The action of mowing encourages the grass plants to adapt to an alien growth form. The key elements in this process are height of cut and frequency of mowing. Height of cut will generally be determined by the purpose the lawn is put to.
Selecting a Lawnmower
Before selecting a lawnmower you have to ask yourself the following questions.
How quickly do I want to cut my lawn?
Hover mowers usually cut quicker than cylinder or rotary mowers, but often the finish isn’t as good. Generally speaking, the wider the lawnmower the quicker the cut.
Shape and surface of lawn.
If your lawn is bumpy and uneven then the best option is a hover or rotary lawnmower as cylinder lawnmower will often damage a bumpy lawn, as they are unable negotiate steep contours.If your lawn is square with few obstacles then width of lawnmower is not an issue. However, if your lawn has grass paths, flower beds and trees to navigate, a narrow easy to handle lawnmower will work best.
What kind of finish do I want?
If you are keen to have Wimbledon stripes then a cylinder mower with a grass box and a back roller will give you the best results. If, however, you are simply cutting the lawn the rotary or hover will do a good job.
How often will I cut the grass?
Good intentions aside, if you feel that your lawn may occasionally become slightly over grown then a hover or rotary petrol mower would probably be best. Cylinder mowers work best when they are simply topping the grass, they will often struggle no matter how sharp to tackle an overgrown lawn.
Frequency of Mowing
The golden rule is little and often. In other words remove only a small amount of green leaf at any given time. Never more than 20% but mow frequently at least twice or three times a week in the growing season and once a week in spring, autumn or during drought. Even in the winter when ground conditions allow, occasional mowing with the blades set high, just to top the grass off will keep things neat and tidy.
Height of Cut
A public park might be mown at 100 mm and a golf green at 6 mm. For a general domestic lawn in spring, autumn or during drought, a good mowing height would be around 32 mm. Much over that will be detrimental to the fine grasses. In summer reduce the height gradually to 25 mm. Luxury lawns in spring, autumn or drought should be mown at about 19 mm reducing to 12 mm in summer. Mowing below 6 mm will lead to deterioration in lawn quality without a substantial increase in maintenance activities and inputs.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do keep your mower sharp and well maintained.
Do switch off the power or disconnect the spark plugs before carrying out any adjustments to mowers.
Do mow frequently.
Do reduce the height gradually over a few cuts and leave a gap.
Don’t shave the grass at irregular intervals.
Don’t remove more than 20% of the green leaf at any one cut.
Don’t mow when grass is very wet.
Don’t fill the mower with fuel on the lawn itself.
The single most important activity in good lawn care is mowing
Seed Rates: Time of year: Weather conditions:
Some species establish more quickly than others and can out compete each other at the early stages. It is never wise to use excessive quantities of seed and one should stick as near as possible to the recommended sowing rates and depth. Sowing seed at the extreme end of the growing season are inadvisable particularly unseasonably mild conditions. The season can be effectively extended. Dry periods are the worst times to sow but at the other extreme heavy rain and water logging will not aid establishment.
Preparing the Ground Sowing:
Initial ground preparation is very important. Do not rush this part. Good preparation will save you much angst in the future so time spent on preparation is seldom wasted. Try and work when the soil is not saturated. If it sticks to your footwear it is too wet. Let it dry out. Dig the area over or rotovate it mechanically and while doing so remove large stones, bricks, roots of trees and perennial weeds that you come across. If you are able, leave the ground to settle for a week or so. If during that time some weeds germinate they can easily be hoed out. If there is heavy weed growth apply a non-residual weed killer containing only Glysophate which will not contaminate the soil.
Rake the soil until it is roughly level always removing stones and other debris that have been brought to the surface in the process. A Landscaper rake is very useful for this activity. It is at this point you need to consider whether or not to enhance the soil with additional topsoil, sand or turf compost, again rake this out to a rough level.
Next you need to fall back on some old basic green keeping skills. Treading in is the term applied to walking up and down the area with your weight on your heals. Involve the family or ask your friends round to help. Many heals make light work. The process finds out the soft parts and generally firms the surface without causing compaction. Ground conditions are critical at this stage. If the soil is wet or sticky – keep off.
Once again get the rake out but this time working in different directions across the area to obtain a smooth seed bed free of debris. Finally, apply a pre-seeding fertiliser or an organic fertiliser and lightly rake it into the top few millimetres.
