Ever driven past an amazing lawn and wondered how they do it? Here’s a few lawn care tips to get you on your way without hurting your wallet or the environment.
by Nick Clayton
The majority of home lawns supplied commercially in Australia nowadays are warm season grasses such as couch, buffalo and kikuyu. You may recognise names such as wintergreen, Sir Walter and village green as some leading varieties of these main grass types. These lawn care tips below relate primarily to warm season grasses. So, for those of you in cooler areas of Australia, you may need to refer to local practices.
Lawn needs to be mowed regularly. Weekly mowing in the warmer months makes it look good, but more importantly, it keeps it in good condition. The aim should be to keep the grass short, while maintaining sufficient leaf cover. This allows rapid recovery, keeps the soil cool, protects the roots from scorching, and suppresses weeds. Close mowing leads to sun scorching and root damage in summer, and reduced vigor in winter.
The aim is to never take more than 1/3 of the leaf blade off with each cut. Preference is to mow with a cylinder mower. This works like scissors rather than just beating the leaf blade into submission, such as what often occurs with a rotary mower when the blades are not kept sharp.
Water is a very precious resource in Australia and most warm season grasses mentioned in this article have a huge incidence of over watering, both at peak times and at times when the reticulation system should be turned off for the winter months. It is recommended that you run a test cycle during spring to test for blocked or non-rotating sprinklers and leaks.
To maximise the effectiveness of your summer watering, apply 2 applications of wetting agent to your lawn, the first just prior to Christmas and the second towards the end of February. The difference between this practice and simply watering alone is that the former will make significant reductions in the amount of water required, protect the environment, reduce your cost, whilst also making your lawn appear lush and healthy.
Depending on your location and soil types, lawn can have different nutritional requirements, but generally a good blend of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) along with a few trace elements ( iron, calcium, magnesium. copper, manganese) will cover most lawns in Australia.
Lawns are not all that different to us humans. You don’t eat a side of beef and then not eat for 6 months. The trick here (as opposed to watering principles) IS ‘little and often’. With proprietary brand fertilisers this can achieved with the regular NPK brands by applying small amounts monthly for the 9 months growing season or buying a special “slow release fertiliser” rated at 9 months with only one application.
Pests and Weeds
There are very few insects that can cause catastrophic damage in turf so use pesticides sparingly. Most are indiscriminate and kill the good bugs too! If infestation is significant, refer to a horticultural professional. Most warm season grasses with have a winter infestation of ‘broadleaf weeds’ and these are very easily and safely controlled with a selective herbicide.
With any chemical in a hand sprayer, add some (50ml/5litres) of the wetting agent to assist with your water penetration. This makes the chemical ‘tacky’ and will stick to the leaf of the plant and make the active ingredients more effective. It also helps to see where you have sprayed as it leaves a shiny appearance.
For the real enthusiast of a quality warm season lawn an annual renovation regime is highly recommended. In every case, it should include what’s referred to as scarifying or dethatching. This removes a lot of the thatch (dead plant material) and apart from encouraging new vertical growth, assists with water penetration, nutrient take up and removes that ‘sponginess’ from the lawn. You can also include aeration by coring for compact soils.
This process is generally best handled by your local contractor and should be carried out in Spring just prior to the new growing season. Ask your contractor to go in at least 2 different directions (cross pattern) for best removal of thatch. A light top dressing is recommended afterwards.