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A Quick Guide To A Perfect Lawn

This is just a quick guide for those of you who aspire to a perfect lawn. If this whets your appetite for more knowledge, a longer and more exhaustive article is available.

Firstly, timing. The operations I will describe here are best carried out in early autumn, ideally around the last week in September. Although, if the ground is still dry, it is better to wait for a decent rainfall to soften the ground before attempting these jobs. Secondly, equipment and a word on lawn size.
If your lawn is around the size of the goal area of a football pitch, or slightly larger, then a reasonably fit person should be able to carry out these operations using only handtools. Those of you with a larger lawn will be best served by hiring some machinery.

Tools Required
* Hand Tools - a springbok rake, an ordinary garden fork, a rake and a yard broom. A small fertilizer spreader is handy but not essential.
* Machinery - a scarifier, a lawn aerator, and a fertilizer spreader. A leaf blower may also be handy especially if your lawn is very large. You may also like to consider buying a drag brush, the purpose of which will be discussed later. A leaf blower may also be handy especially if your lawn is very large. You may also like to consider buying a drag brush, the purpose of which will be discussed later.

Some dryish soil sifted to remove the lumps and stones. This should be used to repair any holes and undulations in your lawn. Naturally, if you have no holes and undulations then you can skip this. Some grass seed; get enough to cover the whole lawn at a rate of half an ounce per square yard (or the metric equivalent). The mixture you buy depends on the use to which your lawn is put. If you have kids, dogs etc who like to play on the lawn then get a hardwearing mixture which contains a high proportion of dwarf perennial ryegrass. If the lawn is more ornamental then choose a mixture which contains a greater proportion of fine grasses such as fescues and bents. Most seed containers have the contents written somewhere on them, though they can take a little finding. If in doubt, ask a member of the garden centre staff.

Some Fertilizer
Go for the organically based varieties. These may cost a little more than synthetic types, but I find they last a lot longer and are much better for your soil. Again, buy enough to cover your lawn at the rate recommended by the manufacturer and also be sure to get an autumn and winter mixture which is heavy on the potash and phosphate and light on nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in the autumn is a bad thing, as it can make the grass a bit susceptible to frost damage and disease. Lawn fertilizers are expensive, but the phrase "you get was you pay for" is doubly apt here, so go for the best you can afford.

Get Stuck In
If you can, choose a dryish day and don't start until any dew has begun to disperse.
The first job is aeration. If you are on a small lawn then grab that fork and go nuts. Push it in as far as it will go. It doesn't matter if it only goes in a couple of inches: any holes are better than no holes. Repeat this all over the lawn at about four inch intervals. It is real hard work, but your lawn will thank you. If you are using a machine, then follow the instructions you received from the hire shop in it's use. You can be generous since you are mechanically assisted and go over the whole lawn at least twice.

Having got plenty of holes into the lawn, the next step is scarification. This is just a ten quid word for raking the heck out of the grass. Again, if your lawn is small, grab that rake and go at it. You really cannot overdo this job if you are doing it by hand, so keep going until your energy gives out (or it gets dark, whichever comes first). Gather up the huge amounts of gubbins you have removed and put it on the compost heap.

For those of you blessed with a big lawn then, again, follow the instructions you received in the hire shop on the use of the machine. However, a word of warning, it is eminently possible to overdo it with a mechanical scarifier and leave your lawn looking like the dark side of the moon. Adjust the machine until it just brushes the grass, make a test pass and observe the result. If you have brought up little or no rubbish then give the adjuster a couple of turns and try again. When you start bringing up a good amount of material, stop adjusting and get to work covering the whole lawn. In my experience, the first pass will not bring up a terrific amount of material so do at least two passes, the second at right angles to the first.

If you think you can get yet more rubbish up then by all means lower the machine a little and do another pass, the grass will recover.
Unfortunately, you have just discovered the main drawback to mechanical scarifying, namely the mess. This is where the leaf blower comes in. If it is reasonably dry then you should at least be able to blow all the junk into a neat heap, before you barrow it of to the compost heap.

The order in which I have suggested you do these operations is the one I use, which has served me well for many years. However, it is not set in stone and you are free to carry out these operations in the order which suits you best.
Next the seed. On a small lawn scatter it by hand thinly. It is best to be a bit mean and go over the whole lot twice, than be too generous and run out. When all the seed is spread you need to get it down the holes. This is best achieved by brushing gently backwards with the hard broom. It doesn't matter if you think you haven't got much brushed in, but you have. Don't be too fussy, just give the lawn a good brush. If you are applying soil as a top dressing this should be done now. Try to broadcast it thinly with a shovel. This will take a little practice. Don't load up the shovel too much and give it a good fling in a sideways motion. Try to keep as much as possible in your own garden and you will be fine. Next, rub the soil into the grass with the back of an ordinary rake using the same kind of motion as you did with the brush. To avoid leaving any humps and bumps, you may finish off the job with the brush for a really pukka job.

If you are dressing a large lawn, it is best to apply the seed with a spreader. Set it to whatever setting the manufacturer recommends, to give you a coverage of half an ounce per square yard. If you have lost the instructions which came with the spreader then you will have to calibrate it yourself. This isn't terribly complicated if you are careful, just start with your machine on a low setting and observe the result. The lawn should be lightly dusted - no more. If you have finished the lawn with half the seed left over then go over the whole thing again at right angles to your first pass. This is what professionals do and you get a more even coverage this way.

Should you be applying soil as a top dressing then use your spreader for this, as well. Just set it on its largest setting and march round the lawn until the soil is all gone. The best device for rubbing the seed and soil into your lawn is undoubtedly a drag brush. This is simply a big (about four feet wide) brush that you drag around behind you. They are also useful for removing dew and getting the grass to stand up before you mow it.

When I was apprenticed as a groundsman, I used to spend hours dragging one of these around and I still break out in a cold sweat thinking about it now!
You are probably asking where can you get one of these invaluable tools from? As far as I know, you cannot hire such a thing. However, have a quick scan of the Yellow Pages looking for suppliers of turfcare equipment, they should be able to help you. If you are serious about caring for your turf, a dragbrush is a relatively inexpensive must (they are also handy for keeping troublesome apprentices out of harms way). Failing this, take a chunk of two by four [wood], about four feet long, and tie a piece of rope to it at each end to form a loop, by which you can drag it. March round your lawn again until you are satisfied that the soil and seed are well rubbed in.

Take a deep breath here, you have nearly finished! In fact, take a week off and do the next bit after the soil and seed have had time to settle in a bit. The next bit being applying the fertiliser. Again, set your machine up according to the manufacturer's recommendations to deliver the amount recommended by whoever made the fertilizer. (That is an unwieldy sentence if ever I wrote one.) Again, get your walking boots on and wander up and down until you have covered the whole lawn. Should you have a bag or two left over, don't panic: you can always use this as an early spring dressing to get your grass in the mood without doing any harm.

There you've done it, you've renovated your lawn! If it looks like hell, don't worry: it will recover in no time, trust me. I've nearly had the sack before now, because my employer has been convinced I'd ruined his lawn. They almost always reinstated me within two weeks when they saw I was right all along! If all other things are equal, you should see the tiny shoots of grass appearing within a couple of weeks. If they don't appear, there is no need to worry: they will appear in the spring. Please resist the temptation to cut the lawn for at least three weeks after renovation and when you do, just give it a light trim to even it up. You can go for the Wimbledon, Wembley, Lords (delete to taste) look in the following spring when the grass has settled down.

Gird up your loins and summon up the blood and get that lawn sorted,


Happy Lawning,

The Bearded Wonder!







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