New lawns FAQs

The builders have left an awful mess just where I want to put a lawn. How do I start?

The first thing to do is to collect the rubbish and take it all to the council tip, unless the broken bricks can be used for making a drainage soakaway. You may then discover that there is enough topsoil (builders are much better than they used to be)—otherwise you will have to buy some. If there are marked ruts and much unevenness, collect all topsoil into a temporary heap so that you can adjust levels in the subsoil and ensure the deep cultivations which are important for drainage.

What is the best way to level out a considerable slope to make a lawn?

It will be necessary to remove the topsoil and carry out sufficient levelling by ‘cut and fill’ in the subsoil. Compaction caused to the subsoil should be relieved by cultivations before or after the topsoil has been returned. If it is a small job done by hand the subsoil can be dug over and smoothed out before replacing an even depth of topsoil. On larger jobs, done by machine, the subsoil cultivation is best accomplished by special subsoiling equipment after the topsoil has been returned because the machines spreading the soil themselves compact the subsoil.

How do I prepare the ground for a lawn?

You need to create a smooth, thoroughly dug and raked, fine seed bed which has been well firmed. The firmness helps establishment and minimises the risk of the soil settling unevenly, which would lead to a bumpy surface on the new lawn. A roller is not very good for achieving the right kind of firmness since it rides over air pockets. These are best got out by ‘heeling’—progressing slowly over the site in very short steps, with one’s weight on the heels so that soft spots are firmly filled. After this, rake over the soil and repeat the heeling operation. Collect all stones during the final raking and smoothing out. The seed bed should be free from weeds and a good way of achieving this is by digging followed by regular raking and hoeing throughout the summer, with a view to sowing, say, at the end of August—the best time for the job. For turfing (ideally done in the autumn) the same preparations are needed, though cultivation need not be quite so thorough.

Is it necessary to pre-treat the soil with fertiliser when making a new lawn?

On land which has been well fed for vegetables, fertiliser is probably unnecessary. In most other circumstances a dressing of general fertiliser, such as standard Growmore, or one of the special pre-seeding or pre-turfing lawn fertilisers is beneficial.

What kind of grass seed should I use for my new lawn?

Three main types of lawn seed mixtures are available. Type 1 -high-quality mixtures for first-class turf usually contain only fine fescue and fine bent grass; they require expert maintenance. Type 2 -general-purpose mixtures for the average lawn usually contain a selection (in varying proportions) of rough-stalked meadow grass, smooth-stalked meadow grass, and timothy, plus fine fescue and bent. Type 3 – general-purpose mixtures are similar to Type 2 but also include perennial ryegrass, which is very quick growing and sometimes rather coarse; these mixtures are used on football pitches.

Several good new varieties of each of the grasses in each of these types are available. The good varieties cost more than less-good ones, but it is worthwhile paying a little more to ensure you get certified seed of the best grasses, especially those of Type 1.

What is the best way to sow grass seed?

First divide the lawn area into a number of equal squares and measure out the right amount of seed for each square. Scatter this by hand, preferably after first dividing it into two portions to spread in two directions at right angles. Finally, rake in the seeds very carefully and lightly.

What is the best way of preventing birds from attacking a new-sown lawn?

Seed pre-treated with bird repellent is of some value, but the r main trouble is not the amount of seed they eat but the disturbance they cause in dust-bathing. An effective deterrent is nylon netting stretched between sticks that keep it 75-100 mm (3-4 in) above the ground. Cotton can cut the feet of birds and should not be used.

How do I ensure that I get good turf for my new lawn?

Obtain high-quality samples and ensure that the delivered material is as good as the sample selected. The turf should have a predominance of fine grasses, it should be weed-free, and it should not be too fibrous, although each turf should hold together satisfactorily. The soil present should be reasonable (not heavy clay, for instance), and the turfs should be of even thickness— about 38 mm (1% in).

Could you advise on how and when to lay the turf?

Well prepared land , fertilised if necessary , and good turf are essential. Individual turfs should be laid out flat in a staggered pattern (like that of bricks in a wall). Move in a forward direction. That is, work from planks resting on previously laid turf so as to avoid damaging the prepared bed. Correct any unevenness in the turfed area by levelling the underlying soil, not by tamping down the turf. On completion lightly roll the turfs and add a top-dressing of sandy compost .

The best time to lay turfs is in October and November; do not lay it later than December.

How do I set about making a chamomile lawn?

Common chamomile (Anthemis nobilis; syn. Chamaemelum nobile) is a ferny non-grass plant which has found some favour for small lawns for several hundred years. It forms a dense mat of feathery fronds and emits a pleasant aroma when trodden on. Chamomile is advertised in gardening columns of newspapers; be sure to get a non-flowering variety such as ‘Treneague’. You can buy a relatively small quantity and grow it on in boxes before planting out sprigs on the site. The ground should be prepared as for an ordinary lawn and you must take special care to eliminate weeds because it is impossible to get a selective weedkiller that will not also kill the chamomile.

My new lawn, sown a few weeks ago, is coming along well. How do I ensure continued success?

Aim to get a good cover of the sown grasses as soon as possible so as to keep out invaders. Important points: (1) watch out for damping-off disease ; (2) collect surface stones; (3) then lightly roll to firm up the surface and push down uncollected small stones out of reach of the mower; (4) mow after rolling but before the grass gets too long—50 mm (2 in) for Type 1 lawns and 75 mm (3 in) for Types 2 and 3—the final cutting height being reached only in stages; (5) keep the grass growing by applications of nitrogenous fertiliser.

On my recently sown lawn of chewings fescue and browntop bent there are lots of small brown and dead patches, and around these seedling grass tends to have a red or purplish colour. What should I do?

The grass seems to be affected by damping-off disease, which seems to affect these two species more than others. The disease is usually restricted to new swards sown in cold, wet conditions and/or at excessive seed rates. It may be possible to prevent further damage by spraying with a turf fungicide such as one based on chlorothalonil, or by treating with Cheshunt compound in water. Bare patches will need to be over-seeded.

My newly sown lawn is full of weeds. What can be done about it?

Most of the weeds are probably annuals which will disappear with regular mowing. The rest can be treated with selective weedkiller when the grass is sufficiently well established—perhaps in August after a spring sowing or in April after a late-summer sowing.

If the weeds are so rampant in the first weeks after sowing that the grass cannot establish itself properly, apply one of the proprietary weedkillers containing ioxynil which are sold for use on new lawns. Follow the instructions on the label exactly.

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