The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Gardening: Back to grass roots

By Justin Newcombe

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Make your lawn the star of the garden this summer by giving it some TLC now, writes Justin Newcombe.

Your lawn is your quickest and best shot at creating a big impact in the garden this season. Photo / Thinkstock
Your lawn is your quickest and best shot at creating a big impact in the garden this season. Photo / Thinkstock

Spring is the perfect time to get into some dedicated lawn care, and boy is it worth the effort. Without doubt your lawn is your quickest and best shot at creating a big impact in the garden this season. After a winter of degradation and neglect (I'm speaking for myself here, naturally) a lawn is often looking much the worse for wear. Shade and excess water take their toll. Couple these two environmental factors with your kids playing a muddy game of football or your dog acting like it's an audition for "Good Pets Gone Bad" and by the time you hit spring your lawn resembles a mossy, muddy, patchy mess. It makes even the most interesting garden look miserable.

The fact is a great lawn in an average garden can make it look like a garden masterpiece. One of the keys is to frame the lawn using a mowing strip or strong border planting; surprisingly, this is especially true with smaller sections. I prefer to use a mowing strip but it's not your only option. A dug edge around a boldly planted border can look smart as long as it is kept crisp and well-maintained.

With this "framing" the lawn complements the garden splendidly.

Lawn turf itself is one of the highest maintenance parts of any garden. It is worthwhile encouraging strong grass growth because in the long run this will reduce maintenance, and even reduce mowing. However, it is an urban myth that a bowling green length is the perfect lawn. Residential lawns, in my opinion, should be mown long as this encourages grass health; I try to keep mine at two inches. Short grass length is a sure way to increase maintenance as the careful monitoring and maintenance required to manage the turf on bowling or putting greens testifies.

After winter, in many gardens the root structure of the grass plants will have been compromised by poor sunlight and wet soil conditions. This is an open invitation for an infestation of lawn weeds which can be difficult to eradicate.

The first thing I do in spring is gently thatch my lawn using a plastic or bamboo leaf rake - I find the metal ones are bit hard on the grass roots.

Mow the lawn to about an inch and a half, being careful not to mow so low that the white shoots are exposed too much.

Next rake the lawn with the leaf rake to draw up a fibrous tangle called thatch. Gently rake in a 50-50 blend of fresh lawn mix and sand to about a centimetre or so thick. I also dress with compost as a feed. There are plenty of good quality granulated lawn fertilisers available at Bunnings but I prefer to concentrate first on soil rather than plant health.

For a liquid feed I use urine mixed with water at about a five to one ratio, and applied with a sprayer. It's quite safe and is extremely high in nitrogen. Take this opportunity to add some seed, remembering that different seed types will do better in different situations. I've been slowly adding a shade loving seed blend with good results.

Lastly, don't forget to water.

Your lawn will require mowing little and often during summer but it's watering over the dryer months that will give you that shiny thick carpet we all want this summer.

- NZ Herald

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