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Blog posts tagged with 'lawn'

Autumn Lawncare

It may have escaped your attention, but we appear to be almost at the end of September. Where did that go? Not that I am complaining of course, the sea is still beautifully warm and the balmy, but slighlty wet air has extended a summer feel to the gardens. T-shirts are still needed!

If you haven’t scarified your lawn, now is the time. Many think one does this in Spring, but they would be wrong as it weakens the grass structure when it is trying to grow after the struggles of winter.  You can scarify simply by raking the grass with a metal, spring-tined rake. If you have a bigger lawn, you can hire a mechanical scarifier. Simply put, what you are trying to achieve is the perfect lawn. By scarifying, you are trying to rid the lawn of all the years build up of thatch and dead grass. You are also encouraging stronger root growth, which given we are increasingly having dry summers, you will do well to remember, the better the root, the better it will survive. If you have bald spots on the lawn, buy some lawn seed and mix with compost and cover the patch, watering liberally. If the whole lawn is thin, add seed to the whole thing, once you have scarified. A good root feed will also help – do not add nitrogen now as it will be wasted. There are many root feeds to choose from, but bone meal will do no harm.

Try to spike the lawn before you feed then water well to wash the nutrient in.

If you are wondering why the grass is going mad at the moment and needs cutting twice a week, it is because we are in the period the French call the ‘second spring’. Basically as winter approaches all the plants are burning off all the last of their sugars – which is a liability in cold weather as it crystallizes in the cells and eventually destroys them. Plants like grass do not have a good tap root, so will instead go into a state of virtual hibernation – which is why many other plants by autumn have built huge tubers full of carbohydrate converted from sugars to see them through the dark months.

August - an interesting time in the garden

As the weather changes to Autumnal westerly storms, August is an interesting time in the garden. The Swifts departed at the end of July and many of the Martins and Swallows with them for some reason. What that says about our coming season I know not. If you have a problem with you lawns now is the time to start thinking of how to rectify them. For example, I am about to treat a client's lawn with an Autumn feed and moss killer so that it is ready for scarifying in September. This may sound odd, but one must remember grass is a fickle plant. It cannot be grown too long (otherwise it clumps). By the same token neither can it be cut too short (it gets stressed, dies back and allows moss to take over). It doesn't like shallow roots, nor wet roots and it doesn't like too much wear from footfall. Who'd have a lawn? It is a little known fact that the National Trust replaces vast swathes of turf in the autumn and winter, leaving the impression that somehow they have the magical touch. A green and flat lawn may be every Englishman's idea of perfection, but, truth be told, to get one right deserves a medal or a perhaps a padded cell - I am never sure which.

In the flower garden as plants finish flowering try to deadhead them to extend the flowering season. Some roses especially respond well if they think that all their efforts at propagation have gone to waste. If the plant is a shrub, prune the whole plant back into shape once the flowers are spent. Then feed everything well with a good mixture of blood fish and bone - the poor things must be exhausted after all the exertions attracting the bees!

August is also the month when you get the winter veg in.  Cabbages, Brussels Sprouts, Turnip Greens and Collards are all high on the list of plants that will provide early leaf for next Spring. Remember that these plants like a good firm soil to live in - they hate to be rocked by hard winds. Also add a dressing of garden lime to the soil as you plant, to deter root problems. I have also been naughty and planted onions at this time of year too. If I am honest, the harvest was a little earlier than normal, but nothing truly remarkable despite what the books say. 

July Jobs
The traditional time to cut evergreen hedges is after the Epsom Derby, so all your beautiful box hedging, parterres and topiary should now be well on the way to being reshaped.
 
You still just have a window to sow mange tout peas for an autumn crop of  and successional sowings of salads.
 
July is a traditional month of change, the last chance to cut the hay if it stays dry enough - in some counties it is the last month of summer before the beginning of the harvests in August. However, continue to water your plants as the rain may not be as substantial as you at first expect. Unless the rain is heavy and sustained, in this warmth, much will be evaporated before it reaches the deeper roots. Thus the best thing you can do for your precious plants is to water heavily in the evening twice a week. Remember, there is really no use watering a little amount as much will evaporate, so water well.
 
