Lawn care background knowledge.
What is Grass, how do we look after it?
Before we get into the world of lawn care, let’s cover some basics. What exactly is grass?
Grass is the common name for the Gramineae family of plants. With more than 9,000 known species, this family is one of the largest on Earth.
Grass is extremely important to most people’s lives, whether they know it or not. For one thing, grass is a major food source all over the world. Rice, corn and oats come from grass plants for example, and most livestock animals feed primarily on grasses. In some parts of the world, people use grass plants in construction (bamboo is a grass, for example), and wherever it grows, grass plays a vital role in curbing erosion. Grass is also used to make sugar, liquor, bread and plastics, among many other things.
Grasses have a very simple structure, and a very simple way of life. You can better grasp what grass needs when you understand how it actually functions in the world.
At the base of the grass plant, roots grow down into the earth. Typically, grass roots are fibrous, or threadlike. They extend into the soil like fingers, collecting nutrients, soaking up water and securing the plant to the ground.
Grass stems, called culms, grow up from the base of the plant (the crown). In most grass species, the culms are hollow and rigid, except at the nodes — joints that join stem segments together.
Narrow leaves extend out from the culms, above each node. The leaves alternate in direction. That is, if the first leaf on a culm grows to the right, the second leaf will grow to left and the third leaf will grow to the right and so on.
The lower part of the leaf is called the sheath, and the upper part is called the blade. In most grasses, a ligule surrounds the connection between the sheath and the blade. A ligule can take the form of a thin membrane or a fringe of hair-like projections.
Like the leaves on a tree, grass leaves serve to collect energy from sunlight through photosythesis. The photosynthesizing chlorophyll in the leaf gives grass its green color.
There are two major methods of reproduction in grasses. Some grasses have additional stems that grow sideways, either below ground or just above it. Stems that creep along the ground are called stolons, and stems that grow below ground are called rhizomes. Grasses use stolons and rhizomes to reach out and establish new grass culms. The stoleon or rhizome nurtures the new plant until it is strong enough to survive on its own.
Grasses also have flowers.
The small flowers in most grass species are known as florets. Florets grow together in small groups called spikelets, which collectively form inflorescences. Flowers produce the spores that pollinate other flowers, which produce seeds. With any luck, some of the seeds will grow new healthy grass plants.
In some grasses, such as corn, the stem and the flowering part of the plant are obvious. But in lawn grasses, the long thin leaves overshadow the other elements of the plant. Unless you’re up close, all you see is green stalks.
So, let’s say you want a perfect lawn — a lawn that looks like a golf course, a nice green carpet surrounding your house. Is this possible?
It’s not only possible, it’s really not that complicated, at least in most parts of the world. None of the advice that follows will help you grow a luscious lawn at the North Pole or in the middle of the Sahara desert, but it should do the trick in more temperate regions.
Like most plants, grass needs three things to thrive. It needs:
Additionally, it needs to be largely free of destructive elements, namely:
No amount of water and sunlight will make your lawn luscious and green if you have poor soil, so this is a good place to start.
A grass plant’s backbone is its root system. The roots soak up water, collect nutrients, anchor the plant and, in some species, spread out to grow new plants. A plant can only do these things effectively if the soil is right.
The soil needs to be loose enough that the grass roots can spread easily, absorbent enough that it will collect water and rich enough that it can provide the plant with nutrients. Roots also need a certain amount of circulating air, which means the soil can’t be too compact.
Ideally, you want loam — soil that has roughly equal amounts of silt, sand and clay (a “perfect” loam is about 40 percent silt, 40 percent sand and only 20 percent clay). Loam is fairly loose, but it has enough clay to absorb water effectively.
The soil’s pH rating is also important. This rating tells you the relative acidity and alkalinity of the soil. The ideal pH level is around 6.5 or 7, but levels vary between different grass species and climate conditions. You can find out your soil’s pH level with a home test or a professional test.
If you need to substantially increase the acid level, add sulfur. If you want to reduce the acid level, add lime.
To improve your soil, you can amend it with topsoil, compost or fertiliser.
Next to soil, the most important factor in lawn care is the grass species itself. To establish a beautiful lawn, you need to choose an appropriate type of grass. There are two major factors in this decision:
• Your local climate (average rainfall, heat, etc.)
• The amount of sunlight your lawn gets.
