At Layer Marney Tower we are not overly precious about our lawns. We have areas of lawn which used to be occupied by trees or borders which have never quite recovered. Some of these spots are also our highest traffic places being just where the wedding guests like to hang out while the photographs are being taken. We also actually welcome the occasional daisy and have great affection for clover (in small doses) and so our lawns will never qualify for Great Lawns of the British Isles, should such awards exist.
Having said that I have felt that they could be improved, after all, if it’s going to be nonchalently hanging around in the background to the wedding photos a lawn needs to be reasonably attractive. This year I have started doing five simple things that have helped to bring the lawns up a step or two and I thought I’d share them in case any one else has been despairing over turf.
1. I raised the cut on the mower and started mowing more often. Like any other plant grass needs its leaf. Ok it’ll take being chopped about far more regularly than any other plant but if you take off too much at once you shock and stress the plant. Councils seem to be the worst offenders for leaving the grass for a fortnight and then shaving it to within an inch (or less) of its life. I aim to mow the formal lawns twice a week when it’s growing well and the less formal ones about three times a fortnight. If you’re taking off more than half the leaf at once – stop! Think of the poor little grass plant. If I’ve missed a cut for any reason (usually the weather) I cut it a notch or two higher than normal and then come back a couple of days later to take it down to the ‘right’ height. ‘Leave it long, cut it often’ has been my mantra this year and it’s definitely helped. Longer grass also takes traffic and drought far better than short grass.
2. I water. Sometimes. Rather than watering a whole lot, my aim is to keep the lawn from browning. Yes yes yes I know the recieved wisdom is that you just leave it to go brown and in autumn it will perk right up again! It will indeed, but drought stress is stress on the plant. A plant which is already being mown and trampled rather a lot and which we’d rather like to look nice when people visit or have a wedding here. So in particularly dry weather I’ve given the grass a really good soak. When there are signs of drought stress in the areas which tend to brown first but everywhere else is looking fine I’ve just done those areas and this selective watering seems to have worked quite well.
3. I pricked compacted and browning areas. We had a drought this Spring which broke in June. I helped the lawns to recover by pricking the surface of the soil in particularly dry areas. I’m not talking full on aeration here – I took a garden fork and pushed it into the soil by 1-2 inches and repeated this all over worrying areas. This helped water to get down into the soil, rather than just running off. It was a morning’s tough work but it was worth it!
4. I leave the clippings on. The ride-on mower I usually use for the less formal lawns (and the formal ones when I’m in a real hurry… shh don’t tell) is a mulching mower so always leaves the clippings on the lawn. This year however in dry spells I’ve been leaving the clippings on the formal lawns too and as I’m cutting more often I don’t get a ‘mown hay’ effect as the bits are pretty small. This helps retain moisture and it’s amazing how much quicker this makes the job too.
5. I’ve fed the lawns. Ok that’s usually routine maintenance isn’t it? Well, yes. But there has been at least one year when between the weather requirements, not doing it around the public, and other restrictions it just has not got done. So this year I’ve been a bit more proactive on jumping on time slots I can do it in and have done it twice, with an autumn feed due soon. This gives the grass the wherewithall to tough out wear and tear, drought and any diseases which may threaten.
I have to admit that once we were over the drought the Summer has been obligingly damp which has meant that the sprinkler really has only been out a few times. And of course there are still some areas which require some more focussed attention and a little investigation. On the whole though I’m pleasantly surprised how much effect I’ve seen from such minor changes to my routine.