A very good lawn can only be achieved by intensive soil preparation before sowing. Photo / Provided
Erratic and irregular is the spring season so far in the garden. This week’s polar explosion didn’t do much (in fact, it was pretty damn destructive) to help my first summer vegetable plantings. However, the ups, downs
and gardening trials are part of the adventure and with a nice spell (hopefully now arriving as this one is published) I will be planting some more summer vegetables.
This week, the column is focused on lawns. The lawn can be the decisive element in the appearance of a garden. It can be difficult (but not impossible) to have the perfect lawn, but having a good enough lawn is not that difficult.
One-time maintenance (beyond mowing) each spring and fall can be enough to take your lawn from average/poor to fairly good.
Lawn grasses are best established either in the spring from September to November or in the fall from March to the end of May. The ground is warming up and the spring rains are bringing moisture, so now is the time to crack if you want to redo your lawn this year.
A very good lawn can only be achieved by intensive soil preparation before sowing; once the lawn is established, it is difficult to level an uneven surface or eradicate unwanted grass and weed species.
The first step is to remove any existing pasture-like growth. Most perennial grasses and weeds are effectively controlled with glyphosate-based sprays such as Grosafe Glyphosate, Yates Zero or Roundup. Harder to kill species such as blackberry, onion grass and English ivy can be eliminated with the use of Roundup Tough. The spray is absorbed by the foliage and then transmitted to all parts of the plant, including the roots and rhizomes. Visible effects are gradual wilting and yellowing of foliage, and browning may take 7-14 days or longer, depending on growing conditions.
If topsoil has been brought to the site, it is advantageous not to sow immediately but to leave it bare for about 2-3 weeks (or longer), allowing any weed seeds present to germinate, which may then be sprayed with an appropriate weed killer depending on the type of weed.
It is important at this stage to consider drainage. Most grasses prefer well-drained loam or sandy loam soil to heavier, wetter soils. Good drainage means better penetration of water and air to the roots of the grass. It also means that moss and water pennyworts, which can thrive in moist lawn areas, are less likely to invade the lawn. On some very heavy soils, it is wise to import sandy loam soil, spread it over the 8-10cm deep area and incorporate it into the topsoil. In extremely wet situations, permanent drainage may need to be installed. If soil is added, you may need to destroy any secondary seedlings of emerging weeds. It is worth the time to prepare the ground to the correct levels and contours. For small areas a rake, pitchfork and spade will suffice, but for larger areas a rotary hoe will save time. The soil should be worked to a depth of about 8cm using a rotary hoe or spading fork until the soil is a thin layer. Any lumps or clumps should be removed or broken down. Level and compact lightly, making the surface as even as possible to avoid bumps and dips. The area should be left to consolidate for a week, walking over the area to level, rake and destroy weeds and watering or rain will help with this process.
If the ground is still soft and spongy all over, rolling may be necessary. To avoid too much compaction, only roll or trample the soil when it is damp, not wet. Rake the area again after driving or treading.
Grass health and fertilizer
Like all plants, regular feeding will keep grass healthy and turf thicker and more resistant to weed invasion. Fertilizing in the spring and fall with a specific lawn fertilizer such as Tui Lawn Force Slow Release will ensure the grass stays strong and healthy. In heavier soils, it is beneficial to also fertilize with garden lime once a year. Garden lime should be applied in August or September, 2-3 weeks before applying lawn fertilizer. Garden lime increases soil pH, which makes more nutrients in the soil available to the lawn. It also has the benefit of adding calcium to the soil, which plays a major role in a plant’s physiology, strengthening its physical structure, increasing nutrient uptake and protecting it from disease.
When seeding a new lawn, use Tui Lawn Force for New Lawns Fertilizer. This specific fertilizer has been formulated to be applied during sowing and for young grasses. This mix will ensure you grow strong and healthy without burning young grass or seeds.
Selection and sowing
There is a wide range of seed mixes available to suit any particular requirement or situation. We recommend a seed line called Ican Specialty Lawn Seed. This range of seeds comes in a range of mixes to suit different ownership conditions, these mixes include: Daily Mix, All Seasons Hot & Dry and Premium.
Information is available in the garden center on these mixes so you can decide which is best for your property.
A calm day is best for sowing grass seeds, as the seeds are small and light. To help achieve an even distribution of seedlings, it is recommended to split the seed in half, then spread the first half in one direction and the other half perpendicular to it. After sowing, the soil surface should be lightly raked and on light sandy soils a light coating of Tui Lawn Preparation Mix is recommended. This will help retain moisture and prevent the seeds from washing off during watering or rain. The soil surface should be kept moist with a light watering until the seedlings have germinated and become well established. Water the lawn less frequently as the seedlings get stronger – this encourages the roots to grow deeper.
It is very important that young sprouted grass seeds are kept moist or they will die. If watering can be a problem, it would be wise to seed your lawn in small sections over a few weeks. It may seem like more labor intensive work, but it’s better than having uneven germination all over the lawn due to improper watering.
Watering should be reduced to once a week, and when the grass is 3.5-4 cm tall it should be lightly mowed and clippings removed. Make sure your mower blades are sharp for a clean cut. The first mowing should not remove more than 10% of the height of the grass. After the third or fourth mowing, the cutting height can be gradually reduced. After the first or second mowing, the lawn should be fertilized with Tui Lawn Force for new lawns, again using the recommended doses on the bag for new lawns.
If flat plants such as dandelion, cape daisy, plantain and others are a problem, spraying with Yates Turfix will give good results.
Working hard now will allow you to relax and enjoy your lawn for months to come.
Have a good week.
Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Center
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