An immaculate lawn – the pride and joy of many a Kiwi home– requires a solid foundation, patience and regular upkeep
How to maintain an immaculate lawn
What could be simpler, you ask? Just scatter some seed and you’ve got grass, right? Not quite. Growing the perfect lawn is a little like painting your house – it’s all about the prep. Neglect the basics and you’ll end up with weeds for Africa and a lawn that just won’t cut the mustard in the summer heat or winter downpours. Follow our 10-point starter list and your grass will definitely be greener this summer.
1 The better the prep work, the healthier the result
Whether you’re sowing seed or laying turf for a new lawn, the preparation is virtually the same. The better the prep, the healthier and stronger the germinating grass seeds will be. Remove any weed and old lawn remnants then use a spade or rotary hoe, depending on the size of your lawn, to cultivate the soil to a crumbly mix around 15cm deep. Leave for around three weeks so you can keep digging out weeds as they germinate or re-sprout.
2 Test the soil for pH levels
It may sound a little scientific but it’s worth getting the right pH (acidity level) in your soil. Grass prefers a pH of 6.0-7.5, but many soils, particularly in rainy areas, are too acidic (the lower the number, the more acidic). A soil test kit from a hardware store will tell you where your soil sits on the pH scale.
If your soil is acidic, raking gypsum or lime into the topsoil at least 2-3 weeks prior to planting or sowing will help.
3 Make sure the soil is right
Most grasses will not thrive in wet, boggy soil. If you are sowing or turfing a new lawn onto heavy clay soil, spreading gypsum and lime (as detailed above) may not be enough to break it all up. In which case, you may also need to remove some of the clay and replace it with good-quality topsoil so grass seedlings can get a good start. They’ll need about 10-15cm of good soil to do well. If your lawn is a swamp consider laying drainage coils.
Before sowing seed or laying turf give the soil a good feed. For lush green grass you need specific nutrients so don’t just rely on the existing fertility levels of the soil. Use a fertiliser that’s designed for the job, such as Thrive Granular All Purpose Plant Food, which contains an even balance of NPK – nitrogen, potassium and, most importantly, phosphorus, which is essential for developing grass seedlings. Spread evenly over the entire area.
5 Level it
If you don’t want a bumpy lawn, make the surface of the ground nice and even before sowing seed or laying turf. Do the same when renovating existing lawns. First, fill in noticeable hollows with topsoil, then level with a wide rake. Check your progress by laying a piece of sawn timber on the ground with a level on top. Rake surface, leave to settle for a week or so then re-level. The soil may also need compacting if it is very soft. Do this by treading firmly over soil or hire a roller for large areas.
6 Choose the right grass seed for the site
When sowing or renovating lawns it’s vital to choose a grass seed mix that suits your site and the type of wear the lawn will get. Whether it’s shady, hot, or used for backyard cricket, there are plenty of mixes to choose from in garden centres or you can try a specialist turf seed supplier. Sow seed on a windless day, ideally in the early morning. Sowing half the mix in a north-south direction, and the rest in an east-west direction gives an even spread. This is also a good method when fertilising lawns.
7 Regular watering is key
Whether renovating an existing lawn or starting a new one, regular light watering (just enough to dampen the ground) of young grass seedlings is essential, up to 2-3 times a day if temperatures are high. Once grass is growing strongly you can gradually reduce the watering times to about once a week, unless weather is very hot.
8 Sunlight is essential
Although there are some lawn seed mixes such as Tui Superstrike Shady that will grow in semi-shade, most grass will not thrive in deeply shaded areas such as under large trees. Not only will large trees block the sunlight essential for grass growth, but they suck out all the nutrients and moisture in the soil around their root zones. Far better to grow tough, shade-loving plants such as rengarenga lily, clivia and mondo grass under trees or in areas shaded by buildings for most of the day.
9 Keep the lawn weed-free
A healthy, well-fed lawn means there are less gaps for weed invasion so maintaining a good fertilising regime is your first priority. There are many herbicides on the market aimed at killing weeds in lawns but if you’d prefer an organic approach, try pouring boiling water, white vinegar or salt into the centre of deep-rooted perennial weeds such as dock and dandelion. Spray more shallow-rooted annual weeds with a similar solution (check online for quantities). Or if you’ve got plenty of muscle try one of the handy weeding tools now on the market such as the Fiskars weed puller (right).
10 Growing grass on an angle
Grass will grow on sloping ground but the big problem is: how do you mow it? Many gardeners prefer to plant out steep slopes with easy-care shrubs and perennials rather than attempt this tricky job. Wait until grass is 5cm tall before mowing. Blunt mowers can pull out young grass plants and clippings can smother them, so make sure the lawn mower blades are sharp and use a catcher when mowing new grass.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Michael Wee, Brent Wilson, Christ Court/bauersyndication.com.au. Photography by: Duncan Innes.