Now is the time for ‘the spring treatment’ or ‘spring scarifying’, which are the horticultural terms for giving the lawn a low cut, a firm raking or scraping, spiking, generous feeding, levelling out and covering with a nutritious blanket called lawn dressing.
1. Mow the lawn very short. Please note: Not all lawn types should be scarificed (cut) so drastically. The types that should just be mown to the normal length include cool-season lawns like ‘Kentucky Blue’, tuft-type perennial grasses or blended mixes like ‘All Season’s Evergreen’ and ‘Shade Over’, and tropical lawn types like ‘Buffalo’, ‘Berea’ or ‘Durban’ grass.
2. After mowing, rake the lawn firmly across and down to remove the old dead mat.
3. Take a hollow-tine fork or ordinary garden fork and drive it into the turf every 20 – 30cm or so, working the prongs down as far as they can go and also wriggling the fork about. This airing technique allows air, food and water to reach the root system. (A spike roller can also be used.)
4. Your next step is to feed the lawn, and there are chemical or organic products to use. Visit your local nursery and request a specialised lawn fertiliser that will promote strong root and cell growth first, before worrying about that deep emerald green colour on top. Keep to the recommended dose printed on the bag and water the lawn well the day before you are going to apply the fertiliser.
5. Water thoroughly immediately after feeding. If you are working with a hosepipe and a sprinkler in sunny
weather on a big lawn, fertilise an area, mark it with string (you will forget where you’ve stopped) and water well before moving on to another area.
6. Commercial lawn dressing is perfect for levelling and smoothing out a lawn and for encouraging new growth. Always use a quality product from a reputable supplier, as it will contain sterilised, finely sieved organic materials and washed river sand that will improve drainage and water holding capacity. Apply it no thicker than a 3cm layer to a fairly dried off lawn. Level it out with a flat board tied to the end of your rake.
Please note: Don’t use ordinary garden soil as filling or for top dressing after scarifying an existing lawn, as it can cause bad drainage or could be infested with dormant weed seed.
7. Start watering the lawn regularly as soon as the first grass blades start showing through the top dressing.
8. Mowing in spring should be done with lawnmower blades set to the highest position. When the lawn starts growing actively and faster, the blades can be gradually lowered until the correct height is reached. When mowing, ensure that you never remove more than a third of the grass blades at a time.
9. Keep a sharp eye on lawn weeds. Treat the problem immediately with a selective herbicide or remove them manually with a daisy grubber or screwdriver.
‘Green warrior’ tips
• It is eco-friendly (and healthy) to use a cylinder mower that works with manpower only, cutting out the use of fuel or electrical power.
• The ‘shaving’ and raking (both fairly harsh treatments) have more than one benefit. You will lay bare and destroy the hiding places of notorious lawn pests like lawn caterpillars and crickets, making it unnecessary to use insecticides later.
• Plant a lawn-type that is indigenous to your climate. You will use less water and time maintaining it.
- Spring treatment in September is impossible to do on sodden lawns after a long, wet winter. You can scarify thick matted lawns, level with lawn dressing and feed with a cell-and root strengthening fertiliser in autumn in this region, as the lawn will keep on growing (albeit slower) throughout winter with the benefit of rainwater.
- Moles can create havoc – use a mole repellent and repair the holes they have made with lawn dressing.
- Areas with bad drainage or large, patchy hollows will be easy to see now and should be fixed when the weather is a little drier. Cut out the turf, slide a spade underneath it, lift it and put it aside. (In case of very bad drainage, a proper drainage system should be laid underneath the affected areas of lawn to divert the water.) Fill up the hollows with compost mixed with coarse river sand, rake level and place the grass sod back on the same level as the rest of the lawn. Tamp the sods down firmly.
- Fertilising now with a nitrogen-rich lawn fertiliser seems to curb most annual weed problems as grass like Kikuyu will simply outgrow and smother them.
Maintain the summer look:
- Lawns need water to keep them looking great. The frequency and amount of water will depend on the grass type, soil type and weather, but you should water less often but deeply, rather than little bits every day.
- Irrigate early in the morning, to curb disease risk.
- Mow regularly. A lawn that has been waiting too long for its weekly cut will show dry, unsightly patches when it’s eventually cut.
- Ensure that the mower’s blades are sharp. Blunt blades will tear the grass and the tips will turn brown.
- Feed the lawn every 6 – 8 weeks during summer and into autumn.
Frequently asked question:
Q: Is spring a good time to lay a new instant lawn? And to save on cost of the sods can it be laid in a chequerboard pattern?
A: Instant lawn can be laid during any season, but spring is the best time in colder regions. Laying the sods in a block pattern can save money, but if not done with care this will result in a very uneven lawn that will later cost money to fix. After laying the sods and tamping them down with a spade or a wooden block you have to fill the open spaces between them with a mix of fine compost and river sand, to the same level as the sods.