Having purchased seed from our selection of professional mixtures to best suit your area, divide the area into one square metre strips or squares. Stick to our recommended sowing rates and allow an extra 10% to keep back for subsequent over seeding of any areas that comes through a little thin. Don’t be tempted to skimp on seed. It costs very little relative to the value of a mature lawn.
If practical decant your seed into a large receptacle and mix, as different seeds are of differing sizes and may settle out in the bag during storage and transporting. It’s not essential but good practice.
Using a suitable container weigh out the recommended seed rate for a square metre and mark the container so that subsequent quantities may be easily measured. If you want perfection you may divide this quantity into equal part or quarters and sow in two or four directions. Overdoing the seed rate will not produce a better lawn indeed may result in losses of seedlings to disease. The objective throughout is to establish an even cover over the area. Avoid windy conditions as you will loose seed and the subsequent grasses may become undesirable weeds in other parts of your garden.
When you have finished give the area a very light rake. Seed needs to be in soil for the resultant plant to survive not on soil where the seedling may shrivel up and die. So gently rake it into the surface of the soil. A general rule of thumb in gardening is to sow seed to the depth of the seed itself. Grass seed is very fine compared to pea and bean seeds and if too deep will not be able to germinate and establish properly.
Preparing for grass seed
It is important to take out broad leafed weeds, as early as possible, with a suitable herbicide. Broad leafed weeds tend to blanket out the young grasses emerging and will out compete them. Seeds sown too deep cannot allow the plant shoots to reach the soil surface before the seeds food source is exhausted. Equally seeds left lying on the surface are prone to stress through lack of moisture.
Sward failure is unlikely and the failures will almost certainly be due to the weather or poor preparation.
Seeds require moisture to germinate but if the ground is permanently too wet the seeds will rot, probably the riskiest process is when moisture is available allowing seeds to germinate and then followed by subsequent drought where the young seedlings shrivel up Seed beds that are not firm enough have excessive amounts of air and again will inhibit establishment. Conversely if the ground is too hard the young root systems cannot penetrate the soil
Excessively low temperatures, below 4-5 degree centigrade means very slow growth and poor establishment. Poor thin soil will not assist fast establishment and sowing may be prone to failure. A suitable fertiliser should be applied in advance to ensure a good source of nutrient for the young plant.
PH levels must also be suitable although grass will establish within very wide intolerance's.
Both air and frost will severely check the growth of seedlings and can also kill them off by heaving the soil surface and leaving the young root system suspended in mid air.
Water Logging: Watering:
Permanently soaked soil prevents roots obtaining sufficient oxygen and carbon dioxide to maintain their growth process and so they will die. Water well, but do not saturate. Use a sprinkler. Keep watering during dry weather every 2/3 days and it will not be long before you notice a fine green covering developing.
When the seedlings reach 50 to 75 mm try and give the area a light roll perhaps with a cylinder mower with the cutting height set to maximum height. Make sure it is a good dry day and the surface is not wet. This just nicely consolidates the surface and encourages the young grasses to tiller. Make sure all surface stones have been removed first. In a day or two the grass plants will pop back up again and the lawn may be mown for the first time. The mower must be sharp and set to remove only the top 12 mm or no more than 10% of the green leaf. Mowing excessively close at this juncture may result in severe stress and permanent damage to the sward. In subsequent mowing very gently reduce the height of cut as the lawn gains vigour and the plant population increases.
Dealing With Moss
The most effective moss control is best achieved by having a healthy and vigorous grass sward. Increasingly mild and damp weather is adding to this troublesome moss problem in lawns. There are basically three types of moss - upright moss, trailing moss and cushion moss and they all thrive when conditions are detrimental to healthy grass growth.
Waterlogged soil, as a result of poor drainage or compaction, prevents the free entry of air into the soil. As a result there can be a build up of carbon dioxide in the soil that reduces the ability of the root systems uptake of nutrients. The reproductive cycle of moss allows it to thrive in damp conditions, spring and autumn tend to be when colonisation takes place.
On the other hand moss also survives in conditions of low fertility, which might be quite dry. Here it is a lack of nutrition that prevents the grass sward from being healthy thus allowing the ingress of moss or in extreme cases, lichens.
