A – Z of Lawn Care


A nice looking lawn

Here’s my 26 terms or words, one for each letter of the alphabet, which aim to capture the essence of lawn care, although I’m sure there are plenty of other possibilities, so not meant as definitive, just a snap shot:

A – Algae

A wet slimy organism, especially on damp and shady lawns. The main type found on lawns is called ‘squidge’.

B – Brushing

Keep your lawn groomed; this helps to knock over worm casts, keeps the grass blades upright, especially before mowing and also removes and morning dew.

C – Compaction

A hard soil that’s had a lot of air squeezed out of it. Not good for root growth and having a decent lawn. Build-up your stamina with plenty of forking (aeration) to help relieve a compacted lawn, or use a mechanical aerator – much easier, but it may not be as effective as deep hand forking.

D – Diseases

More prevalent on the finer, intensively maintained lawns. Reducing stress pressures on a lawn will reduce disease incidence. Red Thread and Fusarium patch are the only two diseases most people should worry about, but only in intensively maintained fine turf; otherwise don’t worry about them. Fairy rings are diseases but you can’t do much about them so don’t worry again.

E – Edging

It’s all very well having a neatly mown lawn, but don’t neglect the perimeter of your lawn otherwise you’ll have unsightly long grass hanging over the edges. Keep these well trimmed with edging shears and realign the edges each year, if needed, by using a half-moon edging iron.

F – Forking

Get some air into your soil. Forking is cheap, simple, but very hard work. Alternatively get a mechanical forking machine called an aerator. After mowing, this is probably the most important task you should do to get a good lawn.

G – Grasses

Plenty of different grasses in the UK, but only a few are suitable for use on lawns. The main ones being Perennial ryegrass (especially for the general utility lawn); Red fescues (Chewings fescue or Creeping red fescue) – for fine and also utility lawns, and Browntop bentgrass – for fine lawns only.

H – Humus

A nice bit of organic material within your soil does wonders for developing a good lawn. Too much and it will be a bog though.

I – Irrigation

There’s always an urge to overwater a lawn just to keep it green – don’t do it. Just water occasionally if there is a long dry spell, or just don’t bother at all. If you don’t water, all that will happen in most cases will be that the grass will slow down its growth, start to go brown and dormant – it’ll spring back to life and turn green again when the rains come and the weather is cooler. Less growth means less mowing!

J – Juncus bufonius

The botanical (scientific latin) name for Toadrush. If you have this popping up in your lawn you know it’s a bit wet.

K – Knitting in

Not with your knitting needles, but by applying some top-dressing to newly laid turf to help the turves knit in and form a nice dense turf without gaps and cracks appearing between the turves. If you have had a newly laid lawn and cracks start appearing then you know a light top-dressing of the gaps is needed to help it knit in properly.

L – Lawn creation

Prepare the lawn by creating a good seed bed (plenty of treading, heeling and raking to get an even surface) ready to take a uniform application of suitable grass seed, or turf.

M – Mowing

This is what makes a lawn; mowing. It will either be a general purpose rotary mower – most people will use these, or a cylinder mower – fewer people will have these. For the best finish you will need a cylinder mower, but for most situations a rotary mower is fine. You should aim to remove no more than one-third of leaf height per mowing, especially from fine ornamental lawns; you can push this up to a maximum of 50% on perennial ryegrass dominated utility lawns when string growth is taking place. Aim for a maximum of 40% though to ensure you don’t reduce root growth as excess leaf removal will result in food stored in roots being redirected to the surface to help regenerate leaf growth, consequently reducing your root system.

N – Nutrients

Your lawn will want a bit of a feed to keep it in tip-top condition. Don’t over feed though.

If you box off your grass clippings and remove them from the lawn then you will need to put on more nutrients than if you let the clippings ‘fly’ and decompose back into the soil and so return the nutrients. Nitrogen will be the main nutrient you will want in a feed, followed by potassium (potash) and phosphorus (phosphate). It is highly unlikely you will need any other nutrient as a feed. You may wish to put on some iron (as sulphate of iron) to help green up the lawn, harden it against disease and to help reduce earthworm casting by the process of slowly acidifying the soil surface.

O – Ornamental lawn

A nice fine lawn, generally achieved by using a cylinder mower and with a fair bit of effort needed to keep it looking good. More for looking at and maybe impressing your neighbours with than playing on. A typical height of cut will be around 12mm, but some very fine ornamental domestic lawns might be cut at 8mm (1/3rd”), but don’t cut it too short.

P – Pests

Children (only joking). The main pests are leatherjackets, chafer grubs, moles, grey squirrels, birds (especially pigeons when grass seed is sown), ants, and less occasionally dogs, foxes and badgers, and earthworms – although I wouldn’t personally class earthworms as a pest because of all the beneficial effects they bring, it’s just unfortunate that a few types of earthworms throw up their waste onto a lawn surface as casts.