Whilst talking of watering, please remember visitors to your garden may need a thirst quenching drink. A water bowl will offer hedgehogs welcome respite, so too a bowl placed higher - out of reach of cats - may provide our avian friends with much needed liquid. Whilst you may curse the pigeons for stripping the cabbages, song thrushes are great at ridding the garden of snails and slugs.
 

 

Notwithstanding, I must admit here, I am no fan of the lawn sprinkler. We may live in a country that has rain as a `normal` weather occurrence, but the way we collect it for our use is pretty poor. Thus we should not look upon using such a vital resource as a throw away substance, indeed as utilities push their prices up, watering the lawn will be impractical and expensive in the near future. Only 0.02% of all water on the planet is available to drink so think on. Instead, try to save your grey water. Set up water buts next to your bath or shower down pipe. Buy a water butt or two for the drain pipes and if you are really savvy, install a soak away that feeds into an underground storage area or bog garden. (You may even get a reduction in your water bill as believe it or not, you are paying for waste water to be transported away from your house.) If you are still worrying about the lawn, don`t worry, it can happily go dormant for a number of months without a problem. Yellow isn’t that bad when it saves you money.     
Can I speak honestly?
With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!
 
 
 
A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.
 
To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?
 
The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.
 
As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.
 

 

I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.
 
What a start to the New Year!

I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.



The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.

Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.

If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.

Ants in your lawn

I was recently asked by a client how to get rid of ants in the lawn. I have to admit that this is a difficult subject to tackle. A plague of ants in the lawn can be uncomfortable at best and at worst will destroy the lawn by creating mounds of finely tilled earth that can kill the grass.

There are proprietary branded products on the market that are supposedly good at killing ants, but from experience they have no use in the lawn as the ants do not take them back to the nest, which is what needs to happen in order to stop this problem. An old wives tale states that boiling water poured onto the nest will do the trick, but to be honest if you want a scorched lawn and a more visible ant’s nest, then this is the path for you. The problem here is the nest will be deep underground so the trick is to upset the natural balance.

Personally, I have found that the best action is a multiple approach.

The first approach is to buy a besom or a Town and Country stiff brush and just brush the mounds away; making sure the soil is dry first of course. If the soil is wet, you get an ugly smear so best wait, or instead hose the mound away. The idea here is the ants do not like to be disturbed and you will give the local jays and robins some food into the bargain.


The second phase, given the British weather is usually damp, is to dress the nest with a mixture of Armillotox and water from a watering can (follow the instructions carefully). The scent will put the ants off the lawn altogether as they communicate by chemical smell, but this may take a summer of repeat treatment to work.

Finally, there is the ultimate solution. Buy borax powder from the hardware shop and mix it with a sugar solution, making sure it is not entirely dissolved. (A sugar solution is basically a cup of water mixed with two table spoons of sugar). Place the mixture next to the nests in a small open container. The worker ants will take the concoction deep into the nest and will unwittingly poison their sisters. If the sugar solution proves too hard, mix the borax with honey. Please be aware, when dealing with poisons, be sure to wear suitable clothing and to make sure it is safe from harming others - children and pets should be kept away from the areas.

If all goes well the ant problem will disappear never to return.

- Guy Deakins


Understanding Spring Grass

 

Imagine if you will, that you are a perennial plant that is just in the early stages of waking up from a long winter slumber. Imagine, your leaves warming in the spring sunshine. The soil about your roots is slowly warming too, creating within you the need to grow. In these first weeks of warmth your growth is slow, deliberate almost - you don`t want to destroy your vital cells by going all out into growth only to be hit by a late hard frost.

