A high quality lawn really sets off a garden bed or landscape and can add thousands of dollars to the value of a property. For many homeowners a durable utilitarian lawn is an essential part of the outdoor environment for entertaining as well as recreation. For these practical people, it is not nearly so much about the lawns' beauty as its ability to withstand the rigors of a thousand stampeding feet.
Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for and lawns are no exception. If the goal is to have the highest quality lawn on the block, the expense in maintenance, products and time can be considerable and border on botanical slavery. Whereas a basic multi-purpose utilitarian lawn can often be managed on a shoe-string budget and with minimal effort plus ironically often outlasts the much higher quality product.
A good lawn must be supported by good soil or a suitable soil medium substitute. Lawn grasses are remarkably durable. They can be grown hydoponically and even as a sod roof. But all lawn grasses demand good sunshine. No lawn will endure deep shade and often even partially shaded sites are hardly worth the effort some people put themselves through when they could much more easily opt for an appropriate groundcover or inorganic /paved surface to much better effect. Ideal soil pH for lawn grass is 6.5 but could range both a little lower and higher than this. Lower pH often encourages the development of algae and moss while elevated pH more than 7.2 frequently brings with it the burden of prolific broad leafed weeds.
Drainage is essential. Lawn grasses will not thrive in sodden land. Wherever soil does not drain well and water is found standing more than an hour after rainfall or irrigation, add generous dustings of Gypsum Lime over the poorly draining areas. The colloidal action of the Gypsum will slowly transform the soil particles into pellets that will greatly improve drainage and better aeration. Alternatively, mixing round river gravel or sand into clay or heavy land will also lighten it sufficiently to produce good turf. The secret there is 'round' gravel as anything angular mixed with clay will quickly transform itself into concrete. A deep, loose, loamy land that is good for pasture makes the ideal site for a lush lawn.
Ample and regular watering or irrigation are also essential to success. Most lawn grasses demand 2.5cm/1 inch of rainfall or its equivalent in irrigation every week. If weather becomes excessively dry, hot and/or windy that may necessitate more watering. During dormant wintry times, lawn grasses need far less watering but must never be allowed to totally dry out.
Lawn maintenance is a year-round affair. Each climate zone has its own rules as to the "best" times to get great results. But it is often said that 'timing is everything' and certainly proper timing makes lawn care so much easier. The most important times to concentrate on lawn maintenance, preparation and seeding are Early Spring and Autumn. Summer is usually a tme for mowing and watering. Winter is a time to rest the lawn in colder climates or feed, mow and repair in moderate and (sub) tropical situations.
Early Spring is an excellent time to improve the lawn. In most climate zones ample rainfall is assured. Temperatures are cool to moderate and sunlight is gentle and increasing in intensiity as days become longer and warmer. These are ideal conditions for seed germination and relatively rapid growth. Provided the lawn can be prepared early enough in the season, a good turf can be established by Summer.
Lawn fertilizer is always best applied when soil is moist and then watered in immediately to avoid any chance of burning to tender emerging lawn grasses. Spring weather conditions can often be benevolently obliging to make fertilizing the lawn a very easy task to complete and then sit back and watch it all be washed into the lawn with the next passing shower. Within in a short time, spectacular results can usually be expected.
Mid March is traditionally known in the garden world as the "best" time to start a new lawn or repair and reseed an existing one. March in the Northern Hemisphere is the start of Spring. In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the beginning of Autumn. While the ground is still quite warm from the summer heat, the shorter days, cooler nights and heavier Autumn dews make it much easier to keep the soil moist. But adequate and consistent levels of moisture are the key here to seed sowing success for the Autumn lawn.
Warm, moist soil means fast germination of the grass seed. If these fine blades can be kept alive until the Autumn rains return the lawn will develop quickly and will be beautifully established by Spring. This is the biggest advantage to Autumn sowing verses starting a new lawn in Spring. In many places, Spring quickly escalates into drier and much warmer summery conditions. This offers less opportunity for the Spring-sown lawn to establish a deep root system before the advent of drier and hotter weather. But wherever the Spring climate is benevolent, damp and long and Summer is not overly intense, Springtime sowing is a near-guaranteed success.
When creating a new lawn, first remove all weeds either with a commercial or organic spray or by cultivation. Then cultivate deeply until the ground is reduced to a fine tilth. This is important because the young grass blades need a fine seed bed in which to germinate and must penetrate the soil deeply with their fine roots. The deeper the roots go, the stronger and more drought resistant the lawn will become.