The various grass species all have different strengths and weaknesses, so collectively they hold up to just about anything. Blends are combinations of different varieties of the same type of grass. Blends are not as adaptable as mixtures, but they are generally more attractive because of their uniformity.
Most grass species need direct sunlight several hours a day to thrive, but you can seed heartier grass that does well in the shade. If your lawn is completely covered in shade, consider another sort of ground cover.
It’s also important to pick a species that does well with the amount of water in your area. “Water-loving” grass species will do terribly in drought-prone areas, and some grasses develop fungal disease in very wet areas.
Additionally, consider how you’ll treat the grass. Some grasses hold up to heavy traffic and some don’t. If you have kids and outdoor pets, you definitely need a resilient mixture.
Once you’ve chosen a good grass, you need to decide how to plant it.
If you’re starting a new lawn from scratch or overhauling an ailing one, you’ll need to add grass. There are two ways to go about this:
• Seeding – Planting grass seed in the soil
• Turfing – Laying out chunks of turf containing healthy grass plants
The most common method (and the cheapest) is seeding. When planting new seed, select a good species or mix for your area. Look for high-quality seed — don’t go for the cheapest option.
• To seed, first mix any topsoil, fertiliser or compost into your existing soil using a rotary tiller.
• Then use a rake to level the soil. This minimizes bumps and holes, which make mowing more difficult.
• Next, scatter the seed, either by hand or with a mechanical spreader.
• Compact the seeds.
• Rake the seeded area to lightly cover about half the seeds with soil.
• Soak the seeded area and water regularly until the grass starts to come in.
Turfing is much more expensive than seeding, but you get instant results. With sodding, you can go from an anemic, patchy lawn to a rich green lawn in a day, whereas it may take months for a seeded lawn to grow in completely.
Water the turf regularly until it is well established. It’s a good idea not to walk on the turf at first.
Maintaining Your Lawn
Finally, we get to the meat of the matter. If you’ve got the right soil, and you’ve planted the right grass, how do you keep your lawn healthy and green?
There are eight major components to lawn maintenance:
• Fighting weeds
• Fighting pests
• Fighting disease
Watering is simple. The general rule is to water heavily, when the lawn really needs it, rather than watering lightly more frequently. If you water lightly, the water won’t make it down into the soil so it won’t do much good. You should water enough to soak 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) deep, encouraging the roots to grow deep into the ground. Watering recommendations vary between different soil types, but as a general rule, water until there is about an inch of water (2.5 cm) over the ground surface.
Water as soon as the grass starts to dry out. Its colour will change from green to bluish grey, and it will lose some of its bounce. If the grass doesn’t spring back a few seconds after you step on it, it needs water. The best time to water is in the early morning; the water won’t evaporate as easily as in the afternoon, and it will cool the lawn down as temperatures start to climb.
Mowing reduces the workload on a grass plant’s root system. A large culm above-ground requires more water and nutrients from underground. It’s easier for the roots to provide for the plant if the culm is smaller. Mowing also encourages the grass plant to expand. When the blades cut down the leaves, the plant has to grow new leaves to absorb sunlight. This helps build a thicker, heavier lawn, which is more resistant to weeds and disease.
It’s best to mow frequently during the growing season. The rule of thumb is to never cut off more than a third of the grass plant at once — it’s bad for the plant to lose a lot of its photosynthesizing ability suddenly. One common mowing mistake is cutting the grass too short. It’s best to keep cool-season grasses at about 3 inches (7.5 cm) high or taller, and most warm-season grasses do well at about 2 or 2.5 inches (5 to 6.5 cm) high. You may want to vary the mowing height throughout the year. In autumn, winter and spring, you can mow closer because temperatures are cool and water is more abundant. In the summer, let the grass grow longer. The shade will help cool the soil.
Total Lawn Care recommend varying your mowing pattern. That is, push the mower north and south one week and east and west the next week. Sharpen your mower blades a couple of times a year to ensure a healthy, clean cut. If you have a mulching mower, you can leave the clippings on the lawn to help fertilize the grass.
In addition to mowing and watering regularly, you’ll need to make time for several larger jobs throughout the year.
Fertilizing adds nutrients to the soil so that the soil can provide nutrients to the grass. If you mow regularly, your grass will grow very quickly, which means it needs more nutrients than an average plant. Your soil can provide nutrients for most native plants by itself, but it may need some help to feed your grass.
