Restoring really bad lawns

My lawn seems to be worn out! There is a lot of moss and assorted weeds (especially cat’s-ear), but very little grass, and what there is grows so slowly that it is rarely worth mowing. Advice, please!

You may well have to dig the whole thing up and start again. You may, however, get quite dramatic improvement by liming (if soil tests show over-acidity) and generous fertiliser treatment. Such a treatment often reveals that there is more grass (probably fine grass) present than had been thought; in which case it becomes worthwhile to keep the turf and improve it further with more fertiliser, moss killer, selective weedkiller, and possibly scarification.

Recently widowed at the age of 75, I have just moved into a smaller house with a very thin and extremely weedy lawn growing in clay. My neighbour is willing to mow it for me, but he thinks I should dig it up and start again. Is this necessary?

Starting again would be a good idea if you could arrange for it to be dug up in the winter, cultivated regularly in the summer to eliminate weeds, and sown on a well-prepared seed bed in late-summer (or turfed in the autumn). This, however, would mean the absence of a green lawn for about a year, so I suggest a different approach.

A spring dressing of a fertiliser-cum-selective weedkiller in granular form will encourage the grass and kill some of the weeds—killing all the weeds at once would leave you with mainly bare ground! Follow this up about a month later with a dressing of sulphate of ammonia, mixed with sand to facilitate spreading, at the rate of 18 g with 280 g sand/m2 (l/z oz with 8 oz sand/sq yd). This will further encourage the grass, so that a further 7-10 days later you can water on a good selective weedkiller with the confidence that you will almost certainly have a weed-free, well-grassed lawn by the end of July.

I have just acquired a property in which the old lawn has been neglected for years. There are in fact only a few weeds (which I can deal with) and the grass is quite fine, but there is a wad of springy fibre 100-150 mm (4-6 in) thick at the surface and very little growth. How can I make this into a good lawn?

There are three possible approaches. (1) Start again.

Remove the turf and fibre for making into garden compost and prepare the soil for re-establishment. (2) Since the turf seems potentially good, you can lift and relay it. Hire a turf cutter and cut the turf about 25 mm (1 in) thick in uniform pieces of, say, 300 mm (12 in) square. Lay the turf flat on spare ground and prepare the site for re-turfing. The fibrous material is probably best removed, but may instead be dug in. Excessive fibre (thatch) formation is sometimes caused by over-acidity, so have the soil tested to check whether lime is required. (3) Embark on a long-drawn-out process of improving what you have. Correct any lime deficiency, give occasional dressings of fertiliser, and, above all, carry out severe scarification, repeated each autumn. It is scarcely possible to achieve enough with a wire rake: you will need a mechanical scarifier. It will probably take at least five years to solve the problem by this method of improvement.

I have acquired a real jungle of a lawn. The grass is 300-450 mm (12-18 in) high and tufty. Weeds are not too numerous, but they include some very flourishing ragwort. Is it worth trying to bring it round by intensive care?

It may be worth a try. First, get the grass down to a reasonable height in stages. The first cut (to about 50 mm (2 in)), could be made by scyth or the type of grass cutter with reciprocating knives; these and other coarse grass cutters can be hired. The mown grass should be removed. Since the turf is to be progressively checked by being mown over closer, a good dressing of fertiliser is called for in due season. The height of cut should be lowered gradually over a period of several weeks until it is about 13-19 mm (Vfe-% in), and the grass maintained at this height until it appears strong enough to be mown shorter (that is, if you want it shorter). Ragwort does not like cutting, so it may present few problems. Selective weedkiller will, of course, prove necessary, but if possible it should not be used until the area begins to look like a real lawn. Scarification from time to time may be required to improve the turf: a careful raking may be appropriate at first, but later more vigorous treatment, perhaps with a mechanical scarifier, might be needed.

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