Growing Great Lawns
Construction, Establishment and Maintenance
The establishment and management of pasture and grass are generally well understood by our farming community, but the requirements for lawn grass and for the establishment of good turf in the home garden are different from those of good farming practice. The farmer requires constant production from strong growing grasses and clovers but the home gardener should aim at a slow steady growth of less productive grasses without clover or other plants. A farmer applies fertilisers often with lime and superphosphate to obtain maximum production but the home gardener should apply fertilisers to build up a ‘turf mat’, discouraging weeds and obtain an even close lawn.
Preparing a New Lawn
Often one of the first tasks for the owner of a new property is to make a lawn. As for all activities in the garden thorough preparation and care in the early stages will provide a more satisfactory result with easier ongoing maintenance. There are two important points in establishing and maintaining a good lawn.
a) the turf must obtain a deep root run and,
b) the surface must be even
It may not be level like a bowling green, but when it slopes the surface should be even and true with no extraordinary humps and hollows
Time to Sow
Lawn grasses establish best when sown in spring from September to November and autumn from March to May. Provided the basic preparation has been thorough, and a very dry spell does not follow the seed sowing, a spring sown lawn can be very successful. A really good lawn is best obtained by intensive soil preparation before sowing; once a lawn is established it is difficult to level off an uneven surface or eradicate undesirable grass species.
When preparing the lawn the site must first be cleared of unwanted weeds and vegetation. A spray of Roundup, a Glyphosate herbicide, can be used as a pre-establishment clean up of most annual and perennial weeds. It is taken in only through the foliage then translocated to all parts of the plant. Visible effects are a gradual wilting and brown off may take seven to fourteen days. Roundup is inactivated on contact with soil and leaves no soil residue. If some weeds remain bring a sample to the garden centre and staff will advise on a suitable product to use.
Where the topsoil is still present all building refuse, large stones and debris must be removed. If any major levelling is needed the topsoil should be stockpiled on one side and the major re-levelling carried out on the subsoil. The topsoil is then brought back, spread and left a little higher (about 15-25mm) than the surrounding area so that it can settle and consolidate gradually to the surrounding levels. Artificial compaction by machinery can be undesirable as this often affects drainage if it is over done and can inhibit the germination of grass seed. If the subsoil is widely exposed this should be broken up by forking or rotary hoeing and roughly shaped to the final desired level. About 75mm of topsoil spread over this will allow grass to establish strongly enough to root down into the broken subsoil and also allow a final levelling.
It is not necessary to add animal manure or compost or to import fresh topsoil to make a lawn in most cases; grass growth will be satisfactory even on subsoil if this is adequately manured with fertilisers.
For a spring sowing (best done after winter rains) the ground should be lightly forked over or cultivated with a rotary hoe to a depth of not more than 100mm. The final working to obtain an even surface, whether on level or sloping ground can then be carried out. Pick off large stones, any other debris and rubble items and rake off smaller stones in two directions best done at right angles to each other.
A roller is not suitable for developing an even surface. It generally shows the mounds and depressions. A satisfactory tool for levelling is a levelling board consisting of a straight edged board (about 1.2m x 150mm x 25mm) with chamfered edges and firmly fixed to a 1.8m long round handle. This can be constructed easily by most home handymen.
The soil should be raked and levelled with the levelling board several times and the whole area consolidated by ‘heeling’. In this process the gardener treads closely across the area, pressing his heels into the soil. This can be tedious, but it is also effective for taking out depressions and small mounds of 25mm or so which if left can make a lawn very uneven.
Finally, the area should be left so that the soil is well compacted and even with a surface tilth of fine soil about 12mm deep.
Fertiliser should be applied during this final preparation and on most soils a dressing of a proprietary lawn fertiliser should be spread over the surface at the recommended rate printed on the fertiliser bag. Tui lawn fertiliser is recommended to be applied 70gms per sqm nefore sowing and 140gms per sgm for established lawns in spring and autumn.
Yates lawn starter is recommended to be applied at 100gms per sqm when sowing new lawns and again after 10 weeks. It is very fast acting giving excellent results for establishment.
Tui Lawn Preparation Mix is used as a base on which to sow grass seed. It is a high quality blend of fine bark and clean graded sand. It contains essential nutrients and fertilisers to ensure new or renovated lawns have the best start.
Tui Products Ltd has developed specific blends of lawn seed to suit various lawn uses and positions.Superstrike Grass Seed is a relatively new lawn seed brand developed by Tui Products which has become a popular choice for home gardeners. It is a treated grass seed which offers protection from birds and contains insecticide to protect against insect damage, but it is not coated and therefore has a significant advantage in germination percentage and speed of grass establishment.
There are 4 different blends available to choose from depending on the type of lawn you desire and the conditions of your property. The blends are; Easycare, Hardwearing, Hot & Dry and Shady Places.
Sowing The Seed
Full details are generally shown on the back of the seed bags. As most grass seed is small and must be sown evenly, it is useful to divide the total quantity of seed into manageable parts. To make broadcasting easier mix a 50/50 blend of fertiliser with seed divide the quantity into two even parts and sow the seed at right angles over the area. It is advisable to practice first with some fine dry sand of about the same quantity. The soil should be raked before sowing and again lightly afterwards. Birds and cats can be troublesome on new areas and they can be kept away by stretching reflective tape or black cotton on low pegs across and around the plot in various directions, using scarecrows or other ingenious devices.
Care Of Newly Sown Grass
Even if dry weather occurs after sowing it is unnecessary to water the lawn, as the seed will germinate on a well-prepared seedbed once sufficient rainfall has arrived. Artificial watering is likely to fall unevenly and wash the seed into channels. When seedlings are 35 to 50mm high and the soil dry, cut the grass with a lawnmower with sharp blades set high without a grass catcher. Rolling with a very light roller is beneficial at this time. Subsequently the mower can be set lower and the catcher used. If young grass appears yellow, give a dressing of sulphate of ammonia or a proprietary lawn fertiliser. Seedling weeds may also grow, but most of these will disappear under close mowing and correct maintenance.
Routine Management For Established Lawns
Good grass can be managed and retained only by mowing, manuring, cultivation and weed control. Mow grass weekly in peak growing periods, keep blades sharp and use a catcher except during the dry weather in summer. Trim edges each time the lawn is mown. Feed the lawn to keep it lush and green during spring, summer and autumn to replace nutrients removed by leaching and continual mowing. Use proprietary fertilisers such as Tui Lawn fertiliser, or Tui Slow Release Lawn fertiliser. Lawn fertilisers with a high iron content added are suitable for controlling moss and encouraging lawn grass growth. Aerating your lawn by raking with a sharpened toothed rake, spiking with a garden fork at 150mm intervals and lightly covering with soil or lawn preparation mix and top dress manuring all assist in keeping the lawn in good condition.
JUST FOR LAUGHS….
GOD to ST. FRANCIS:
Frank, ….. You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.
It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.
They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.
ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?
After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
GOD: And where do they get this mulch?
They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
ST. CATHERINE: ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about….
Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.