The most effective way to fertilize is to spread slow-acting commercial granular fertilizer. Unlike water-soluble spray fertilizer, which acts on the leaves directly, granular fertilizer releases nutrients gradually over several months. If you spread the fertilizer in the autumn, it will strengthen the plant’s root structure, making it more resilient to drought and more resistant to weeds.
When soil gets compacted — from foot traffic, mowing and the like — oxygen can’t reach the microbes that break down organic matter to enrich the soil. To keep your lawn healthy, it’s a good idea to aerate it periodically — to open up the compacted soil.
Manual and power core-aerators remove narrow sections of soil to form shallow holes. Air, water and organic material spread into the ground through the holes, revitalizing the soil. If heavy traffic compacts your lawn severely, it’s best to aerate it every autumn.
De-thatching or scarification
In any lawn, thatch material collects around the base of the grass plants. Thatch is not made up of mowed grass clippings, as is commonly believed. Clippings usually break down in a week or so. Thatch is actually made up of culms and crowns that have died naturally.
A small amount of thatch helps conserve water in the soil by blocking evaporation, but heavy thatch build-up (more than a quarter-inch / 6 mm thick) keeps air and water from ever reaching the soil. If there’s too much thatch on your lawn then it is likely that not enough air, water and nutrients are making there way down to the root system. This will in turn quicken the demise of the lawn.
Weeding is an ongoing process. Grass, especially modern mixtures are extremely competitive and will crowd out most weeds by itself. If a lot of weeds do pop up, take it as a sign that your grass is weaker than it should be. This could mean your soil is deficient or water-logged, or it could mean you’re cutting the grass too short. Weeds will also pop up in a healthy lawn, of course. For the most part, this isn’t anything to worry about. Almost all lawns have weeds, and they don’t do much harm in small numbers.
Pest control is similar to weed control. If you have a healthy, thriving lawn, you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Bugs will make their home in your lawn, but they won’t be able to damage the grass much.
From time to time, however, bugs may destroy some of your grass. You can treat infestations by spraying insecticide or certain bacteria. Only use insecticides that kill harmful insects specifically. Ants and spiders prey on lawn pests, so you certainly want to keep them around.
Diseased lawns are usually caused by fungi feeding on the grass plants. Healthy grass stands up to fungus very well, but it develops disease now and then. Fight persistent or widespread fungi with a fungicide. The best way to fight disease is to incorporate a good lawn care program.
Watering Advice from surrey total lawn care
Freshly laid turf will need to be kept damp as soon as it is put down for at least the first 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, the frequency can be reduced, until the lawn is growing at a steady pace. Bare in mind the weather conditions, as in extremely hot weather you may need to have sprinklers on almost all day and night. We recommend that each area that the sprinkler can cover will need 20 – 40 minutes watering 2 to 3 times per day. (or more in extreme heat conditions) Once the turf has rooted, usually between 7 to 14 days, the frequency can be reduced. If the new lawn needs cutting, try stopping the watering for 2 days before the cut, so that the soil underneath the new turf dries out a little before running over with the mower. Then resume your watering. Reduce the frequency further until the turf is growing healthy and strong. Keep the mower set high for the first few cuts, then lower it down to a normal hight in stages. 3.5cm minimum hight recommendation by TLC
Seeded Areas or seeded lawns will need light watering on a regular basis, so as to keep the soil damp. We recommend that each area that the sprinkler can cover will need 20-40 minutes watering 2 to 3 times per day. (or more in extreme heat conditions) Be careful not to over water as this will cause the seed to pool up into clumps and the area will then need re-seeding. Once the seed has germinated, 10 days as a rule, the frequency of watering can slowly be reduced. Keep watering until the seeded areas are growing steadily. 3 to 6 weeks. Mowing can take place as soon as the grass is long enough. Keep the mower set high for the first few cuts, the lower it down to a normal hight in stages.
Summer time watering
When the lawns are turning brown, it is a sign that they are in drought. Try to start watering before the grass starts to turn from green to brown. We recommend that a good amount of water is put down at least once per week. allow the water to pool up on the surface, up to a centimetre, so that the standing water can seep down as deep as possible. Lawns that have not had any aeration may not be able to absorb the water. if this is the case, try forking the lawn with a garden fork. As lawn aeration cant take place until the ground has softened up, usually in the autumn, or the spring. Remember to lift the mowing height on the mower, so as to leave as much of the grass leaves as possible. This will drastically reduce the stress on the grass, and will aid its recovery once the dry weather is over.