Planning For The Perfect Lawn

A lawn is a ‘must’ in every garden, so it deserves proper planning. Once its shape and size have been decided and marked out… well, to business!

If the house is newly built there may be builder’s rubble and debris under the topsoil. Remove this by digging over the site to a depth of one spit. You can use the rubble you unearth as hardcore for your paths.

Most weeds can be dealt with by a flame-gun or a proprietary weedkiller like Paraquat, but other more tenacious growths, like thistles, docks and nettles, are best dug out and burned. But make sure you get the whole weed up; any bits of root left will go into growth again.

Drainage problems? Only in extreme cases should it be necessary to go to the lengths of installing an elaborate system of pipes. Most of the surface-water can be drained off by adding a layer of weathered ash or clinker seven or eight inches under the topsoil.

If you want a 100% level lawn – not strictly necessary, of course, but it’s what some gardeners like – and if a good deal of soil moving is required to achieve this, remove the topsoil, level the subsoil with pegs, spirit level or some equivalent method, then replace the topsoil evenly over the subsoil. You can then prepare it for turf or seed. First, dig it over, adding well-rotted compost, manure or peat. (In the case of heavy soils, dressings of sharp sand help drainage. Organic matter added to light soil retains necessary moisture.) Next, break down the surface and, when it’s really dry, roll it with a light roller. Then rake it over to achieve an even, crumbly site, removing stones and any rubbish which might emerge during the rolling. Roll again, this time at right angles to the first rolling, then repeat the raking. You now have the choice of the somewhat expensive method of turfing, or the cheaper, longer process of seeding.

October through to April are the best months to lay turf. Begin by laying turves round the perimeter of the plot, making sure the edges are tight together. Stagger the second line of’joins’ in the same way as you would lay bricks, and take care to fill in any hollows beneath so that a good, level result is obtained. You’ll have to cut some of the turves to fit corners, and always overlap the site so that neat trimming can be effected when the turf has settled. If you want to turf a bank use canes to pin them down, removing these when the turf becomes established.

Avoid walking on freshly laid turf, which may seem difficult, seeing as you’ll be starting from the outside and working in! All you need do, however, is place a system of planks over the turves and walk on these. Next, brush a top dressing of equal parts of peat, sand and soil over the surface to fill in any cracks between the turves. Hope for rain within two or three days of laying, but if the weather doesn’t oblige give the site a going-over with a hose or sprinkler.

After about three weeks, add a mixture of peat, loam and sand, brushing this in at the rate of four pounds per square yard.

If you decide to seed your lawn, more work with the rake will be needed – the surface must be reduced to a finer tilth than is acceptable for turves. Follow this with a top dressing of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash at four ounces to the square yard. Early autumn is the best time for sowing because there’s still warmth in the soil and seedlings have a much better chance of establishing themselves before frosts begin. If you leave sowing until the spring you’ll find the grass takes longer to appear because the soil needs time to warm up. (You need a soil temperature of at least 45 °F for germination to be really successful.) Incidentally, sowing must be done when the soil is quite dry.

To make sure the seed is sown evenly, divide the site into quite small areas – pegs and twine will do for this -and distribute an equal amount of seed in each area. After sowing, rake the seed in very gently.

You’ll have to take precautions against birds, of course, as they’ll be down in flocks to undo the good work. A few strands of black cotton strung about four inches above ground will serve to put them off.

Grass should be visible after ten days or so, and three weeks should see it about one inch high. Then is the time to roll the surface with a light roller. Another three weeks and the grass will be ready for its first cut, but the mower must be really sharp and set to cut at one inch. After this you can lower the blades a little with each successive mowing. For goodness’ sake, though, check for stones and other hazards before mowing; these will damage the blades.

By the way, the rule about mowing is: don’t do it the same way every time. Straight lines, yes, but vary the direction.

Should you roll a lawn? No, only after a really cold, frosty winter, when firming down is a good idea. A spiking in early spring and late autumn is also beneficial. This helps water to seep down, thus easing firming of the surface following repeated mowing and treading. There are all sorts of ways to spike a lawn, and plenty of devices to assist you on the market.

Lawns benefit from a top dressing of a mixture of peat, loam and sand in spring and autumn every year. Apart from its tonic effect, this will help fill in depressions in the surface and maintain the lawn line.

Start war on weeds in April. Hormone weedkillers will do most of the work, and applying lawn sand will have a good effect. And clear away those autumn leaves; they smother the turf and do it no good.

Finally, what sort of seed should you choose? (No, it isn’t all just ‘grass seed’!) Well, there are a number of varieties to suit the type of lawn you want, so take advice before you buy. Chewings Fescue, Brown Top Bent and Crested Dogstail, to name but three, are types which, blended with others, will suit your purpose.

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