Q – Questioning

Stop and reflect on what you are doing, or what someone is proposing to do to your lawn. Question is it really needed, and if so is it the most appropriate time for it to be carried out. If materials are being used also question if they are the most appropriate materials to achieve the desired outcome. If you use a lawn care company or contractor make sure it’s for your benefit that something is being done and not theirs, and that you use the services of someone who is empathetic to your needs and fully understands turfculture and isn’t just pretending to.

R – Raking

Scratching the surface of the lawn with a metal tined rake. Deeper raking, especially with a mechanical implement, which goes well into the surface layer of the lawn and will often disturb the soil layer is called scarification. The third most important lawn maintenance activity, frequently neglected though.

S – Soil

Know your soil. Is it heavy (a clay based one); medium workable and reasonably draining soil (loamy – fairly even balance of sand, silt and clay particle); light and free draining (sandy based one); water retentive (relatively high organic content one), chalky one, or some other type? What is the pH (acidity – alkalinity) of the soil? How well does it actually drain? How rich is it regards nutrient availability? A good understanding of your soil will help you to get the most out of the effort you put into your lawn.

T – Thatch

There’s no problem if you have a small amount of surface organic material forming a shallow layer called thatch; in fact you want a small amount (say around 6mm or 1/4″ depth) to aid durability of your lawn. Too much though and you will have an easily worn, water retentive lawn that has poor grass competitiveness which is more attractive to weed infestation, disease and pests. 12mm (1/2″) of thatch will need good maintenance practices being implemented; whilst at about 18mm (3/4″) and more of thatch and you will need to do some regular aeration (hollow-tining) and scarification to help to reduce it – don’t try and remove it all in one go unless you do want to strip off the top layer and start afresh; which might not be a bad solution in some situations.

U – Utility lawn

Most lawns in the UK will fall into this general category. More for playing and walking on, and also admiring where extra attention to detail is starting to push the limits of the lawn up to the standards of an ornamental lawn, but at a higher height of cut, typically higher than 25mm.

V – Verticutting

Fine closely spaced metal rotating tines to control lateral growth and surface organic matter build-up, as well as aiming to maintain a dense lawn. Only needed for fine ornamental lawns and the types of grasses that are present on these lawns.

W – Weeds

Most turf weeds are herbaceous perennials, but some are annuals and biennials. If you don’t have too many weeds and a relatively small lawn then it is quite practical to regularly hand weed your lawn to keep weeds under control. People do worry unnecessarily about weeds in lawns. Clearly if a lawn is covered in weeds then there is going to be an issue; often though the problem is poor lawn maintenance practices which have reduced the competitiveness of the grasses and encouraged the ability of weeds to invade and then spread. So, if you have a lot of weeds, yes, do consider controlling them by hand weeding or the use of an appropriate selective herbicide (unless you wish to be a pesticide free lawn), but primarily reflect on what you are actually doing to your lawn and are you doing everything as effectively as possible by carrying out best working practices?

X – Xeriscape

Lawn care that significantly reduces or primarily eliminates the use of artificial watering; you are focusing on producing a more sustainable lawn. This approach can actually be undertaken for lawns in the UK, especially if periods of overseeding are carried out when rainfall is planned and is imminent to help aid seed germination and establishment: A range of more drought resistant / adaptable grasses can be used for lawns, although they aren’t as hard wearing as the common perennial ryegrass, but how much wear do most lawns really get? The same would apply to fertiliser application to ensure the applied fertiliser is adequately washed in to avoid scorching the lawn grass (although different fertilisers will affect the surface differently, so consider ‘scorch’ free fertilisers).

Clearly expecting a traditional green lawn for the entire year is not going to be a realistic proposition, but so what? Why not let nature take its course and have a lawn that varies from green to straw brown depending upon weather conditions. If you have a well developed root system your lawn isn’t going to die; it will effectively go temporarily dormant and quickly recover and green up when suitable rainfall returns.

Y – Yorkshire fog

Not some mysterious fog which descends early in the morning, or just in Yorkshire, but a weed grass (Holcus lanatus) which is an especially aggressive grass, under the right conditions, and can be reduced, but is difficult to fully control, by regular surface raking, scarification or cutting out the patches of Yorkshire fog and replacing with new turf patches or reseeding.

Z – Zeolite

A granular bulky material which can be applied as a top-dressing to a lawn to help reduce fertiliser nutrients being washed out of sandy soils. It can also be used as a partial substitute for sand within soil profiles to aid drainage and soil porosity.

Chris Gray, 6th December 2017