Lawn Care

Lawns can survive well enough on their own but, with a little extra care, you can achieve stunning results regardless of the weather.

Whatever your preferred gardening style, the lawn is likely to play a key role in your design. As well as creating an attractive outdoor carpet, making a restful green contrast with the bright colours of your borders, lawns also have a functional role. Grass must be hard-wearing, especially if you have children or pets, and needs to look fresh and healthy for as much of the year as possible. With a little management, and minimal skill, this is easy to achieve all year round.

In winter, when the ground is saturated, or even frozen, healthy grass on a well-drained lawn will look greener and will stand up well to the trampling of passing feet.

In summer, the more vigorously the grass grows, the longer it stays green when drought comes, and the more resistant it will be to disease.

Mowing Your Lawn

Mowing is the most frequent lawn care activity. Grass will need mowing about once a week in good growing conditions but less frequently in early spring and late autumn, or during droughts. Unless unseasonably mild weather occurs, you need not mow at all from November to mid or late March.

Mow when the grass needs cutting - rather than every week - removing roughly 1-3cm (1/2-1in) of grass as you go.

  • Set the blades of your mower to cut at 2.5-4cm (1-1 1/2in) for general purpose, hard-wearing lawns.
  • Set the blades to about 1.25-2.5cm (1/2-1in) for finer, more ornamental but less hard-wearing turf.

Save your grass cuttings. Fresh grass is high in plant nutrients and makes an excellent addition to compost. Mix your mowings with other fibrous materials such as prunings or leaf mould to achieve the most crumbly, easily handled compost.

Mow less frequently in drought, raising the cutters slightly if the lawn appears to be too close mown. If lawns turn brown in extreme drought, don't worry, their root systems can survive for months. The grass will green up almost overnight when rain falls.

Lawn Edges

Sheer edges, on lawns, must be trimmed regularly during the growing season, using long handled shears or a powered device such as a strimmer.

A better alternative is to lay paving slabs along the lawn edging, setting them just below the level of the lawn, and trimming the grass back with a half-moon edging tool once each season. This is especially useful along flower border edges, since it allows the plants to arch over the edges.

Weed Control

Attitudes to weeds vary these days. One person's daisy infestation is another's delight, so you will need to decide what your personal choice will be - a perfect sward, a flower studded meadow or a compromise between the two.

If you enjoy flowers such as daisies, celandines or speedwell in your lawn, and are content for it not to be perfect and uniform, adopt a more tolerant management system. Use neither weedkillers nor fertilisers but be prepared to hand weed pernicious species like dock, ragwort or thistles.

  • Small numbers of troublesome weeds can be removed by hand. An old kitchen knife is useful for this, but be sure to remove any long tap roots rather than simply slicing through them.
  • Spot weeding, with a selective weedkiller, is an easy alternative. Treat each weed individually, preferably on a warm day when growth is fast. Be sure to use a herbicide that does not harm grass.
  • Major infestations can be treated with a general lawn weedkiller, applied in spring. The easiest way to do this is with a special weed and feed mixture. Wheeled applicators are available, distributing the correct dosage.

Very occasionally, a lawn can become infested with weeds - particularly weed grasses - which defeat selective herbicides. If this happens, the drastic action of killing off the entire sward may be necessary, re-seeding, or re-turfing, as soon as the weeds in question have been totally eradicated.

Moss in Your Lawn

Moss can be troublesome, especially on lawns which are not in good condition. Causes of moss infestation can be:

  • Impoverished grass which is running short of essential mineral nutrients - easily replenished by dressing with lawn fertiliser.
  • Mowing too closely, during the previous season - set your blades higher.
  • Grass growing in dense shade, which is often difficult to put right - either tolerate the moss or consider an alternative to the lawn, such as paving, concrete or gravel.
  • Poor drainage.
  • A lawn surface matted with dead, fibrous grasses - scarify or vigorously rake the grass once a year.
  • If moss grows as a result of the more tolerant lawn management, where wild flowers have been encouraged and feeding and weeding abandoned, you'll have to put up with the moss - you could even grow to like it!

Moss-infested lawns can be treated with special moss killing lawn sand, or with a fertiliser that contains added iron sulphate. The moss turns dramatically black and will need raking out. If you prefer a less drastic method, try raking out the moss anyway while it is still green, and follow this action up with a dressing of lawn fertiliser. Healthy grass will tend to squeeze out moss.

