Management of lawns

First year management of a newly seeded lawn

Once seedling grasses are established, (typically in good growing conditions about three to four weeks after sowing), lightly roll or tread to firm and level the soil around the grass roots ready for the first cut.  (Do not roll if the ground is wet and saturated with water).

After a few days, when the grass has picked up again, the lawn will be ready for its first cut.  Cut with the mower set on a high setting (50mm +), aiming to trim the sown grass back by about one-third of its height and cut back any weeds.

Thereafter mow the new lawn regularly as needed, progressively reducing the mowing height over its first spring/summer to the desired height.

A new sown lawn will take a full year or more to reach full strength, complete ground cover and knit together as a turf.  It can be walked on during this establishment phase, but avoid heavy use that might cause wear and tear.

Management once established

Mow lawns regularly throughout the growing season (generally March - October).

Cutting frequency. Weekly cuts are usually sufficient to maintain most ‘average' utility lawns and amenity grass areas. Cutting will need to be more frequent than this for fine quality close-cut lawns, and lawns which are fed and watered.

Cutting height. This depends on preference and function. Close mown lawns are necessary as firm even playing surface for bowls, golf, football etc. and are cut at heights of 10mm or less.  Such extreme close mowing severely stresses grass plants and as a result they require a high input of dedicated maintenance (mowing, feeding and watering) to sustain them. They are as a result always more susceptible to drought, moss and die back.

For most utility lawns raising the cutting height to 25mm to 40mm produces a more resilient easy to manage lawn that is softer to walk and sit on.

As a general rule of thumb, to keep the top growth fresh and green, avoid cutting back the sward by more than one-third of its height in any one mow. This means cutting less each time from the shortest lawns and mowing more frequently (daily in the case of bowling greens).

Raise the cutting height whenever the lawn is under stress such as from cold or drought.  In shade and under trees be particularly light with the mower.

Cuttings: collection or recycling? There are a number of benefits associated with letting the clippings fall back onto the lawn as a mulch rather than collecting them. Nutrients are returned to the soil to feed the grass, moisture loss reduced improving drought resistance in dry weather, and moss is inhibited. There are secondary benefits too in avoiding the need to collect and dispose of the cuttings. One of the main criticisms of lawns is the green waste disposal problem and cost they generate for local authorities.

On the other hand there are some practical problems associated with leaving cuttings which means it may be preferable to collect rather than leave cuttings.  If left the cuttings need to be small, finely divided and spread evenly.  This is possible but does require regular mowing using a mower with this capability; either a modern push mower or a powered mower with a mulching deck. Cuttings deposited as a thick mulch or in clumps are unsightly, will smother grass and can cause damage to the lawn if left and so will need collecting. Other issues cited with 'letting clippings fly' include the risk of cuttings being walked in to the house on feet (risk low and transient with a good mower), a possible accumulation of thatch (dead grass) at the base of the sward (little evidence for this in practice), and encouraging worm activity (only really a visual problem on the most pristine close cut lawns - see note below).

Watering

Lawns need regular supply of water to stay verdant and green.  In dry conditions this means watering with typically around 20 litres per square meter per week.  This irrigation may seem an extravagant use of water and other more sustainable strategies avoiding watering may be preferred.

Lawns with a significant proportion of more drought tolerant grasses, such as fescue grasses in our EG21 and EG22, will be more tolerant of periods of drought.  They may lose condition and colour in a drought but can recover more readily.

The inclusion of small leaved white clover, as in EG22c, will improve the drought resistance of a lawn as it will stay looking green for longer in a dry spell than grass only lawns. Deep rooted wild flowers similarly can often stay green longer through a drought than grasses which are general shallow rooting.

Whenever a lawn is under stress, such as drought, go easy with the mowing and raise the cutting height a bit.  Letting the cuttings go back as fine mulch may also help reduce water loss.

In extended periods of summer drought, turf grasses turn brown and stop growing. This often looks a lot worse than it actually is, and the lawn will usually recover rapidly with renewed rainfall. It would take a severe drought to actually kill off the lawn. Lawns generally go dormant in these situations, not dead.

Feeding

Feeding a lawn, in combination with watering, will produce a lush green lawn.  This may be important if you need a top performance sports turf.  For general use as a lawn feeding may just give you more work keeping up with mowing the grass, and more cuttings to dispose of.  Feeding your lawn artificial fertilisers to try and get a ‘perfect' lawn is not essential or perhaps even desirable on many soils.

Alternative more sustainable strategies to adding fertiliser include: adding white clover (as in EG22c) which feeds the grass naturally by fixing nitrogen from the air; allowing clippings to return and recycle naturally as note above; raising the cutting height so that the grass plants are stronger and more resilient.

 

Weeds

No weed gets out of hand if mown regularly, so use mowing as your main weed control, rather than a potentially toxic weedkiller. Remember that selective weedkillers will kill wild flowers, clover and lawn daisies (and what's the use of a lawn without daisies?)

Moss

Moss grows well wherever grass is under stress such as shade.  Moss benefits from the reduced vigour and competition from grass. Unless you are trying to maintain a top quality lawn (against the odds in shade) it is probably best to accept the moss to a large degree. Moss can be kept in check to some extent by raking. This is best done at a time when the grass is growing well (eg autumn or early spring) so that the grass quickly recovers and grows into the gaps created by moss removal. Feeding the lawn can help by boosting the vigour of the grass, but the use of artificial fertilisers is not something we advise, even for lawns.

Ants and worms

Both ants and earth worms perform some very important ecological functions within natural grasslands.  Worms recycle clippings and thatch and help maintain a better soil structure and surface drainage.  Ants too can have a positive effect on soil structure below ground.  Both ants and worms can work soil down to one metres depth or more. Unless you are maintaining a bowls or croquet lawn it is probably best to welcome their assistance in keeping your lawn healthy. Don't mow too close, and if needed scatter nuisance anthills and wormcasts with a besom broom or similar on a dry day.