General Lawn Maintenance Advice
Each square metre of turf contains up to 10,000 individual grass plants. Just like us, the health and vigour of plants depend on their genetic makeup, their nutrition, their care and their environment.
Our supplier selects varieties that are known to be disease resistant (that is disease resistant – not disease proof); nevertheless to remain healthy plants need sunlight for energy, nitrogen to sustain growth and trace elements to support cell functions. They also need water.
A grass plant is 75-80% water. This is continuously being lost to the atmosphere during transpiration and respiration and is used for photosynthesis and growth of new cells and so must be replenished. Plants do this by drawing water from the ground through their roots.
Your new lawn may show variations in colour and texture. This is because our suppliers turf is grown and harvested on a huge scale in order to meet demand for this popular product. A lawn adapts to its appearance to the soil beneath it and soil conditions are not 100% uniform across a 20 acre field of turf, which is a fact of nature. Rest assured though, that once you have a regular maintenance programme in place, you will have a lawn to be proud of.
Remember: turf is just the start of a lawn. Without proper care and attention even the best quality turf can look sad and neglected.
Air, food and water – the staple diet of all living organisms, and grass is no different. Get these ingredients right and you are well on the way to having a good looking, healthy lawn.
Watering – Professionals use the term irrigation, but it’s the same thing. Grass needs water, particularly during long, dry spells. Rather than regular, daily watering, it’s better to drench the lawn thoroughly then leave for 3 or 4 days. This encourages the roots to go searching deeper into the soil.
Feeding – grass plants require nutrients which they take from the soil. The nutrients required are nitrogen, potassium and phosphate. For most lawns a feed in Spring, a top-up feed in the Summer and an Autumn feed, using propriety products will suffice.
Mowing – clean, sharp blades will give a better looking and healthier lawn. Keep the height at around 25mm (1 inch). Most lawn grasses will be put under stress, and will struggle in harsh conditions such as drought, if maintained much lower than this.
At the start of the growing season, start at the highest cut, just taking the tops off the grass, and gradually reduce the height on subsequent cuts. The general rule of thumb is not to remove more than one third of the grass height at any one cut. Do not cut in the same direction each time, cut in different directions to encourage the grass to stand up. To get the professional, banding effect your mower needs to have a good roller. If possible, remove the cuttings on every cut. The exception is during drought conditions when the cuttings should be left on the surface to help retain moisture in the ground.
Common Problems With A Lawn
How you can damage turf – it may surprise you to learn this, but humans cause more problems to turf than all the diseases and insects combined. For example, walking, running, sports, horses, dogs, and bicycles all cause wear to turf. When turf is worn, it becomes weak and more susceptible to disease and other forms of damage. Pavements, driveways, and buildings can have an effect on turf. These structures can cause turf to heat up, or they can collect a lot of water and salts (used to melt snow), which can reduce the growth of turf.
Remember: Turf was developed to be beautiful to look at and fun to use, but to ensure these pleasures, you must take care of it.
Lawn compaction – if you are experiencing patches on your lawn or perhaps an accumulation of moss, weeds or thatch – aeration might be the answer.
What is aeration? Put simply, aeration involves making holes in the lawn to allow moisture and air to reach the roots of the grass plant and to allow carbon dioxide to be released from the soil.
Why do I need to aerate my lawn? Through the course of a year, the soil beneath the turf can become compacted. Compaction can be caused from using your mower or even by children playing. The normally loose particles of soil that hold the grass roots of your lawn clump together. This heavy soil cannot drain moisture away and prevents oxygen from reaching the grass roots.
What are the effects of lawn compaction? You may notice a build up of thatch or lawn patches. Because of poor drainage, moss in the lawn may become an increasing problem.
How to aerate a lawn? Without the right equipment, aeration can be an exhausting and lengthy process. That said, for smaller areas of lawn, a simple garden fork can be used. Sink the fork into the grass to a depth of around 8-10cm. Gently wiggle to create a slight gap then remove the fork. Repeat every 15cm or so.
For heavily compacted areas, a hollow-tine spiker could be the answer. The hollow tines on this tool actually remove three plugs of soil at a time. Please note: hollow-tine forks should be used sparingly – every 3 years or so.
For larger lawns, owners of garden tractors or ride on mowers can fit a towable slitter or spiker to their machines.
When should I aerate? You can aerate your lawn from spring to autumn – but do look at the weather. The process is made much easier if the ground is moist and not too dry. Avoid aerating in times of drought or when a long period of dry weather is forecast – spike dry ground and you can expect to see cracks appearing. Do not be tempted to spike a lawn that is wet or water logged – this could end up damaging the turf.
How often should I aerate my lawn? This is dependent on the condition of your lawn, but consider spiking your lawn at least once a year.
What results should I expect? After 2-3 weeks, you should notice the lawn becoming greener and less patchy.
Shade – Even with all the best advice in the world, growing a turf lawn can be problematic depending on one very important factor – shade.
Growing lawn turf in the shade is one area in which we are regularly asked for advice from customers. As such it makes sense to understand how shade affects successful lawn development and the key maintenance points to help deal with this issue.
Science – Photosynthesis is the natural chemical reaction through which a plant turns sunlight into plant food. The key to the problem of shaded turf is obvious – with less sunlight, the ability of plants to generate the food they need to grow strongly diminishes and therefore additional help is required by the gardener.