Provided it has not been treated with chemicals, moss can be composted to develop into a peat-like soil improver. In hanging baskets, too, moss makes a decorative living liner, remaining green until the flowers have filled out.

Lawn Drainage

For lawn grasses to thrive, water must be able to drain away through the soil. On light soils, this is seldom a problem, but if your soil is heavy, you may need to drain and aerate your lawn. There are several ways of doing this:

  • The simplest way is to use a garden fork inserted 10cm (4in) deep every 30cm (1ft). This is hard work, so do a little at a time. Avoid walking on wet lawns in heavy soils since the pressure can cause soil compaction.
  • Hollow-tine aerators are available. These remove plugs of soil, allowing surface water to drain away into the sub-soil.
  • Earthworms are the most effective aid to drainage, since their burrows run deep, enabling water to run away.

If you have a large lawn, or grass area, the easiest way to aerate the grass is to use a powered scarifier - either electric or petrol-driven - either in spring or autumn. Apply a fertiliser dressing after scarifying.

Watering Your Lawn

It was once fashionable to water lawns throughout the summer, to ensure that they stayed green, even if drought ensued. But with water becoming an ever more expensive commodity, and with more and more homes on metered water supplies, it is becoming less desirable to irrigate. It makes a lot more sense to save waste water - from baths and sinks - for flowers in containers and borders, and to allow the lawn to parch during drought. It is unlikely that any lasting damage will have been done, even if your grass turns crisp and brown.

If you elect to sprinkle your lawn, do so in calm weather, in the very early morning or at night when lower temperatures reduce the rate of evaporation. Water thoroughly but infrequently rather than a light sprinkle every few days.

Fertilising Your Lawn

Grasses, like all green plants, sustain themselves from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They also require such minerals as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, most of which occur plenteously in natural soil.

Since a lawn is constantly having grass cut and cleared away, some of these minerals may become depleted and, though this is never life-threatening, it can weaken the lawn. Added fertiliser, containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, will replenish the minerals.

Lawn fertilisers should be high in nitrogen, as well as containing lesser quantities of the other plant nutrients. A single dressing in spring will suffice but if you are a perfectionist, you may wish to green up your sward with an extra autumn dressing.

Repairing a Lawn

Although it is a living, growing organism, a lawn, like an indoor carpet, is subject to wear and tear. You may have to make running repairs from time to time.

A busy walkway, over part of a lawn or through a narrow gap, often wears bare and becomes muddy. Lay paving slabs here to use as stepping stones, being sure to set them slightly below the general level of the lawn.

Trodden down edges are a common problem, easily corrected by cutting out a turf, in spring or autumn, reversing it and re-cutting the edge. The gap created within the lawn is easy to fill with soil and re-sow with a pinch of grass seed.

Thin patches, caused by regular wear, should be scratched with a rake in autumn to create a tilth, and resown.

There hollows appear, lift the turf from these and backfill with a little soil, before replacing the turf and rolling until flat.

Deep hollows require the turf to be folded back.

Worms & Moles


Worms are the greatest friends a gardener can have. As well as assisting drainage with their burrows, they live on decaying vegetation and are thus part of the vital process of returning nutrients to the soil.

A big worm population denotes a healthy soil. Worm casts, which are most abundant when the soil is warm and moist, are enriched with nutritive value. But worm casts, to some lawn owners, are unsightly and need to be dealt with.

Wait until they dry in the morning sun and either brush them up - to add to borders or your potting compost for later use - or brush them lightly across the top of the lawn with a besom broom (one made of bunched twigs) until they have broken up and disappeared. Avoid rolling or mowing when worm casts are still wet. If flattened, they may make small patches on the lawn.


Moles create underground tunnel systems, frequently raising little hillocks of earth. Besides the molehills looking ugly, the tunnelling can damage turf and increase the rate at which it dries out. Moles are difficult to eradicate.

Where infestations are severe, you may need to consider using mole traps. Be sure to follow the instructions correctly.

If you dislike the idea of killing moles with traps, try deterring them by placing the musical element from 'singing' greetings cards into their burrows. The tones will sound for several weeks, driving the moles away.

Deterrent substances such as moth balls can also be used, with varying levels of success.

The soil from the molehills should not be scattered on the lawn but collected and put elsewhere in the garden, or saved to make potting compost.

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