Moss thrives when grass is under stress. Large trees and high hedges create moss conditions. Deep shade, with excessive moisture dripping off the leaves is contributory factor. In addition the root system of the trees and shrubs extract nutrient from the soil thus depriving the grasses of the plant food they need to thrive. The reduced light levels conspire to inhibit grass vigour and allow the moss to compete.
Soils, which have become over acid, again favour moss as grass looses its vigour and ability to out compete the invader.
In summary, the occurrence of moss is a direct result of low plant vigour, low fertility, poor soil conditions or lack of available nutrient. All conspire to favour the growth of moss rather than of grass.
Treatment of moss
There are as number of products available for effective moss control, not least the traditional Lawn Sand mixture. This is a product, which effectively burns off the moss while providing a boost to grass growth. Sometimes more than one application will be required.
However, the best long-term strategy for moss control is through regular feeding to keep up the vigour of the sward.
Careful mowing is essential. Removing excessive amounts of green foliage, more than 20% at any time, places the grass under great stress. Stressed grass plants are more open to invasion from moss. Equally leaving the grass excessively long will create a damp microclimate on the surface and will weaken the finer grasses.
Where possible the removal of over hanging branches and root pruning can prove highly beneficial. Furthermore the reduction in height of hedges or opening up the gap in them will increase air movement and reduce shade – all of which will dry up the surface.
Mechanical treatments such as scarifying will remove considerable quantities of moss and if carried out in the spring and early autumn will be very effective. This coupled with surface aeration designed to improve the surface drainage will go a long way to combat the problem.
The use of good quality top dressing doubles up in increasing fertility and helping create a drier more free draining surface.
Reducing acidity by the application of lime should be undertaken very cautiously as it may result in other problems. The use of a product such as calcified seaweed would be a safer form of moss control.
The Shaded Lawn
Shade is caused a number of factors such as buildings, high hedges, fences but more commonly from trees denying light to a lawn. None of these are helpful for the maintenance of a good quality grass cover.
The denial of light by the tree canopy, the competition for food from the root systems and dehydration through the roots extracting water all combine to impede the healthy growth of grass. Typical symptoms would be thin bare ground cover, often very dry with moss and lichen in evidence. Some trees excrete sap through the foliage that can result in a sticky and unpleasant surface. You may be surprised at the distances roots can travel but as a general rule on deciduous trees, one and a half times the height of the tree is a recognised formula.
It is better to attack the problem at source by thinning out the canopy of the tree removing lower branches and undertaking root pruning, cutting the root system where it enters the lawn area. None of this will affect a healthy tree or shrub adversely if carried out properly.
A lawn in shade requires regular re seeding with a shade tolerant grass seed mixtures and the use of wetting agents, fertilisers and soil conditioners. The use of wetting agents will assist in moisture retention and penetration on particularly dry areas. Over seeding in the autumn with a grass seed mixture specifically for shady areas would be beneficial. In addition aeration and top dressing should improve the situation.
It may be, however, that it is a one sided struggle and in this case it may be better to simply to abandon the area immediately around the tree and allow it to grow wild or putting down a layer of bark mulch. Planting or sowing wild flowers which will thrive in very dry conditions or planting a range of bulbs to give you colour throughout the year are other alternatives.
Dealing With Clay
Clay is a term that applies to a generally heavy sticky soil which is difficult to work. Sticky and heavy when wet, hard and lumpy when dry. Commonly soils used on new house construction have had their mechanical structure destroyed through the handling and storage process, particularly on green-field sites.
While soil structure may not be good it does not make it a clay soil but nonetheless many of the problems to be faced are the same. Commonly the soil structure is such that drainage will not be effective, especially during periods of very wet weather and the winter, resulting in a sticky slippery lawn which would lead to encouraging worms and weeds. Correspondingly in the summer dry periods the soil may crack and be very hard.
When creating a new lawn on this type of soil attention should be given to improving the existing soil structure.
This can be achieved by placing a simple drainage system into the soil and bringing the gravel up to the surface before capping the whole area with a suitable light top soil, ash, or turfing sand to a depth of at least 50 mm. To incorporate sand into the soil itself in a volume that would make a fundamental difference would require 80% to 90% of the resulting material to be sand. This is a very big task and if you are faced with no alternative but to work with the soil you have, then capping is the best way forward and recognising that in the longer term you may have to carry out regular aeration work.
On small lawns it is probably most cost effective simply to have the offending material removed and replaced with good quality top soil. There are a number of soil conditioners on the market which can assist the breakdown of clay soils.