Situation – Of course, the most obvious method to prevent unwanted shade on your turf is to ensure that its location is away from objects that will cause problems – however we appreciate that this is often easier said than done. If you do have the opportunity to lay a new turf lawn wherever you wish, then where possible, you should avoid laying your lawn too close to buildings and other large structures as well as away from large trees. Not only do big trees generate large shady areas and leaf fall, which all add-up to additional maintenance for the lawn gardener, they consume great quantities of water, which, in hot dry summers, can drain the soil of available water for your turf.
Walking – Avoid walking unnecessarily on shaded areas. Grass blades in the shade require as much help as they can get to develop into a strong lawn and the additional wear and tear from unnecessary walking in these areas will make their job much harder.
Mowing – Never cut your shaded lawn turf by more than a quarter of the total grass blade length. This way you’ll be protecting the healthy green part of each blade which will encourage future growth and strength.
Scarification – It’s important to give shaded grass all the help it can get and this means removing competitors from its path. Moss and other unwanted plant growth can choke a lawn if it’s not dealt with properly. Scarification is the name given to the technique of removing moss and thatch (dead plant matter) that exists between grass blades using a fine tined rake. It allows additional room for the grass to grow densely. There are times of the year when scarification is not desirable however, because it can lead to the gaps being filled by further unwanted weeds. Spring and Autumn are usually considered the best time to scarify in conjunction with top-dressing and seeding where necessary.
Urine – We all love our dogs, but not when they destroy our turf. Animal urine, especially from dogs, is one of the leading problems all lawn owners face. The concentrated nitrogen can burn lawn turf, which leads to those all-too-familiar brown patches that annoy us gardener’s so much. However, there are a number of ways to handle this problem. Some of the solutions involve training the animal in question and some of them are turf specific.
Nitrogen ‘burns’ and dog training – Let’s start with the animals. First, it’s important to understand that it’s not the pH of the animal’s urine that causes burns. This is a widely held misconception. The problem is the nitrogen present in the urine, not its acidity. Plant roots wither and die when exposed to high levels of nitrogen.
Sometimes, the urine from wild animals such as rabbits, hares and foxes may find their way onto your lawn and cause your turf problems in the same way that cats and dogs can. Unfortunately it is harder to control such animals but there are things that can be done to prevent or remedy urine from dogs and cats.
You should try to train your dog to ‘go’ in one place by planting ground covering plants or spreading mulch in that area – a pee post can work well for this. Pee posts are treated with pheromones to attract the dogs, encouraging them to use them for their ‘business’. You can also use motion activated sprinklers in both the front and back gardens to help keep neighbourhood dogs and any other wandering animals such as cats away from your lawn turf. Turf solutions Now let’s look at your turf. The first thing you could try is to improve your soil quality. Make sure you have adequate drainage so that urine will sink into the soil beneath the roots of your lawn turf, thus reducing the severity of the burns. By washing the area down with water (one way you can do this is by applying gypsum to the water to neutralise the nitrogen) the nitrogen can be diluted and prevent it from burning your lawn turf. A lot of water must be used, so this solution really only works for spot treatments.
Finally, you might want to consider changing your lawn turf to a form of grass that is less prone to burning. Some types of grass are more sensitive to nitrogen than others. Fescue turf is the most resistant to burning, but perennial ryegrass also has a fairly high level of resistance. This is a fairly drastic step, but it is one way to keep your lawn healthy despite the presence of animals in your garden.
Common Turf Pests
What is a turf pest? There are a number of turf pests that are common in the UK. A turf pest is a creature that lives within the turf and feeds on the grass plant. Many turf pests feed on the root of the plant which causes a rapid deterioration in the condition of the grass, causing large areas of discoloured turf and can ultimately kills the plant.
Leatherjackets are also known as Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs. The adult is known as the Crane Fly and it is at the larvae stage of the life cycle that this creature is called a Leatherjacket. This is the stage at which they are a pest to turf and this is because they eat the roots of the grass plants.
Grass is very capable of resisting minor damage to its root system and so damage may often go unnoticed. However there is a threshold of around 25 larvae per square metre at which significant damage will be caused. The adult, the Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs is found in the tail end of summer and early autumn, at this point they are laying eggs in the soil. The eggs then hatch and feed during the autumn into the following spring until about May. Damage can be noticed in the spring time but as winters have become milder in recent years damage can be seen as early as the late autumn and winter time.
Again damage and pest population can be indicated by birds scratching the surface to feed on the larvae. It is best to apply a control product between late October and March to reduce pest populations and restore your lawn, these are readably available from all good garden centres.
Adult chafer grubs are a reddish brown beetle around 14mm long. But it is the grub stage that is a problem to turf. The adults emerge from the soil in May-June and mate in the evenings through to the end of July, each night returning to the soil. Eventually the female chafer grub lay their eggs in the soil, laying around 15-20 eggs over several days. Eggs are often laid in compacted soil around 150mm deep, so regular aeration of a lawn can help reduce incidence as part of an Integrated Pest Management Plan.
After approximately 2 weeks the eggs hatch, in due course the chafer grub larvae move toward the surface and begin to feed on the roots of the grass plants.
You will notice the damage to your lawn in the August – September period. This damage presents itself as a gradual thinning and yellowing of the lawn. The greater the chafer grub infestation the more evident the damage will be. Dead areas would expand in size and turf can literally be peeled back like the page of a book.
The problem can become evident by secondary damage such as birds pecking at and pulling back the surface. Use a pesticide commonly found at garden centres to treat the chafer grub infestation and return your lawn to a healthy condition.