Friday 15 February 2019

Looking at lawns

Lawns come in all shapes and sizes
AlthoughI I have written about many aspects of lawn management such as using iron sulphate for its multiple benefits, the application of fertiliser and my love of fescues I have never written about lawns ‘in the round’ - or whatever shape it may be.
It’s such a huge subject and although I expend an extra-ordinate appoint of energy on my lawn, as I look out it’s nothing to write home about. 
Lawns are dear to many gardeners’ hearts and with so many habits dearly held and ingrained, do I dare add my own notions?
When I look out on Cathi’s very large very acceptable lawn I wonder why I bother?

(There is a gremlin in the works - if this post has irritating underlining reload it by clicking the main title)

Cathi’s lawn
She drives to the door 
It’s a minimalist haven. She even drives over it to get to her door. For her half acre she employs Andrew to bring his drive-on rotary mower weekly in Spring. Summer and Autumn but never in Winter. (In contrast I once mowed my own lawn on Christmas day). He cuts the grass quite low but does not scalp it. All the mowings are let fly. 

A lovely backcloth to....  everything!
There are no edges, Andrew just cuts up to the shrubs, trees and borders and where necessary mowing plants that wander. In turn when I spray Cathi’s borders, grass that has strayed is sprayed. I also spray out the bases of the shrubs and the trees that stand in the grass. 

Not Cathi's clover
Four years ago I did MCPA spray out her daisies, buttercups and plantains. Cathi is happy with the few wild flowers and loves clover that remains. The lawn receives zero fertiliser.
She does fret about the moles and with limited success traps are put down and the mole hills are cleared. 
Viewed from a distance her lawn is a magnificent bright green all the year round (In this long dry Summer it was greener than mine). Its firm and springy to walk on. It’s all Cathi needs


Un-mown grass
Just about the only date from college I remember is 1830 when Budding invented the lawn mower. How did we manage without them? 
We are hugely dependant on technical developments  yet every lawn I see gets something different.

Sports turf and its management has had huge resources thrown at it reflecting from early times sport’s commercial importance. 
Today we amateurs are lucky to share with professionals a huge spin off in knowledge, equipment, grass breeding and selection, fertilisers, weedkillers and management.
We can drink at this font but beware some of professional methods are very focussed on their own specialisms and also that  although huge sums of money are spent on turf research, professional advice and hugely expensive machinery they too are suckers to snake oil salesman.

I once was involved in teaching a full time course on turf management and also delivered day release instruction for groundsmen. What lovely people, some of the nicest students I knew. 
Some would later go on to huge responsibilities at great golf courses and sports fields. Some gardeners (usually golfers) I know pester such people for advice on their lawns.
Many groundsman hold their head high as lords of their realm. A few are little dictators. Some are at the mercy of  amateur ‘experts’ who know all the answers and who at home tend their lawns. 
Grounds people often carry huge turf management - and hence financial responsibilities - on the golf course its a disaster if your members cannot play. Quite out of proportion to groundsmen's pay scale. Far too often golf courses take very expensive expert advice on what are major decisions. The groundsmen usually already know the answers but why take the blame?

You will have to wait to hear about Peter's lawn
Please excuse my prattling. I am starting an intermittent  series of posts about how we look after our lawns. Today I concentrate on mowing which arguably is the most significant lawn maintenance of all.
It might be worth mentioning that in gardening I regard management and maintenance as something different. One is for long term improvement and the other making something look good for the day. Both are important and apply very much to lawns

Grass at Edinburgh Botanic Garden here managed like Cathi's

Height of cut
Grass cut too hard quickly goes yellow. Those who do so might imagine they have a bowling green but that illusion lasts no longer than five minutes. The best formula to achieve yellow sick weedy mossy grass is to let it grow long and then cut it hard! If you wish to have short green healthy grass you need to cut it little and often. 
Almost every day in Summer might be the appropriate frequency for very closely mown bowling greens; that is is too much for we gardeners. When I used to cut my own lawn relatively close I did so as often as every five days. I now opt for less often but cut the grass higher.
I know some gardeners hate mowing so much they leave it as long as possible. If only they would realise that if they did it more often it is so much quicker and easier. Let it get too long and you will certainly need to box off all those mowings perhaps doubling the toil. What a chore.
You can have very acceptable lawns with infrequent mowing strategies. The formula is simple - the less often you mow the higher you cut. 
If you are able to establish fine slower growing grasses this significantly reduces the need for frequently mowing. Paradoxically such fescue grasses and similar are the ones used for fine turf that is cut often and close
Much against my former prejudices I must tell you that some modern cultivars of ryegrass make excellent swards when cut at an intermediate height perhaps every two or three weeks in a typical Summer. 
As every gardener knows you might relax mowing frequency when drought conditions prevail. Raising height of cut helps keep grass green at this time.
Remember if you pay a gardener to cut regularly you should  take the rough with the smooth. Do not pay him off in dry periods and yet expect him to slave away after wet weather.

Box away
Grass might trail into the house
There is no correct answer as to whether you should or you should not box off your mowings. Most of my life I have left my mowings scatter. Two wives have suffered grass leaves trod into the house. One remains.
I am not sure whether I am untidy, lazy or frugal!

The most immaculate lawns like those of my friend Peter Williams are boxed free of their leaves. Some gardeners compromise and in their rougher more distant areas only there let the grass fly.
Where leaving the leaves loses is where grass is cut hard and long. It can stay wet on the surface and smother and turn the grass yellow. 
When chopped into small pieces by way of a fairly frequent cut the mowings add back organic matter and recycle nutrition and in consequence maintains good colour and more drought resistance. Much less fertiliser is needed and for Cathi none at all.
The real beauty of scatter is it’s very much quicker. On the downside you will not get such beautiful stripes.

A problem on turf is ‘thatch’ which brings an almost impenetrable surface if you try to stick in a spade. Made up of un-decayed rhizomes and stem bases it can be a real problem needing spiking and slitting. I will return to this in a later post but as far as I know this is not related to letting mowings fly.

It is my intention to offer several posts  about turf this year continuing the story…..

The patch was quickly resown
My previous post on lawn moss control using iron sulphate

Save money by using general fertiliser on your lawn

Peter's previous post was on garden tools


  1. The question of what plants can be allowed to remain mixed into the lawn and which should be removed as weeds seems to be a very personal one. I like clover, wild strawberry, and most other "weeds" but can't abide plantain or dandelions. I have a small garden and even smaller lawn so I usually just pull these unwanted plants by hand. I'm trying to develop one area as a "no mow" sedge lawn, but that is still in experimental phase.

    1. I will follow your no mow story Jason. I have several no mow or little mow areas of my own which I have written about but I do not regard them as lawn.
      I have tried wild flowers in my actual lawn before with little success - it is quite difficult! I do have a nice corner with a rather fine clump of celendine!
      I have a new project growing bulbs and dwarf plants in my lawn but have not dared blog about it as yet


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