many brands of selective lawn weedkillers do, in fact, incorporate a fertilizer so that the two operations can be carried out at the same time. When the young grasses first appear, a number of weed seedlings are likely to come up at the same time. A large proportion of them will be annual weeds, which can be removed easily by hand. More stubborn are the perennial weeds, such as docks, dandelions, daisies and plantains. Some can be removed by hand, but many will have to remain until the new grass is established, usually after about six months, before selective weedkillers can be applied.
The three weedkillers in common use, marketed under different brand names, are 2,4-d, MCPA and mecoprop. The latter is used to treat clover, against which the other two are not effective. Applications can be made at any time during the growing season, but they are most effective when the weeds are growing vigorously during early summer.
Spraying is generally considered to be the most efficient way of applying weedkillers, but for ease and safety of application I prefer to use those in powder form. These usually incorporate a lawn fertilizer and often a colourant as well, which enables you to see the areas you have treated and so prevents over or under-doses. Where lawn weeds are not too prevalent, it is a waste of time and trouble to give the lawn an overall treatment.
Spot applicators are available for this purpose, as well as a ‘cane’ that injects a lethal dose of weedkiller into the roots of individual weeds.
When using selective hormone weedkillers, always remember that they are fatal to many types of garden plants. Choose, therefore, a still day for spraying or dusting and watch out for drift onto adjacent. Remember, too that most weedkillers are toxic to man and animals, so keep small children and pets away from an immediately treated area and keep all weedkillers in their original containers in a securely locked cupboard out of reach of children. Wash your hands thor oughly after using weedkillers. Do not use the mowings from treated lawns as a mulch or on a compost heap. For an environmentally safer and cheaper alternative, use lawn sand – buy it ready-mixed from a garden shop, or mix thoroughly 3 parts (by weight) of sulphate of ammonia, 1 part sulphate of iron and 20 parts sharp (lime-free) sand. Apply during spring and summer at 120 g per m2 (4oz per sq yd) during dry weather; a good pinch sprinkled onto individual dandelions, plantains or other troublesome weeds will kill them individually. Lawn sand feeds the grass as well as killing the weeds. Mowings can be safely used on the compost heap and as a mulch.
Badly-drained or moss-infested lawns can be improved by a dressing of sharp sand or coke breeze in autumn. This will give thestructure a more open texture and allows any moisture to drain away more easily. Autumn, too, is the time to feed the lawn with a top dressing of peat or well-rotted manure or compost. This will build up a fertile layer just below the surface, where the grass roots can take full advantage of it, and especially where new lawns are concerned, help to fill any surface irregularities that may have developed.
Moss can be eradicated by treating affected patches of lawn with lawn sand at the rate given above or with a proprietary liquid moss killer based on a tar product, anthracene. Unless the basic cause is found, however, the mosses are likely to reappear. Many different factors are responsible, including poor orsoil, too acid a soil or too close cutting of the grass. It is better therefore to save unnecessary work by finding the cause and putting matters right before resorting to preventive measures.
Lawn maintenance may sound a formidable task, but unless you are a perfectionist whose aim is to have a lawn like a bowling green, you can cut down on some of the routine jobs and still have a stretch of grass that will make a pleasing setting for your plants and a place for relaxation. In any case, the work involved decreases considerably once you have got the lawn into condition. Also, many of the maintenance operations usually recommended, such as top- dressing, scarifying and spiking, can be dispensed with by the busy gardener.
Renovating old lawns
On taking over a garden where the lawn has been badly neglected, one’s first impulse might be to dig up the whole area and start again at square one. This entails a lot of hard work and is not necessarily the best procedure unless the turf has become infested with coarse grasses, moss and weeds to the point of no return. In many cases a great deal of labour can be saved by renovating the existing lawn.
Sickling down the tall growth will give a better idea of the situation. After that, a thorough raking will get rid of the inevitable accumulation of dead material. The grass should then be cut with the mower, with the blades set at their highest level. A rotary mower is ideal for this job.
Patience will bring satisfying results, as the finer grasses regain light and air and begin to multiply. If a renovation programme of this kind is started in spring, combined with applications of lawn fertilizers and weedkiller, good results should be produced by the following autumn. At this stage, bare patches can be filled with seed mixed with sifted soil or peat, or can be made good by patching with turf. Subsequent maintenance will be the same as for an established lawn.
The only lawn pest likely to prove troublesome in most gardens is the leatherjacket, a greyish-black leathery grub, the larva of the cranefly, or daddy longlegs. These feed on the grass roots, and although they often do no lasting damage, in some years they can cause a lot of harm and kill off large areas of grass, particularly if the lawn is newly sown. They can, however, be easily controlled by soaking the infested areas with water and then covering with sacking or black polythene sheeting. This should bring the leatherjackets to the surface by the following morning, when the covers can be removed and the grubs swept up and destroyed or left for the birds to eat.