Lawn Care Calendar
January is the time when there is the least work to do on our lawns.
If the weather conditions allow aerate the surface using solid tines (fork) or an appropriate aerator.
Brush off leaves, twigs and other debris, keeping the lawn drier and reducing the risk of disease.
Avoid walking on the turf at times when the lawn is very wet or covered in white frost.
If conditions allow, top the grass with the mower set high to keep things tidy.
February is still a slow time for lawn care.
Make sure your mower is fully serviced and ready for action a further “topping” may be carried out if conditions allow. Do not do this if frost is expected within 48 hours.
Should worm casts appear, these should be brushed off to avoid creating seedbeds for unwelcome weeds.
This is the month in milder areas, when the lawn care programme should really kick off.
At the first signs of real growth, give the surface area a light-to- medium weight rolling, which will consolidate any unevenness of the surface caused by winter frosts.
Vigorously brush the lawn in different directions using a drag brush or drag mat or do a light scarifying.
When mowing never dramatically reduce the height of cut. Remove no more than 20-25% of the green leaf. Tidy up the edges around the lawn removing debris and re- cutting a sharp edge with an edging iron.
A light application of turf top dressing can be applied after mowing.
This is also the time to treat moss with Lawn Sand or similar products. Alternatively you can apply the first spring and summer fertiliser.
The fertiliser programme continues with another dressing around mid-month.
If moss is still prevalent it may be necessary to apply a second treatment.
Continue to gradually reduce the mowing height and increase the frequency of mowing from once to twice a week, not forgetting to always remove clippings.
Rake out areas of thin or worn turf or any damaged areas. Apply a suitable grass seed mix with top dressing or re-turf larger worn areas.
Now you should be mowing once to twice a week.
It may be beneficial at this stage to over-sow with a fine grass mixture if it is found that the surface area is sparse in grass growth.
Apply fertiliser dressings if required.
Weeds should be treated with a selective lawn weed killer, weed and feed dressing or lawn sand. Always adhere to the manufactures recommendations. Try to pick a day when the lawn is dry on the top and damp below and when there is no wind.
Now we are well into the growing season, continue the mowing programme.
If you enjoy long dry spells, raise the height of the mower and reduce frequency of mowing.
When you decide to water do so copiously. Give the lawn a good soaking then leave it a few days.
Further weed control treatment may be required.
If there is clover around then a light raking before mowing will help control this sometimes troublesome weed.
Lawn fertiliser should be applied again to maintain colour and plant vigour.
Mowing should continue at your chosen height.
Water when conditions demand.
If you're off on holiday for a couple of weeks try and arrange to have someone mow your lawn.
Follow up weed killing may be required.
The first part of the month should be regarded as a continuation of July.
This is a good time to apply a last treatment for weeds.
Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer to maintain colour.
This is also an excellent time for sowing grass seed.
The frequency of mowing will now decrease and the height of cut can be raised gradually.
Now is an ideal time to hollow tine compacted lawns. Follow up with turf top dressings or sand/loam, depending on the nature of the soil. Drag mat and brush the dressing in making sure the grass is showing through. Too thick and the sward will be smothered and will die out.
Over sow grass seed to increase the population of grass in any worn areas.
Worms may become active at this time of the year.
Light rolling may be beneficial at this time, but only if absolutely necessary.
Light scarification is in order but not too severe with autumn frosts a risk.
An application of an autumn fertiliser dressing can be made towards the end of the month.
Lifting and levelling before seeding or turfing can attend to local bare areas and humps and hollows.
As growth begins to slow your regular mowing program should gradually decrease.
Disease may become prevalent at this time of year and suitable treatment should be affected.
Brush leaves and other debris and remove worm casts as required.
It is beneficial to apply liquid iron, as it will enhance colour, “harden-off” the grass.
Give edges a trim as it helps with later leaf collection.
This is a good month to be doing turfing work. As you will be using your lawn less and growth is slower.
When ground conditions allow, occasional mowing may be undertaken.
If you want good winter colour the early part of the month is your last chance to apply a suitable fertiliser.
Not a great deal of work to be done at this time of the year.
Keep your lawn brushed or raked and free from debris.
If you missed an end-of-season mowing, pick a nice dry day to undertake this operation.
Keep off the turf during wet and frosty weather.
Take your mower in for a service and sharpening.