A lush, well-maintained lawn can be the making of a garden. From time to time, though, it might need some extra care to keep it in peak condition.
When lawns start to look a bit lacklustre, it’s amazing how quickly they respond to attention. Watering in the summer can turn a brown lawn green again. Spiking to aerate the trampled areas works wonders to get the grass growing, while raking out the dead growth can turn a thin, threadbare lawn back into a soft, green carpet.
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Compacted grass doesn’t grow very well, which leads to bare patches in the summer and mud baths in the winter. Relieve the compaction and aerate the soil by pushing a garden fork about 10cm deep into the soil every 10cm and gently rocking back and forth on the fork handle. The prongs open up the soil, allowing the roots to breathe and encouraging the grass to regrow. On heavy ground, such as clay soils, brush sharp sand or fine horticultural grit into the holes to improve drainage and prevent further compaction.
Use a pair of long-handled shears to define the edge of your lawn, and stop the grass growing into borders. It instantly neatens your garden, creating a very satisfying finish. Where the lawn has grown into the border, use a spade or half-moon edger to reshape it and create a shallow ‘moat’ or install permanent edging that the grass can’t cross.
If you have a large lawn, invest in a wheeled lawn feeder for a fast and accurate job. Apply fertiliser to grass when rain is forecast, so that it gets washed down to the roots and to stop it burning the leaf blades. If it doesn’t rain, water the fertiliser in well. Your grass should look greener within a week. Lawns typically need a feed in spring and midsummer.
Fill bare patches
It’s easy to make bare patch fillers for your lawn. When reshaping the lawn, collect up the strips and place them 5cm apart in a compost-filled seed tray, then grow them on outside or in a cold frame. To replace the bare patch, cut out a square or rectangle around the area and, using a hand trowel, dig up the soil in the rectangle to whatever depth of soil your new turf strip is. Gently lay the turf, cut to fit, over the patch. Firm it down so that there are no gaps and your new turf is no higher or lower than your existing lawn.
Leave the lawn longer in summer, around 5-10cm – this will make it far less prone to drought. Shady lawns will also benefit, as it makes them less prone to moss and bare patches. Keep your mower well maintained and the blades sharp. Cut your lawn at least once a week in the summer and once every two weeks during the spring, autumn and warm winters. Regular trimming encourages the roots to spread, which will help to fill gaps and block out weeds.
Always water young lawns thoroughly. In hot weather, leave a hose or sprinkler and leave on for a couple of hours in the evening (unless, of course, there is a hosepipe ban in effect). Established lawns also need watering in prolonged hot weather. If left unwatered they will survive and green up again in the autumn. Try raising your mower blades in summer – longer grass goes brown less quickly. If you don’t want to water your lawn too often, choose a tough fescue, which is a variety of grass that spreads by rhizomes, filling bare patches easily. Its deep roots allow it to stay green and survive drought for longer.
Plantains and dandelions have wide, flat leaves that can smother large areas of lawn, although they are easy to trowel out. Yellow medick, buttercups and clover can also spread quickly through a lawn, so raking before you mow can help to lift them up into the mower blades, weakening and killing them off over time. Regular mowing and feeding is an efficient and environmentally friendly way to tackle weeds. Chemicals can be expensive and ultimately don’t tackle poor grass health, which causes weeds to thrive.