Turf requirements range from a bit of grass for football and picnics to the immaculate display of the crown green bowling greens. The majority of us want a reasonably level, healthy sward on which to gaze and offset the labour of love which is our garden. There will always be specifics like worn walking areas or patches to replace entirely due to pet damage but on the whole just follow these three simple practices to add a bounce to the spring lawn.
Scarifying basically means raking dead and congested material from the level where the turf grows, using a specific tool called a spring tine rake, which effectively pulls out congested material from the soil level like a fine tooth comb along a scalp. This allows the space to breathe and regenerate at a crucial area for turf where the plants grow. Unlike broad leaved plants, the single plants that amass to create a sward, have their meristems (areas of dividing and multiplying cells) at the base of the blade. This accounts for why some broad leaved plants are destroyed by regular mowing whereas grass will benefit and remain healthy.
The accumulation of condensed debris at the base of the sward is called ‘thatch’. We remove it to increase drainage and air flow and to assist regeneration of the sward from the base. However, it is not necessarily an annual task. Check first to see how congested your lawn is and whether it is suffering from an accumulation of moss or dampness. As in life, overdoing it will conversely create weakness. You can try a test area first to see what comes up and what effect this has on the subsequent growth of the grass. Most gardeners will add raked material to the compost bin, spreading thinly so as not to create a wet blob.
Scarification is best done in early autumn to give the grass a chance to recover before any frosts. September and early October are ideal.
AERATION & TOP DRESSING
Grass, like all plants, will only be as healthy as the soil from which it grows. To this end problems in the look of the lawn can sometimes be attributed to the soil condition beneath. Quite often this will mean compaction or boggy conditions. If your lawn is rife with moisture loving buttercups for example, their presence would indicate a drainage problem. To help improve soil conditions it is useful to aerate. This relieves compaction, introduces air flow to the soil and improves drainage capacity.
Again, be guided by the requirements of your lawn but in general, for light problems use a simple garden fork to prick out deep holes approximately 10/ 15cm apart (4/6in) through the top soil. If soil is heavily compacted use a ‘hollow tine aerator’. This is a tool which effectively removes long plugs of the condensed soil, leaving tubular holes which you can then fill with appropriate top dressing. Again this may not be an annual task but a 2-3 year problem or maintenance remedy. Many gardeners will fork over the lawn annually and maybe brush in sharp/ lawn sand, leaving major aeration for a lengthier period.
Average mixes for top dressing consist of:
3 parts sandy loam compost, such as John Innes No. 2
6 parts horticultural sharp sand
1 part organic matter such as sieved or fine garden compost
You can alter this basic mix accordingly, perhaps using John Innes no 3 on light soils or increasing sharp sand proportions in heavy clay areas. Simply mix thoroughly and brush into turf with besom brush paying specific attention to filling any holes created by aeration.
Having alleviated any potential soil and aeration issues, the next step is to look at maintaining nutrient levels. Autumn and spring are the optimum times but with each having specific and quite different requirements.
The focus of spring is on growth and feeds are therefore high in nitrogen whereas autumn feeds reduce nitrogen content and increase potassium and phosphates (potash) in order to strengthen the grass and increase root development.
The garden lawn declined in popularity in the last two decades of the 20 century for a number of reasons: the change in weather patterns induce by climate change, contemporary design trends encouraging innovation in the use of space, the rise of labour saving artificial products and the growing requirement for two or more vehicles to be accommodated on the front drive.
However, turf is once more in the resurgence and it is worth noting that after trees and algae, managed turf and grasslands are the third most significant contributor to world oxygen. A vital role then and one worthy of a bit of TLC. Plus, the autumn ritual of scarifying aerating and feeding turf is well known to have kept generations of gardeners fit and warm on any autumn afternoon and a tonic for restful sleep.
All the autumn care tools and feeds and composts now in stock.
Please ask if you need any further assistance.
Happy Gardening from Langton Garden Centre!