Making a Garden Lawn, Lawn Seeding, Grass Seeding, Turfing
Making a Garden Lawn
For myself, and I am sure for most other people, the lawn is the most important feature in the garden. If the garden lawn looks good then the chances are that the rest of the garden will look good.
A decision we all have to make when contemplating making a new lawn is whether to use seed or turf. I would recommend seeding whenever possible for it costs about a quarter the money that buying turves does, and the preparatory work for both is just the same. Of course, if the area to be grassed is not very large and there are children in the family whom it would be difficult to keep off seeded ground then turfing has obvious advantages.
The aids to lawn care available nowadays are tools, machines and chemicals making maintenance an easy matter, and there is no reason at all why any gardener should not have a lawn of which he can be really proud.
Making a New Garden Lawn
Where permanent garden features are concerned, it is very important indeed that deficiencies in drainage should be corrected early on. This is certainly true of, for a grass area which holds an excessive amount of water is nothing but a worry in our climate. The grass will be weak and moss, lichen and other will be encouraged, mowing is often delayed because of the state of the ground and in really wet spells it becomes a mud patch if walked on. Heavy clay soils, with a sub- of pure clay, are the ones most likely to need such attention.
How you treat the ground depends largely on the area involved. If the area is small it is a good idea to remove all the topsoil and put down a layer of clinker, broken bricks, stones or similar material on top of the subsoil to a depth of several inches. This is then rammed down firmly, and covered with another layer of weathered coarse ashes, inverted turves or other bulky material which will effectively stop the topsoil filtering through the drainage material when it is returned.
Another way is to dig a soakaway about 2 feet deep and 2 feet across in the lower part of the area and to fill this with rubble, broken bricks, stones, clinker and so on. Top them up with smaller stones and finish off with at least 4 inches of topsoil.
Finally, the most expensive and complicated method of drainage, suitable for large areas, is to lay 3 inch earthenware drainpipes in 2 foot deep trenches made with a fall of 1 in 100 and leading to a deep rubble-filled soakaway. The pipes should rest on a bed of small stones or clinker and be covered with brushwood, inverted turves or straw and then clinker to prevent the soil, when returned to the trenches, seeping into the pipes. A more complex system of drainage is to lay a central drain with subsidiary drains leading to it at intervals from each side, herringbone fashion, at intervals of 10 to 40 feet, the central pipe having a diameter of 4 inches and the subsidiary pipes one of 3 inches. But it should not normally be necessary to go to such lengths.
Early Preparations for Lawn Seed Sowing and Turfing
Whether the lawn is to be made from seed or turf, thorough ground preparations are necessary. Having ensured that the drainage is satisfactory, the next job is to dig over the soil.
For spring sowing, I like to get this done in the autumn so that the soil is cultivated before the really bad weather arrives, and the latter can be put to work breaking down the rough clods, for it is best at this stage to leave the soil rough to provide maximum exposure to the rain, frost and snow (if this occurs). Remove all roots ofas you go along, particularly couch grass, that most pernicious of weeds. Get every bit of couch out or there will be trouble later. Another guard against water-logging on heavy soil is to work coarse sand into the top few inches of soil – anything up to 14lb per square metre. Digging in fibrous peat is useful on any type of soil, this being worked into the top few inches; and when determining the rate of application work on the principle that the more sandy the soil, the heavier should be the dressing. Such additions should be made shortly before or turfing.
If you have autumn sowing in mind, or you are planning to lay turf (best done between November and March) then, if you can, let the ground lie fallow during the summer, hoeing it occasionally to break down the lumps and keep newly germinated weeds under control.
Levelling is important for obvious reasons (you cannot do very much about this once the grass is there) and it is worth taking the trouble to peg out the site and systematically cover the area with a board and spirit level. The process consists of starting from a datum point and knocking in the first peg to the required final lawn level. The other pegs are then related to this one for depth so that when the board is rested on any two of them the bubble in the spirit level is dead centre. Of course, on this question of levelling one keeps a sense of proportion and one should not forget that minor irregularities in a lawn surface can add to its attractiveness in some cases. The main thing is that nothing should be done which makes mowing difficult.