For an existing lawn, methodically go over the old lawn with a heavy metal rake to dislodge dead old thatch and loosen the top soil. Many Gardeners elect to use a selective weed and feed fertilizer combination or selective herbicide at least one or two weeks beforehand. This kills out almost all the weeds and aging grasses that then lift out easily once they are raked. If using a herbicide be sure that it is one that has no residual activity in the soil otherwise, the chemicals might damage emerging grass blades once the new seed is sown. Another method is to mow the lawn very short, then rake it and mow this back into the lawn bed as mulch. Then add weed free soil to level out any bumps and dips in the lawn bed.
Once the land is cultivated, whiten the ground with a commercial lawn food. Blood and bone, or finely pulverised, aged manure (weed free) can also be added. Lime can be dusted over soils that are of an acid pH, especially if green algae or moss is visible on the ground. The lawn seed is then broadcast as evenly as possible over the surface. This can be done with a hired commercial seed spreader or by hand.
The best way to achieve even coverage is to mark the lawn out into parallel lines. Then mark out another set of parallel lines at 90 degrees to the first creating a checkerboard. Divide the lawn seed in half. Spread one half along the first set of lines and the other half on the other set of lines.
When sowing use a sweeping motion with the hand spreading the seed from side to side as you move down the line. This will ensure an even coverage of the seed. Then thoroughly rake in the seed and fertiliser. Water in well.
From that point on, the new lawn must be kept constantly moist but not wet, otherwise the young blades will wither and die or become weak and diseased. Where watering is a problem, the entire area can be covered lightly with a mulch which will shade the soil and retain it’s moisture.
Straw is excellent for this purpose as are dried grass clippings or spoiled hay provided these are relatively weed free. For truly professional results the entire area should be rolled when the seed is first raked in and again once the area is looking green.
The new lawn can be mowed with a catcher once the blades reach 8-10cm. Reduce the mowing height as it matures. This helps force each grass plant to branch and spread out to create a lush and matted turf. But once weather becomes drier and hotter in Summer, mow higher so that the ground is kept cooler, damper and shaded. This also helps discourage the development of broad leafed weeds
For small repair jobs on existing lawns rake over the site wherever the lawn has failed. Sprinkle over the roughened ground with appropriate fertilizers and seed then water in generously. There are also commercial lawn repair kits available that makes this job really easy. These use mulched, recycled paper imbedded with seed and fertiliser which can be spread directly on the problem spot.
Choosing the right grass seed is also really important. In average, damp and droughty sites Fescue, Brown Top and durable perennial Rye grasses are best. Annual Rye is a one-shot-wonder that will give a spectacular 'instant' effect but will need frequent mowing and must be reseeded every year. In (sub) tropical sites Buffalo, Kikuya and broad-leafed Saint Augustine grasses create a durable carpet but turn brown with the first frosty weather. All these grasses can withstand relatively heavy foot and pet traffic; even the odd car parked upon them. Couch, Paspalum and Kikuya are amongst the hardiest almost rogue 'weed' grasses when it comes to heavy traffic and abusive environments. They can sometimes even withstand the worst activity of frenetic pets and boy racers.
On the other extreme, Kentucky Blue Grass and its hybrid grass cultivars make one of the highest quality lawns imaginable. Here the devoted garden lawn slave will frequently grovel on bended knees to eliminate those pesky weeds that stand out so much more in a manicured lawn. For them, mowing a well-tended Blue Grqass lawn truly becomes a work of art. But these lawns often need constant care with watering and cannot withstand tropical humidity and heat for long periods plus they brown off and go dormant in Winter. Creeping Red Fescue and Crewings Fescue also makes a stunning lawn combination that is somehwhat hardier, a little less green and lush but very dense and also goes through a Winter dormancy cycle.
Annual Poa, sometimes called Annual Blue Grass is a vivid green tuffet-type grass that thrives in cooler weather and mild wintery conditions .It is considered a loathsome weed by some, as its bright green colour clashes with deeper green tonings. But it has been used extensively for golf greens to replace Creeping Bent Grass as it is durable, soft, mows perfectly to a flat carpet and seasonally thrives when many other grasses are dormant and then conveniently dies away once they come back into active growth. For a brilliant, low maintenance, green velvet lawn in soils that stay relatively moist all year try the hardy, dwarf Perennial Rye and Creeping Fescue grass combination sold as “Mow-It-Less”.
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