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Lawn Special Part 2

In this article we continue with your questions on lawns. Read interesting information on various types of lawn and on weeding and scarifying.

Lawn types
You are right - there really are different types of lawn. But as gardeners, we use terms in different ways: We talk about "grass types" to refer to different kinds of grass in a seed mix (normal seed mixes), e.g. festuca or lolium varieties. And we talk about "lawn types" to refer to decorative, utility, sports or other landscape lawns - because they have different functions. For example, a decorative lawn is not as resistant to stress in a domestic garden as a utility lawn, which is better suited to children's games (often referred to as a "games lawn"). However, this type of lawn would not be suitable for a football stadium because the grass is under much higher stress there. Football fields require proper sports lawns. The seed mix defines the lawn type in greater detail. After all, there is the right seed mix for each type of lawn.

Watering lawns
Traditionally, grass has often been watered with sprinklers. If this is done during the day, some of the water evaporates without being used. For this reason, more intelligent, efficient and water-saving systems are increasingly making their mark. The most elegant solution - which is more or less standard for professionals - takes the form of pop-up sprinklers. You can now find excellent landscape gardeners who specialise in laying this type of sprinkler. Investing in such a system brings peace of mind for years, allowing lawn owners to comfortably water their lawns at the press of a button or using a watering computer. However, people who prefer traditional sprinklers can find varieties at specialist outlets that can be precisely configured for the shape and size of the lawn in question. As a result, only the grass is watered - and not half of the entire garden. The best watering time, according to agricultural scientists, is very early in the morning between 3 and 6 a.m. You do not have to get up early for this - use a timer or watering computer.

Fertilising lawns
When you cut the grass, you also remove nutrients from the lawn: For each kilo of trimmings you remove around 30 grammes of nitrogen, 20 grammes of potassium and 10 grammes of phosphorous. You have to replace these nutrients. Decorative lawns need somewhat less fertiliser than lawns which are walked on or are under stress. You normally fertilise lawns every four to five weeks from March/April, ending with a final autumn fertilisation to prepare for the winter at the start/middle of September. However, differences do exist now that long-term lawn fertilisers and special autumn fertilisers have come to the market. As we keep reiterating, you must pay close attention to the manufacturer's information on lawn fertiliser packets. This can also help to answer the question of whether you can use composite fertiliser rather than lawn fertiliser. Take a look at the mix ratio of composite fertiliser - nitrogen: phosphorous: potassium. For lawns this is ideally 10:3:3-5.

Grass substitutes
Yes, you can replace grass in places - if you see the whole thing as a flat, green "construction". In places where grass grows badly and in areas which are not used frequently, you can use shrubs rather than grass. Some of these cope well with being walked upon now and again, which is why they are often chosen to replace grass. In particular, these are mountain gold, aubrieta and leptinella, saxifrage, Roman camomile, Irish moss and blue haze. You have to be careful with the latter because it develops prickly fruit - not good for people going barefoot. The above are recommendations for sunny areas. In shady areas, it is best to use woodland or barren strawberries (but not Waldsteinia ternata, which does not grow flat enough). In shaded areas where the greenery can be a little higher, cuckoo flower (tiarella), memesia hybrid and bloody cranesbill are well suited as smart and pretty blooming green plants.

Grass paving
Grass paving can be used, for example, for a car port or an access road instead of paving stones. But remember, it does not create a comfortable walking surface for people wearing high heeled shoes etc. It may even make it difficult for people wearing high heeled shoes to get in and out of the car. And another thing: When you lay the paving, make sure that the paving blocks are sufficiently filled with soil so that there is about two centimetres of space up to the top of the blocks after the soil has been compacted, to allow the stalks to grow. Paving blocks filled right to the top are comfortable to walk on but the turf gets worn down by shoes, car tyres and even mowers so that the area which you wanted to be green actually turns earth brown over time. 

Lawn edges
Lawn edges can be rather cumbersome, but there are various ways of saving at least a little time. If you don't do anything at all with lawn edges, the trailing varieties of grass in the lawn will spread over the surrounding beds. This creates even more work. If you choose lawn edging stones to demarcate your lawn, they are best laid in mortar. When the mower goes over the top of them they will not move so easily and trailing grass cannot push through the gaps between the stones. Otherwise, one of the most convenient edge maintenance options is to work with a battery-driven, long-handled edge cutter. This means that you do not have to crawl around on the floor for hours to complete this annoying job.

Renovating lawns
If there are gaps in your lawn after the winter, it is usually because people walked over it when it was covered by frost, ice and snow. Even someone running quickly over a lawn can result in brown patches where their feet touched the ground. You can usually remove small children's footprints by scarifying. The gaps are filled in quickly by new growth and if necessary you can simply plant a few more grass seeds there. You can cut out larger brown areas using a flat spade, loosen the ground and transplant some turf. It is not usually worth buying rolled turf for this. Simply take a few square centimetres of grass from the edge where nobody will notice. Larger grass renovation jobs - or even complete resowing - may be necessary if you are fighting weeds (see the relevant section).

