Get your lawn back into shape
Surely there is nothing more evocative of the approach of warmer, sunnier days than the distant whirring of a lawn mower methodically working its way up and down a neighbour’s garden. Often the sound comes in hand-in-hand with lighter evenings and those sweet, unexpected moments when it actually feels too warm to be wearing a sweater, at least until the sun disappears behind a cloud.
Whilst those hope filled days may still be a few weeks away now is the time to start thinking about getting your lawn in shape so that when the mowing begins in earnest you can make the neighbours jealous with your golf course grade green.
As a nation we spend £400m a year maintaining and improving our lawns, and two years of our lives mowing! So why not try to save some of this time and money by getting to grips with your lawn early in the year.
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Ravaged by the weather and wildlife
Winter can play havoc with your lawn. The wet, relatively warm winters we’ve been having lately tend to kill off some of the individual grass plants. This is the reason why you can end up with patches of bare earth. And if your lawn sees a lot of foot traffic even throughout the winter months, the constant churning up of the muddy soil beneath by wellingtons and sturdy gardening footwear can also create bare earth patches which will need repairing.
Lawns need light, of course, and in the winter this can be fairly heavily rationed, so you might find problematic patches in areas of your lawn where the winter sun just doesn’t reach, or where there is shading created by fences, other plants or structures.
Wildlife can also be a bit of a pain, albeit one that is probably best tolerated on the basis it usually gives back more to a garden than it takes. Early in the year these minor irritants can come in the form of worm casts, which if not dealt with can quickly cover your lawn smothering large patches of grass.
All in all, by the time winter is drawing to a close even the most loved lawns are in need of some care and attention to get them back in shape and ready for summer.
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Keep on top of your lawn
When it comes to things like worm casts the answer is simply to get out as regularly as you can to brush the worm casts away with a rake using it with the prongs turned upwards. This will simply and quickly disperse the piles across the soil underneath the grass. It’s easiest to do this on warmer days when it has been dry for a while.
Even if you can’t get out on a regular basis over the course of the winter, do try and brush them out before the days get lighter and sunnier – you need to maximise the amount of warmth and light getting to the grass. And definitely do it before you start mowing otherwise the action of walking and pushing a mower all over the casts will cause an even bigger mess.
And remember, if you’re tempted to reach for worm deterrents such as those containing sulphur, remember they are actually doing you a massive favour by keeping the soil aerated and therefore healthy, as well as depositing some much needed fertiliser on the surface for you. Both of which will help your lawn in the long run.
Repair and rebuild
The next step is to give your lawn a good ‘hair brush’. Get out the rake, this time using it usual way with the prongs turned downwards, give the lawn a good scratching. This needs to be done during drier weather – raking mud isn’t much good – but it helps break up areas of thatching (common with certain types of grass) and dislodges any moss that might be growing.
If your lawn needs a really good ‘hair brush’ you might want to hire a scarifier which you can usually get for £20-£30 for an entire weekend. Raking by hand is hard work not just because the action can be tough on your back, but also because you need to exert quite a bit of downwards pressure to get the desired results. So the rental cost of a motorised tool can be well worth the cost.
Recovery and seeding
The process of scarifying can be quite traumatic, for both you and the lawn! After a vigorous rake or run over with a motorised scarifier you might feel dismayed at the initial results.
Ripping up moss, chopping up thatched areas and pulling the blades of grass about in all directions can leave you with a lawn which looks a bit bedraggled.
However, there are two things you can do to ensure this is actually the beginning of a new lease of life for your lawn.
Firstly you have to get the timing right. The ideal scenario would involve a long dry spell before and just after, followed by some sunshine and light to moderate rain. You also want to time it so that you won’t be wanting to do the first cut of the year until a few weeks have passed. Any reseeding you do will need some time to establish before you cut it.
The second is the reseeding. Often you’ll just need to seed specific areas which have been damaged. But sometimes, when the grass is more damaged or you’re not sure of the exact type of grass you have, you’ll need to reseed the whole lawn. Seeding patches into an existing lawn without knowing the variety can cause very visible differences in terms of colour, vigour and density.
Remember, never fertilise the lawn before you seed.
If all else fails and you still end up with stubborn patches where the grass just won’t grow well it’s worth considering using the ground in a different way – maybe it’s the perfect spot for a wildlife pond, or a new flowerbed, or maybe a gravelled area with pots or a bird bath.
So listen out for the first mowers of the year, and enjoy your lawn this summer!
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