Tuesday 25 June 2019

More about lawns

Mainly about Peter's lawn
Not even half of it
In this my second post in an intermittent series about lawns I consider weed and moss control and fertilisation and also highlight how my friend Peter Williams achieves some kind of lawn perfection which peaks on his open days! Garden perfection too which I cannot resist showing you!

I understand perfectly those gardeners who do not control lawn weeds and recognise their beauty. Our local verges filled with dandelions have recently been quite magnificent.

Absolute perfection - but not here in Yorkshire
To maintain a lawn filled with wildflowers takes a high level of gardening skill and to some provides endless pleasure. Others don’t seem to consider lawns as part of their garden and don’t see the mess.
For good and bad reasons most of us strive to keep our lawns weed free. (Readers might recall that I am personally obsessed with growing bulbs and flowers in fine fescue grass but I don't  call such features ‘lawns’)

Peter Williams' lawn on a really bad day - or is it a good one?
When I was young, gardeners treated weed control, moss control and fertilisation as separate processes. Indeed I am so old that in my extreme youth herbicides were novel and new.
For many years now gardeners have become converted to ‘three in one treatments’ (or even four!) which not only provide convenient profit centres but work surprisingly well. For myself I prefer to separate these procedures for reasons I will explain.
In a sense to specify ‘three’ in the one is a cheat. The iron sulphate or equivalent iron source is both a fertiliser and a moss killer. I value iron sulphate very highly indeed to attain a fine soft-green moss free lawn. As to the hyped treatment ‘four’ don’t waste your money.

The reason I personally eschew the altogether-treatment is that I like to hone in to a particular problem. When I want  to feed there might be very few weeds. I might have moss and no other problem. What’s more my moss might be unevenly distributed with much more in shaded or badly drained areas. My post on moss control with iron sulphate describes how where moss is thick I put iron sulphate on stronger and might vary between quarter an ounce and one ounce per square yard as I fling it. I might want to use iron sulphate to make grass a lovely green and encourage fine grasses and apply it when have no moss at all! 
I might want to fertilise at times not recommended for weed control (although I might disagree on conventional restrictions). What’s more none dedicated general fertiliser rather than so called 'lawn fertiliser' works out much cheaper.

Most lawn herbicides offered to amateurs are excellent to control common weeds such as buttercups, daisies, dandelions, and plantain. Some don’t kill clover, check on the label if this is your problem. Clover killer (mecoprop) is readily available. 

Prunella in Pete's lawn
(I asked Peter Williams whether he used a general lawn weedkiller. He said he had not used 'Verdone' for years but was considering it now. For the above weed he would use Grazon)

But will he want to?

If you have intractable lawn weeds like yellow suckling clover, yarrow (achillea)  and certain speedwells you will probably fail to find anything on the amateur market to control them at all.
Professional chemicals come in too large a quantity to justify purchase even if you are able. I use MCPA (also widely available in amateur products) as the product Agritox (not found in the garden centre). If I want to trouble shoot really difficult weeds I dip into my professional herbicide Grazon. 
Unfortunately no weedkiller exists to selectively kill coarse grass in our lawns

I am not one for regular grass fertilisation. Particularly as I scatter my mowings and nutrients are recycled. Perhaps once a year if I feel it needed. I tend to fertilise a little earlier (March) than generally recommended. 
I just scatter yaramila at perhaps 10 to15 gram a square metre using no spreading equipment.

Peter’s lawn
Peter confessed to me that when his spreader flings Yaramila fertiliser it also feeds his border

Peter has an all singing and dancing ride on rotary mower with pretty colours and shining lights. He will proudly show you but then plaintively mention “shame it does not cut or pick up grass very well” Although he uses it on outer grass areas he cannot bring himself to use it on his wonderful large circular immaculate main lawn.

Instead he has an old (even ancient) quality cylinder mower. It’s quite heavy with numerous cutting blades. He follows it at breakneck speed. If it was me I would barely keep up as it dragged me around. It gives a beautiful quality cut in precision curves or straight lines. His cutter blade is I think usually set at about 10mm - fairly close but not scalping.

I asked Pete for a picture of a patch of his grey Yorkshire Fog. I did not expect this!
When on none show days I examine his turf closely it's no great shakes and I find a few course grasses such as grey patches of Yorkshire fog, and on bad days moss. Although made up of primary fescue grasses (charitably speaking) it is by no means perfect although the smooth surface is wonderfully even.

As you see from the pictures when fed, cut and edged it is a wonder to behold. It is testimony to his skill and to the much finer cut of a cylinder mower than my own beloved rotary

Management eccentricities
Peter does have a few foibles. He insists that good fertilisation makes for healthy grass that suppresses the moss. He is right - to a degree. He does not share my passion for iron sulphate. If he did it might look even better.
He feeds several times in the year (perhaps 3 or 4 when he remembers or an open day beckons) but by general standards in very small doses, perhaps 10 grams per square metre. For several years now he has like me used Yaramila general fertiliser.
Like me he is happy to fertilise at any time of the year but not in drought or when it is frosty.

He of course, unlike me, boxes off his mowings and you will have read his wonderful article on how he turns them into compost.
Needlessly to say his edges are clean and flowing with smooth curves and no sickly wavy lines. 

Easy edges on his rougher areas

One thing we agree on is that edges should be shallow. He achieves his with long handled edging shears and if necessary half moon edger. My own 600 meters of edges are pretty good but not like Peter’s. I whiz round in two hours with my beloved Black and Decker electric strimmer. (It needs two battery refreshments and I do it - at best - every month)

Never actually sown
I might mention that a section of his lawn at the bottom of the garden was started with no seed sowing at all. He just started mowing wild grasses on the existing level surface. In as much as many of our lawns are made up of other than what we actually sowed it is not so silly but it is slower and the quality of such a sword will never be perfect.

I have previously highlighted the section of Peter's lawn which he has converted to growing wild flowers. He just ceased mowing a six hundred meter circle around a large tree adjacent to his woodland and scattered wild flower seed and planted daffodils and camassias. It is a very successful feature but his single close cut in Autumn when he removes all cut vegetation sounds to be sheer hell. It takes at least a full day.

In June it is clothed with yellow rattle

My post about using ordinary general granular fertiliser
My first post on iron sulphate for its multiple benefits
My part one post about lawns
Post about Peter's garden


  1. It's worth a mention that Grazon is one of the aminopyralid based weedkillers which is causing so many problems to gardeners and the composting industry and that lawn clippings taken after it's use shouldn't be composted of put in council garden waste bins . It's the same with Verdone although the chemical in that is clopyralid which has a similar longevity. It's important ti read the label and follow the instructions.

    1. Thanks Sue you are very tolerant. I have read your posts about problems with compost and manure.
      As mentioned I mulch mow and I am sure Peter would not make compost with it - if he gets round to using it at all.

  2. I also love my B&D electric trimmer! Don't know what I would do without it. I tend to leave most weeds in the lawn except for plantain and creeping charlie - for some reason those two make me antsy.

    1. creeping Charlie tested me - not sure whether glechoma is a much of a problem over here...
      also googled antsy - very expressive
      Thanks Jason


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