First Aid for Your Lawn

Even though the warmer days are coming to an end it’s not too late to condition an existing lawn or install a new one.

First Aid for Your Lawn

Backyard Maintenance

‘Early May is a good time to lay new turf in areas not prone to frost because the weather is cooling down but there’s still warmth in the soil for roots to establish,’ says TV presenter Nigel Ruck, brand ambassador for Sir Walter turf.

Grass growth slows as the weather turns cool but there are still insects, weeds and diseases to stay on top of.

Preparing a New Site

A healthy and free-draining soil bed helps turf establish roots easily.

Says Nigel, ‘If installing a new lawn it’s good to do some rotary hoeing to loosen hard ground. Add gypsum and organic matter to clay soil, and sandy soil can also do with added organic matter.’ 

Treating Existing Lawns

Aeration of compacted lawns is important for healthy turf later. To open up the soil drive a garden fork into the lawn and wiggle it. For larger areas hire a lawn corer.

Adding Extra Nutirents

In areas where the soil temperature is above 18° it’s a good idea to fertilise.

‘Feeding is important as it gives the lawn the nutrients it needs to hold colour through winter and the legs to bounce back in spring,’ says Nigel.

‘Use a complete lawn fertiliser but follow the instructions as many need to be watered in.’

If topdressing is required after coring a lawn use a sandy loam about 10mm thick brushed evenly over the area, leaving the tips of the leaf blades showing. 

Nigel’s Turf Project

Turf needs to be laid within 24 hours of being cut so order it just before use, keeping it moist and in a shady spot.

‘Level off and spread a layer of turf underlay, which is a very sandy soil mix then roll it to level and lay the turf,’ says Nigel.

Water new turf at least once a day until established, which depends on the time of year.

‘Keep it moist but don’t flood it. You know it’s drying out if the leaves shrivel and lose colour.’ 

Replacing Mower Blades

Mower blades tend to get ignored until they stop doing the job so once a year it’s a good idea to check if new ones are required.

Remove the mower blades and look for problems such as a thin trailing edge, bends, dents or cracks.Tip: If there’s nothing obvious take the blade to a hardware store and compare it to a new one.

Thin Trailing Edge

The edge opposite the cutting edge is called the trailing edge and is often slanted upward to create an updraft for lifting grass and clippings. Dust and sand can wear it down so when it becomes thin the blade needs replacing.

Dents and Cracks

If there’s obvious erosion from wear and sharpening and the cutting edge can’t be filed smooth the blade should be replaced.

Bent Blade

Check the blade by laying it on a work bench to see if there are kinks or obvious bends. Compare it to a new one to be certain.

Adjusting Cutting Height

As the weather cools protect slower growing grass by adjusting the setting of the mower.

‘Gradually raise the height of cut by 10mm to allow for the slower growth rate, with the view to letting the lawn grow longer for winter,’ says Nigel.

‘Warm season grasses like buffalo, kikuyu and couch go into a dormant phase with lower soil temperatures. The larger the leaf the higher the rate of photosynthesis and the turf is better equipped to shade out weeds.’

‘Prune back large trees and bushes that overhang the lawn so more sun reaches the turf,’ he adds. 

Dog Sports on Grass

Round patches on the lawn about 100mm wide with dead grass in the middle and dark green at the edges are called dog spots.

The patches occur when a dog wees in the same area a number of times and the high concentration of acids, salts and nitrogen in the urine burns the grass roots.

Dig out the dead spots and replant the affected area by adding topsoil and grass seed to match the surrounding area.

Prevent spots by giving the dog plenty of water to make its urine less concentrated and soak its favourite areas of lawn to flush salts out of the root zone before they kill the grass.

Train the pet to urinate in a special spot and cover the area with mulch.

Growing a Lawn Substitute

Instead of trying to establish a lawn that just won’t grow, plant a perennial garden instead. Perennial plants live for two or more years.

Consider the mature size of the plants when spacing and positioning them then cover the entire area with mulch, adding stepping stones for weeding and watering access.

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