All is then ready for the final preparations before seeding or turfing. On a fine day, rake the soil down to a firm tilth, and see that any sizeable stones are removed.
Firm the soil by treading, with the weight on the heels, so that it is as even as possible and then rake again but in a direction at right angles to the previous raking. Apply a dressing of a compound fertiliser with a fairly evenly balanced quantity of ingredients and leave the soil alone for about seven to ten days.
There are many different lawn seed mixtures available, for sunny, open situations, for semi-shady sites, for areas which will get very hard wear, for providing a superb sward and so on. Naturally, the finer the grasses the more expensive the seed will be.
Where appearance is not of first importance and it will be subjected to much wear from children and animals or from general traffic (as on grass paths), a good hard-wearing mixture is the right choice, one that will be less close growing than finer mixtures and will require less mowing, but it will need watching to prevent weeds establishing themselves.
A fine mixture will contain Fescues and Browntop only and will produce a closely knit turf, consisting mainly of grass with round, wiry blades (the creeping and coarser grasses have flat, wide blades). It will need cutting at least twice a week but produces a first-class lawn.
Finer grasses do best on a sandy, well-drained soil, and stand up to drought slightly better; coarse grasses will do best on slightly heavy soils, although, as indicated, neither will do really well on heavy soil which has inadequate drainage.
Heavy shade is a problem and it must be accepted that in such conditions grass is not going to do very well and will probably need fairly frequent re-sowing and patching every year.
Lawn Seeding – Sowing Lawn/Grass Seed
The best times for spring sowing are late March and April in the South and April and May in the Midlands and North, but the best time of all in the South is August or September.
I have even sown grass seed as late as the end of October with success. A great advantage of August and September sowing is that there are unlikely to be periods of prolonged drought just when the young grass is getting established. In the Midlands and North, spring sowing is best for the autumn is more likely to be wet and cold, and trouble from damping-off disease may follow.
Choose a fine, still day, when the soil is neither very wet nor very dry for sowing, and mark out the area into square yards beforehand, if sowing by hand. This is easily done with lengths of string, or you can use a wooden frame of one square metre on places where a only a small area is involved. This makes accurate, even sowing very easy. Make sure that the soil is broken down to a nice tilth, and use a board to stand on when sowing the seed, so that the soil is not compacted, and your weight is distributed more evenly. Sow the seed at the rate of 1% to 2 oz per square metre, sowing half the amount in one direction and half in the other to make its distribution as even as possible.
You can also use a wheeled distributor for seed sowing – the same machine that is used for fertiliser distribution – and this is calibrated to put down the mixture at the required rate. Be careful when using a distributor for sowing that no gaps are left between the seeded rows or, conversely, that the sections do not overlap.
After sowing, rake the soil lightly over the seed, exercising as much care as possible so that the seed is not disturbed. Then string black cotton over the plot if birds are likely to be a nuisance. It is possible to obtain seed treated with bird repellent, or you can use a bird repellent yourself, either to spray the seed with before sowing or to spray the whole area afterwards.
Early Treatment of Newly Seeded Lawn
The time taken for the seed to germinate varies, but the firstshould start to appear after about 10 days, provided the soil has remained moist and has not dried out during this period. It is likely that, having provided ideal conditions for the grass to germinate, weed seeds in the soil will also be growing, but as the grass seedlings continue to appear, they should eventually overcome the weeds. If a large number show up, it is possible to kill them with a special weedkiller (not the ordinary selective weedkillers for lawns) for use within 14 days of germination of the grass seed. This will kill the seedling weeds but not the grass. It is not for use once the grass is older than this, as the weeds will be too strong by then to be affected by this particular type of weedkiller. When the grass is about 2 inches high, it can be cut for the first time.