Lawn Care

A garden adds that extra 'outdoor room' which can be a delight to have on a warm sunny day. Most of us have the standard size garden offering enough room for the kids to play, space for 'man cave' or shed and flowers and fruits. It offers something for everyone and we love to make use of it in fine weather.
When it comes to looking after the lawn it's true to say that we'd all like a golf green but aren't prepared to put the work and effort to achieve it. We might all have different expectations because we each use the garden in a slightly different way. However most of our gardens suffer the same terrible soggy problem......... it can be like a 'duck pond' all year round!

To come up with some solutions and for us to have that 'golf course' green lush lawn we talked to our 'grass cutter' for his advice. For several years John has been landscape gardening managing not only large greens of Bailis Downs but also a few large private gardens.

Our gardens are like swamps that don't drain well, what can we do?

"Grasses like most plants don't do well in waterlogged soil and fixing it isn't usually quick or easy. If you've pools of standing surface water it's definitely not draining enough and that's your first challenge to fix. There's not likely to be any gardens in the Johnstown area that don't have water drainage issues since they all share the same hard compacted clay soil on flat land."

"The first thing I would check to check to see if my nearest neighbours gardens are the same. If they're soggy too then I would consider working something out with them or all my effort will be draining their gardens too."

Spike holes in the surface:
"The easiest option is to use a garden fork to poke 6 inch deep holes all over the lawn spaced out every few inches. This draws the surface water into the lower soil below the grass roots to give them a fighting chance. It also allows air to feed the microbes in the soil which will improve the growing conditions for lush green thick grass to grow."

"You can repeat this throughout the year provided the ground's not too dry, too wet or frosty."

If holes don't do the trick what else can we do?

"Put in some drainage channels but remember that the water still has to go somewhere or you'll create a pool."

French Drains:
"These are basically gravel trenches buried 6 inches beneath the lawn, 6 inch wide and 1 to 2 foot deep running downhill with gravity taking the water away. They might need a perforated pipe within the gravel but ultimately they will need somewhere for this water to end up. You could direct it into the mains drain or leave it pool in a quiet, unused area. What you don't want to do is flood your neighbours garden!"

What if we've such a small garden there isn't anywhere it can go to?

"Either install a garden sump pump with a hosepipe attached to take it to the main drains. Alternatively make a chamber beneath the soil that will allow it to pool underground until it naturally drains away."

Soak Away:
"Basically a deep dry well filled with gravel buried beneath the level of the soil that collects the surface water and lets it drain into the deeper soil. Sometimes people turn these gravel areas into garden features with rocks, raised planting and pots."

This front garden is in Limekiln Estate and helps drain a pool of water.

Raise the level of the lawn:
"Like a raised flower bed the roots of the grass will be higher than the standing water. But if you're doing this you may as well remake the lawn too."

Remake the lawn:
"Dig the lawn over fairly deep to break up the hard compacted soil, add drainage stones to allow it to drain better before adding more soil with organic material before relaying turf or grass seed."

If we can fix the soggy gardens we'll need some advice on grass cutting and so we had a few quick questions :

What's our usual grass cutting season?

"Typically April to Sept but it all depends on the weather."

Does it matter if the grass is slightly wet when it's cut?

"Not really, it just doesn't collect as easily and is harder on the machine. It also makes a bigger job for you to clean up afterwards."

How short should you cut the grass and how often?

"Don't cut more than a third off the grass height in any one visit. If you cut too low it encourages moss and weeds to invade and if you have children then the grass wears down to the soil easily. It will also turn brown and 'burn' in the sunlight."

"Use the high to middle setting on the lawnmower to keep the grass looking healthy and cut weekly. Also vary your cutting path each session to encourage it to grow straight unless you want stripes in the lawn."

"If you find the tips of the grass turn brown it's a sign that your blade is blunt and the grass is ripping rather than being cut. "

The picture above shows a typical scene but according to John it's cut too low and it turns yellow rather than green. Below the grass has been cut too short and been worn away after children play on it.

Should you mulch or collect the clippings?

"Mulching feeds the grass and if you cut weekly it's fine. An inch of long grass clippings will do you no favours since it will both look bad when it dries and it will still be there when you cut again."

Should you feed the grass?

"If you want it to look good then three times a year and each feed is different: Spring, Summer and Autumn varieties."

How do you get rid of weeds?

"Use a lawn weedkiller in Spring and Autumn or even better dig them out complete with roots. When the moss is dead remove it with a rake especially if you don't want a soggy garden."

Are some grasses better than others for our circumstances?

"There's a variety available depending on what you use the lawn for."
  • Ornamental.
  • Medium but it's not hard wearing for family gardens
  • Great for those with kids since it wears well and it quite tough.

We paused the interview to inspect my own lawn and I discovered that it's not what I expected it to be, it's all very green but it's not exactly a grass lawn 

........more than half is clover !

Why use weed killer around the base of a tree?

"You want to cut the grass but you're trying not to hurt the tree by avoiding the use of a grass strimmer which can take the bark off . This causes the tree to die from infections that it can't fight off without bark. You've got a choice of either cut the grass by hand or remove it with weed killer.

You could then plant small shrubs or flowers to cover the bare soil but these look very ornamental and wouldn't happen in nature. I've seen gravel used to make a feature but don't use wood chip, it just blows away in the wind"

When the grass cutting season ended what should we have done to put our gardens to bed for winter?

  • Autumn feed.
  • Spike holes in the lawn for winter drainage.
  • Stay off the winter grass especially when it is frosty or soaked.

What about putting mowers to bed too?

  • Clean the grass catcher and also underneath the mower.
  • Opportunity to sharpen the lawnmower blade ready for Spring.
  • Spray WD40 underneath petrol mowers and drain the petrol out.
  • Put a blanket over mowers if it's staying in a cold damp shed.

What should we be doing right now at the start of the new season?

  • Use a Spring feed.
  • Use weed and moss killer.
  • Scarify or rake when the moss has died to let air into the grass stems.
  • Re seed if needed by mixing with fine compost or with fine clay.
  • Service a petrol mower every spring.
  • Sharpen lawn mower blades twice a year for nicer clean cut and it makes it easier on machine.

Finally, is there anything else you get asked that we've missed?

"Yes, how to keep cats from dirtying your lawn is quite common. Cat spray, or often I'm told the smell of garlic does the same job. A sonic repellent also does the trick to scare them off and they do tend to stay away, or at least go somewhere else."

If you've done something that's solved your once soggy garden we'd all like to hear about it.

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