Then imagine that you are not alone. Around you are millions of similar plants, all doing exactly the same, all competing with you for the limited resources that are available. Some of these plants are your exact species, some of them close relatives. But some other plants are different, nasty aggressive plants (like buttercups) or simply those that just like to fill the gaps left by the unfortunates that didn`t make the trials of life and some, (like snowdrops), appear and then disappear, not causing you any bother at all. Your roots find a small source of nutrient that the human who keeps on walking on you has kindly provided and your xylem goes into overdrive, sending sap and food into your leaf cells. It is great to be alive, despite the occasional haircut. For those of you who haven`t yet guessed; you are a grass plant. Perhaps an American Timothy grass, perhaps a Creeping Bent, it matters not. You have a function to perform and all that matters is that you grow well enough to carry out this task, which is of course to spread your pollen or rhizome, to perpetuate your race.

Now imagine that in these spring days, all you want to do is grow your leaves, which after all is how you make food, some of which you will use immediately and some you will set aside for next winter. Then some fool of a human comes along with a big metal rake and scrapes the living daylights out of you and the soil around you in order to remove the moss that is very kindly snuggling up to you, holding the mositure in the soil. Now, instead of growing your lovely leaves you have to spend the next few weeks regrowing your roots, in order that you don`t dry out in the rigours of summer.

The moral of this story? Don`t scarify the lawn in spring. If you truly want to rid the lawn of moss, which is perfectly acceptable in some cases, now is the time to consider a dressing of lawn sand. It can be bought from any of our wonderful garden centres and the instructions given are quite simple, offering your grass with the best opportunity at this time of year to grow, whilst ridding your lawn of your bugbear. However, a word of advice. Before you go and try any chemicals, always read the label - some are not pleasant on the skin or indeed if ingested. Also, make sure your `lawn` isn`t going to look a little bald once the moss has gone. (It is surprising how much moss can be in a lawn.)   If however, after all I have said, you are intent on using the tined rake, wait until Autumn. The grass will love you better for it and have time to recover over the autumn months, if given a little bone meal root feed as way of recompense.

-- Guy Deakins

Coping with a wet summer

Geranium spp.

  So, the English summer has sprung upon us like a damp octopus. Slimy, vaguely warm, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly menacing. If your garden is not now the village pond, then you are lucky indeed. I bet you're glad you bought those lovely T&C wellies now eh? Notwithstanding, I search for the positives – everywhere you must admit is beautifully verdant.

Astrantia spp.
 

 

Buddleja davidii.


The plants and trees- the very soul of our gardens- are undeniably happy, displaying their colours with gusto. And yet we cannot seem to ignore the problems. The slugs and snails have run amok, destroying vast swathes of my veg patch in their merciless quest for sustenance - slug pellets or beer traps being rapidly diminished by the sheer weight of water. As for the weeds, oh the weeds, even the panel of the illustrious BBC Gardeners Question Time have raised their hands to heaven. “You can't spray, you can't hoe, so what can you do?” As Adam Ant possibly sang all those years ago.

But there is hope yet for us hardy garden folk. If you have a lawn and are fearful of cutting it, as those books advise against; well, fear not, for as Vita Sackville-West was so fond of saying: Rebel!

Set your mower on the highest cut and cut away. If you have a hover mower this is a bit more complicated but not impossible. If the lawn is impossibly long. Strim it first. Remember electrics and water don't mix so try for a dry spell. After you have cut, spike the lawn, using a sharp border fork, sprinkling compost as you do. Not only will the lawn remain healthy, but you are adding to the nutrients and drainage potential! In the borders, add a good mulch of mushroom compost or if you have Azaleas and their ilk, try ericaceous compost and seaweed. With all the activity of the worms and the constant rain, leaching of nutrients has undoubtedly occurred, so mulch away! If all else fails just sit by the window and watch the swallows and martins scoot impossibly close to the ground in search of their supper. Wonderful. There, feel better? Now, where's that recipe for pan-fried octopus with chilli, coriander and garlic...
 
-- Guy Deakins
April Garden Projects

April is the month when our thoughts turn towards the garden. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the size of the task ahead but the simple solution is here...

What you need is a project, one which can be achieved in a morning or an afternoon and which improves a few square metres. You’ll feel you’ve achieved something wonderful and if you break the whole garden into a series of small projects it suddenly appears more manageable. Here are three to get you started...



