Repairing lawns

A patchy, uneven or badly worn lawn is both unattractive and difficult to maintain – but effective repairs are quite easy.

Even the best kept lawn is likely to present some minor problems from time to time. Prompt repair will help to restore the healthy appearance of the lawn and may even prevent some more serious conditions from de-veloping.

First you need to examine the lawn, to identify the type of damage and, if possible, take steps to eradicate the cause. There are four main types of damage: Bumps and hollows caused by poor laying, or later subsidence, usually show up in summer when the lawn is closely mown. Raised areas get scalped and go brown, while hollow areas look unusually green and lush.

Shrub or tree suckers may sprout up in a lawn, or tree roots may break up the lawn surface. Brown or bare patches are caused by wear, disease, poor drainage, shade, continuous drips from overhead foliage, or where moss or weeds have been removed.

Unsightly patches also develop when soil is scorched by pet urine, through an overdose of fertilizer, or oil or petrol spillage from a lawnmower. Vigorous plants spilling over from borders also cause patches of dead grass. Broken or dead edges, which spoil the neat look of a lawn, are caused when someone stands on an edge, or by a lawnmower or other machinery. Incorrect use of an edging tool can result in under-cutting the edge of the lawn, which seriously weakens it. Plants overhanging the lawn from a nearby border can cause the grass to die and the edge to crumble.

Dealing with problems

Most lawn problems can be dealt with quite simply by reseeding or replacing a turf. Some, such as gaps left when weeds are re-moved, may eventually repair themselves, if left alone. But other problems need careful treatment to restore the natural good looks of the lawn.

If a problem persists, you need to look for a more permanent solution, such as setting a few stepping stones in areas worn by heavy foot traffic, or widening borders to contain plants that flop over the lawn.

Levelling bumps and hollows

Simple levelling work is best carried out when the grass is dormant, between mid autumn and early spring.

Larger hollows and bumps can be dealt with only after first lifting the existing turf – .

You can level small hollows by scattering a thin layer of half finely sieved, loamy soil and half sand over the area and brushing it in. Apply no more than 1.2cm (J4in) at a time.

The soil settles after each application and eventually levels the site. You can reseed if necessary, or simply allow the grass to fill in. To reduce a small bump, prick it over with a special hollow-tine aerator. This tool removes small plugs of soil. As the remaining soil settles into the holes, the level drops slightly. Begin in autumn and repeat every month or so until the bump has levelled out.

Filling bare patches First try to determine why the grass has died. Some causes, such as weed removal, spilled oil or pet urine, may not recur on the same spot. Other causes, such as poor drainage or heavy wear, are likely to be long-term recurring prob-lems. To deal effectively with the problems, learn to recognize the symptoms:

Excessive wear Compacted and muddy tracks.

Drought Yellow or brown – and eventually dead – grass. Weed or moss removal Irregular areas of dead or depleted grass. Pet urine Regular, circular, brown patches, surrounded by a narrow ring of unusually deep green grass. Chemical, oil or petrol spillage Brown patches, often irregular in outline.

Buried builder’s rubble Brown or yellow patches on a new site.

RESEEDING A BARE PATCH

Before starting the repair, if possible, remedy the cause.

Worn patches generally indicate areas of regular use. Consider replacing these with a path or stepping stones. Train your pets -especially female dogs – to use a pet toilet away from the lawn.

Repair and maintain garden equipment, such as the lawnmower, in the garage or on a paved area, not on the grass. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely when applying fertilizer or weedkiller to the lawn. Reseeding This is the easiest way to repair a bare patch. Mid spring or autumn is the ideal time to sow grass seed, but you can reseed bare patches at any time during the growing season if the weather is favourable. Choose a cool, fine day when the ground is moist but heavy rain isn’t expected.

Wherever possible, match the new seed to the existing lawn grass type. Some seedsmen offer special reseeding mixtures for lawn repairs which germinate quickly and produce a good finish within just a few weeks. Repair packs are graded for various uses, such as hard wear or shade.

Most seed mixtures contain bird repellent but, to be on the safe side, lay clear polythene over the patch – this will also help conserve moisture – or crisscross the area with cotton.

If fertilizer is already included in the seed mix you don’t need to apply it separately to the area you are working on.

Follow the seed packet instructions, but as a guide sow general-purpose grass seed – containing rye grass – at a rate of 30g per sq m (loz per sq yd). Sow fine-quality lawn seed a little thicker, at a rate of about 45g per sq in (1 /2oz per sq yd).

The seed should germinate in a week or two, but keep the area out of use for a further three weeks. Don’t apply lawn weedkiller to reseeded patches for two or three months.

Returfing may be more appropriate where you need to dig quite deeply to eliminate the cause of the problem, for example to remove buried rubble, or suckers and tree roots, or to improve drainage.

If the bare patch lies in a prominent spot, replace it with turf taken from a less noticeable part of the lawn. You can reseed this patch later. If you have quite a few large bare patches, it’s best to buy new turfs.

Renovating a sparse lawn

A lawn badly infected with weeds which has been treated with weedkiller may end up looking rather sparse. If growing conditions are perfect, the lawn may fill in on its own, but you can speed up the process. The best time to do this is spring or autumn.

Once the weedkiller is inactive -generally after six weeks – mow the grass and then rake it over to loosen the soil surface. Sprinkle grass seed evenly over the entire area at a rate of 15g per sq m (Vioz per sq yd).

Sieve a fine layer of good garden soil or peat substitute over the seed. Lightly roll the surface or use the back of a spade to pat the soil down. Keep the lawn well watered, especially during dry spells.

Repairing broken edges

A neat edge greatly improves the look of a lawn, but lawn edges can be damaged in several ways. Overhanging plants often smother the grass and it soon dies. When the offending plants are cut back, the lawn must be repaired. Lawnmowers – particularly the hover type – can also damage the edge, or you can break it down with your heel by stepping on it.

When removing a broken edge, cut sections small enough to lift out on a spade without the turf breaking into pieces – about 30 sq cm (l sq ft) is a manageable size. You may need to make several cuts along a badly damaged edge.

Trim away any debris, dead roots or spare soil from the broken edge before turning and replacing the turf.

Aerating damp areas

Poor drainage, especially under an old or neglected lawn, is a common cause of poor grass growth. The surface may become compacted with constant wear, yet soil just below the surface remains constantly wet.

Using a hollow-tine cultivator or aerator, take out small plugs of soil all across the damp area. Sprinkle coarse sand over and brush it into the holes. In this way, dozens of tiny drains will be made which will allow the trapped water to seep away.

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