Earthworms in lawns
You are right, dear GARDENA Newsletter reader, when you say that the castings which earthworms leave behind on your lawn are a pain. However, this is simply the price you pay in exchange for these creatures creating a healthy garden soil - and doing their job. There are no proven means of driving these creatures away. Your only option is intensively watering the lawn, forcing the animals to the surface and collecting them up. Then you can move them to your vegetable garden. But who wants to go to the trouble? And how successful would it be in the long term? This method will only work if you do it at the right time - before they pair up and lay eggs in June.

Rolled turf
I am increasingly impressed by rolled turf - although it is expensive, it really has its benefits. In the case of smaller home lawns in particular - but also sports lawns, it solves your problems with just a few minutes of work. You simply have to level the surface, rough it up and roll out the strips close to each other. You can walk on the area immediately and place it under stress after waiting for two weeks to enable the roots establish themselves. Rolled turf extends the lawn laying season: You can start earlier in spring because you do not have to wait for sowing temperatures. In addition, you can lay grass later in autumn after temperatures have dropped below sowing levels again.

Shade-tolerant lawn
Just forget it! Whatever you hear to the contrary, no lawn is truly shade-tolerant. All grass needs sunshine. There are only certain grasses which have wider leaves and are therefore at least a little more capable of growing in places with less sunlight. However, as it gets more shaded, even these grasses will not grow satisfactorily. In really shady locations, moss will take over the grass growth. So once again: Forget about "shade-tolerant" lawns - whatever it says on the packet!

Cutting height
After sowing fresh seed, cut the grass when the stalks reach around eight centimetres. Cut it to around five centimetres now; when the grass is mown for the third or fourth time and is thicker, it can be gradually cut to three centimetres. There is no benefit in letting the lawn grow really long and then cutting it right back. The stalk always needs to have a certain length to enable photosynthesis, which is why it is better to cut grass little and often rather than all at once. For each cut, the rule of thumb is to shorten the stem by around half to two-thirds to 2.5 to 3 centimetres. Only lawns in less sunny areas can be left slightly longer, until the grass has a stem length of around five centimetres.

Cutting technique
There really is an ideal cutting technique. We have partly addressed this issue already through the information about the cutting length: Little and often is better than all in one go. Each time you mow, change the mowing direction. Otherwise you will always press the stem in one direction, which results in easier thatching of the grass. If you usually mow grass to the right, alternate with mowing to the left. Occasionally, you should also mow diagonally, changing sides. If you want to produce a strip pattern like that which decorates stadium grass, for example, you need a mower with a roller at the rear. The roller flattens the grass in one direction, making the bright, shiny underside of the grass visible. You can use this technique to create stripes, squares or circles on your lawn.

Removing weeds
You can use various techniques here. Smaller weeds such as veronicas and white clover can be removed with a manual scarifier. Use it frequently so that the plants are disturbed often, preventing their growth until they wither. It is best to use a larger scarifier several times on larger areas. Other weeds such as dandelions and daisies can be removed with a root weeder or an old kitchen knife. If you are persistent, you can remove a lot of weeds from your garden using mechanical means. If you are particularly concerned, you can also use a herbicide to remove lawn weeds. If a lawn has weeds all over it, it means that the weeds have overcome the grass seeds because the conditions were more favourable for their growth. You have a major problem with your lawn. The soil may be compacted (indicated by the presence of common plantain), greasy and damp (daisies and dandelions), very poor (white clover), or too acidic (moss). You should then consider removing these areas completely, creating a soil structure which is more beneficial to lawns, and resowing the whole area or covering it with rolled turf. However, we advise that you consult a local landscape gardener, because it is hard to professionally assess a surface without studying it in detail. Tip: Especially in serious cases and for larger lawns, do not use just any landscape gardener. Choose one who has extensive experience in laying lawns - such as a golf course specialist - instead of someone who simply knows how to lay natural stone walls and create swimming ponds. 

Voles
Once you have got rid of pesky moles, their place is often taken by voles. Voles eat their way through your garden, not stopping for vegetables, bulbs or even tree roots. As lovely as these little animals may be, the only thing which will help is vole traps. If you prefer, you can use non-fatal traps. It is easy to tell which type of animal has been digging around in your garden: Moles dig a wide oval cross-section (they shift earth to the sides of their body) and voles create a vertical oval shape (they push the earth backwards below their bodies). 

Scarifying
Scarifying is great because it allows you to give grass a real good clean once, twice, or three times a year. Removing lawn thatch returns air and light to the lower parts of the grass, making the stems more vigourous. Fertiliser can reach the roots again and does not feed the moss and decay bacteria in the thatch in between. And this is certainly useful for fighting weeds. Scarify for the first time now in March, again in the middle/at the end of May and a third time at the start of September. Each time you scarify, as with mowing, change the direction from which you approach the stem and work diagonally now and again - as explained in the information on the best cutting technique above. After scarifying, add lime and fertiliser and resow gaps if necessary. It is best to carry out aerification after scarifying.

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