Strawberry Pots
You don’t need a huge patch to enjoy growing strawberries. Plant a few in pots as a treat. Buy young, rich green plants certified virus free. Plant 3-4 to a 12 inch (30cm) clay pot. The crowns (where shoots meet roots) should be level with the compost surface. Water them in and stand in the shelter of a house wall. If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame they will establish more quickly and fruit earlier. Pinch off any runners (slender, horizontal stems) which form.


Seating
Don’t forget an all-weather seat so you can sit and contemplate all your hard work over a cup of tea or a nip of something stronger. Teak from renewable resources is fantastic but cast iron or aluminium is good though you’ll need a cushion to protect your posterior on cold days! Position it in a sunny area. Buy a few flowering daffodils, tulips and pansies and plant them in a pretty pot next to the bench...lovely.

Grass
Lawns always look bedraggled after the winter. Remove dead grass by raking the surface with a wire toothed rake. Improve drainage on heavy soil by spiking it with a garden fork every 6 inches (15cm) or so to a depth of about 4 inches (10cm). Give the fork a good wiggle each time. Sweep sharp sand into the holes with a broom. Then mow the lawn with the blades set on high and remove the clippings. Two weeks later apply a combined weed killer and fertilizer. If you’re lucky it will rain within 24 hours. If not just water it in. Mow weekly to keep the lawn thick and healthy.

Playing catch-up: lawn advice for the armchair gardener


Hurry and you’ll miss it my young ants. Winter is almost at an end and the garden is starting to grow once again! The fruit trees and wisteria have been pruned, the pots, tools and garden shed should be spick and span. Early seeding like Lobelia, Lathyrus and Pelargonium should have been done long ago, and the beds should be in prime condition. You should also have thought perhaps, of what vegetables are to be grown this year and what perennials need to be divided imminently.

But in the reality of an armchair gardener - that oh so rare beast who never steps into the garden from October to Easter - what does the end of winter actually mean?

Well, it means from now on, you are playing catch up. All those small little winter jobs that needed to be done will have to wait until next winter.

The grass needs to be fed, first and foremost. Personally, I hate the chemical treatments which so readily burn lawns. A sprinkling of blood fish and bone, should instead be applied. Blood for the instant nitrogen kick, the fish for a longer lasting green and the bone for feeding the roots.

If you have moss, apply lawn sand now according to the instructions and no later than April 1st - but be aware you may be adding to the acidity of the soil. This can be addressed at a later date by adding a dressing of lime water or crushed chalk sprinkled in healthy amounts (brushed in). Do not scarify. At this time of year the grass needs a root system to grow healthily. If you scratch the soil now, you do nothing but make the grass grow roots instead of leaves, starve the plant of food and water and weaken an already struggling plant that is just waking up.

Give the lawn its first cut on a high setting once the feed has had a couple of days to settle in. The lawn could also do with a little de-compaction therapy. Get a sharp fork and walk over the areas most prone to walking damage; sinking the prongs into the areas and wiggling lightly to add air and drainage. Don’t worry if the lawn is left with noticeable holes. Brush in some compost. If it is a big lawn, buy a walk behind lawn aerator or a tow behind tool for the tractor. Please also note as we are in a drought and good honest drinking water is scarce, a lawn does not need to be watered constantly. I know we all like a nice green lawn all year round, but it can survive quite happily without water for about eight months. In fact I would go as far to say, if it is watered you will not encourage it to dig deep to find sustenance, making your lawn more prone to disease.

Also remember for the year ahead, if you cut a lawn too short, it does not stop it growing or mean you have to cut it less often. It merely makes the grass weaker, encourages weeds and moss and causes more headaches in the long run. If you'd like to spend hard earned money paying a gardener like me to re-turf or reseed, go ahead.

In short, a lawn has a complicated life and must be viewed with the eyes of a concerned naturalist. It is not simply a patch of green that takes the rough cutting treatment, but a group of individual plants all crammed together and all competing for the same food and water. Think on, Wise Grasshopper.

-- Guy Deakins