Speaker: Wilf Simcox
Date: 27th April
Wilf was for many years a lecturer in horticulture at Sparsholt College. He shared his extensive experience and knowledge of how to keep our lawns looking lush and green in an interesting and informative presentation. He emphasised that with care and attention a lawn can be improved within a few weeks.
Wilf explained that the lawn is a fairly new garden feature having only been around for 140 years. Lawn mowers were invented in 1842, before that sheep or geese were grazed on the grass to keep it short. In the 1850s lawns became “the thing” another Victorian craze. Now 98% of houses have one either to curse or cut!
The first thing to decide is why a lawn is wanted. Is it to compliment flower borders or for the grandchildren to play football on? Also decide on how much time and money is to be spent on the lawn as it can be expensive in time and money.
Wilf explained that the lawn plant grows from the bottom, so mowing only takes off the old part of the leaf. It doesn’t matter if we over mow or if it dries out the grass will green up again. Ensure that the mower is working correctly, cutting evenly, cleanly and at the right height. With cylinder mowers make sure that the grass collection box is adjusted correctly to get the right “throw”. It is important to collect as much of the cut grass as possible, otherwise it rots and encourages moss. Only remove 1/3 of the grass at a mowing, ideally there should be no colour change before or after mowing. Scalping it before going on holiday is a recipe for disaster.
Weeds – moss occurs if the lawn is shady and wet or of low fertility, it can be spread but not much.
- speedwell indicates poor management, it is difficult to control, even the leaves will root in the borders or the lawn.
- clover makes it’s own nitrogen, so use a fertiliser high in nitrogen to swamp it out.
- plantain or knot weed indicates compacted ground so spike to aerate.
- pearlwort indicates an acid soil surface.
- daisies indicate a wet compacted surface
- tree weeds, work out why they are there
Weed control – zap individual weeds with a weed gun in Spring or September, section the lawn off or do it in strips.
Fertilisers – needed because mowing removes plant nutrients
- sulphate of ammonia, use just before rain, a light dressing either dissolve in water or apply broadcast by hand, doing it in the rain works best, only up to the end of June, not after July. Usually get a response within 10 days.
- Sulphate of potash, or Growmore, every two years, not bonemeal.
- Lawn sand is too expensive so use the separate chemicals.
Overseed in Autumn – use a fine seed mixture, sow very lightly, 5gm/m2 and spike before seeding. Hire a spiker from Wyvale or use a garden fork. Mark out rows or areas with two canes. Do it through the Winter months.
Scarify – use a springbok rake or scarifier to lift out moss and thatch.
Levelling – Don’t lift turf to level it, fork it over and then spread old compost or soil or growbags, make sure the grass is visible through what is spread.
Generally – get the shape right, get rid of awkward corners, repair edges by removing the damaged edge and reversing it back in place. Don’t keep just cutting them off as borders will get wider and wider.
Wilf then showed us a series of photos of lawns from football pitches through Wisley Gardens and Stately Homes, some as features that lead the eye in, some as foil for flower beds and others with problems or diseases, such as moles, worm casts, fairy rings, weeds, algae and moss. His last hint was not to fill the petrol mower up on the grass!
So a lot to take in but if we follow his advice we might progress from this:
Or even this!