Recently I took the opportunity to visit some of the gardens in the Taranaki Garden Festival and Taranaki Fringe Festival. Among the rain showers on the last day of the festival a friend and I managed to visit five gardens which were all different, no doubt reflecting the personalities of the different owners.
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On reflection of the gardens and what we liked in each, we reached an overwhelming conclusion that a good lawn really makes or breaks a garden. The one property that did not have a lawn had a quite different feel and impression from the gardens that had a lush, healthy grassy swathe.
A lawn can indulge the senses in several different ways. Physically a lawn offers a gentle surface to walk around the garden on compared to hard surfaces such as stones, concrete or paving. But more compelling is the visual aesthetics. Visually a lawn offers a break from the garden, the even-green of the grass allows the eye to rest and before being drawn back into a well put together garden.
Curved edges or straight edges, dug into the soil edges or timber edges, concrete or brick edges are just a few options that will also influence the aesthetic feel to a garden.
A nice lawn really does complement both a house and garden and contributes to increasing the value and saleability of a property.
The secret of a good lawn is firstly preparation before it is planted and secondly maintenance when it is established.
For an existing lawn, maintenance doesn't have to be too consuming. A spray each year in spring and autumn with Yates Turfix will remove most broadleaf weeds, clovers and prickle weed. Applying fertiliser and moss control once a year and regular mowing, should keep a lawn looking good as well as feeling great to walk on.
Yates Woody Weedkiller is more effective on harder to kill weeds including convolvulus, docks, sorrel, cape ivy, thistles, buttercups.
If your lawn has hydrocotyle, creeping oxalis then Hydrocotyle Killer is a better choice, this will also control many other broadleaf weeds including daisies and clover.
If prickles in the kids' feet are the main problem you would like to fix then use Grosafe Prickle Weed Killer. This will also control other lawn weeds including thistles, plantains, daisies, cape daisy and pennycress.
Although mentioned above in the list of sprays, any child or grown-up who loves the feeling of grass under their bare feet really wants the issue of prickles in the lawn addressed! The secret is all in the timing. For the most effective control of prickle weed (Onehunga) the spray must be applied before the plants are flowering. The spray should be applied to the lawn in warm conditions when it has been recently mown. It is important to apply the correct amount of prickle weed killer to the area stated, and do not apply if rain is expected within one day of treatment as effectiveness will be reduced.
If the prickle infestation has been particularly heavy, then a second spray in autumn is recommended to reduce the problem for next season.
Grass weeds such as paspalum can be a troublesome weed in a fine turf owing to its coarse growth. Along with other unwanted grass species they can be controlled by spot applications of Roundup during fine calm weather. When the weeds have died and shrivelled up it is necessary to sow the bare patches with grass seed.
The biggest thing to ensure the long term health of your lawn is the mowing technique. This may sound strange but by topping your lawn regularly and not mowing too short will keep your lawn more weed free. Having the grass taller makes it more difficult for shorter broadleaf weeds to establish themselves. Scalping the lawn (mowing too short) also makes the grass less resilient during dry weather and more prone to damage if crushed when frost is on it during the winter.
Grass health and fertiliser
Like all plants regular feeding will keep grass in good health and the turf thick and more resistant to the invasion of weeds. Fertilising in spring and autumn with a specific lawn fertiliser such as Tui Lawn Force Slow Release Fertiliser' will ensure grass remains strong and healthy. In heavier soils it is beneficial to also fertilise with Garden Lime once a year. Garden lime should be applied two to three weeks prior to the application of lawn fertiliser. Garden Lime increases the pH of the soil which makes more nutrients in the soil available to the lawn to use. It also has the benefit of adding calcium to the soil which plays a major role in the physiology of the plant, strengthening its physical structure, increasing nutrient uptake and protecting it from disease.
What about moss in the lawn?
Contrary to general opinion moss does not always develop because a lawn is damp or shady and it cannot be controlled by liming. Moss often develops because the grass is weak and lacks nutrients, conditions which often occur under trees or in moist places. This is often amplified during the winter months when cooler temperatures lock up soil nutrients and reduced sunlight hours weaken growth.
The main aim of moss control should be to stimulate the grass once the moss has been eradicated. A fertiliser lawn treatment with iron sulphate such as Yates Weed & Feed Mosskiller or Tui Moss Control are very effective. Moss treatment is best applied in fine, calm conditions onto a damp lawn. Either moisten the lawn before applying or apply on a dewy morning. Best results are obtained when the lawn is mown two to three days before treatment. The moss will blacken as it dies. The lawn may also appear blackened at first but will recover to a dark green colour after several days. After two weeks the dead moss can be raked out.
Sowing a new lawn
The best way to ensure a good lawn is all in the preparation. If you are considering sowing a new lawn then pick up a Lawn Guide brochure available in the garden centre, or ask for advice.
So make that patch of green around the house the envy of the street, it's as easy as following the simple practices talked about above.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre