Shape Up Your Lawn

10 steps to a luscious lawn

You may take it for granted, but the lawn is probably the largest area of planting your garden has. Take action now to bring your lawn back to lush life.

Rake to shake it up

Raking dead grass, moss and other organic debris from your lawn (known as scarifying) with a spring-tined rake is a must-do. An hour’s work now may leave your lawn looking dishevelled, but raking debris out will let air and water down into your lawn’s roots, to amazing effect within a few weeks.

Mow and grow

Regular mowing and feeding are the keys to a brilliantly thick lawn. Get the mower out before your grass gets out of control – lawns are easier to cut when they aren’t too long, or too wet. Raise your mower’s blades to avoid a scalping. Throughout the year, grass should be left about an inch high. During high summer, however, this should be reduced to half an inch.

Make life simple! For easy mowing, avoid running lawns up against fences, walls or sheds. Don’t turf steep banks, and put ornaments that need to be moved when mowing off the grass and onto the patio. Lay a brick-mowing strip around your lawn slightly lower than the grass. This will make lawns easier to mow and allow space for plants to spill attractively from the border.

Spike it

After a few years of heavy use, there’s no surprise that a lawn’s roots might become compacted, leading to an unhealthy-looking lawn. Spike small areas with a garden fork (known as aerating) at intervals of about 15cm (6in) to a depth of 15cm (6in). You can hire a mechanical aerator for larger areas – this removes plugs of soil to improve drainage. Once aerated, brush sandy topsoil over the area to keep drainage open, allowing water straight to your lawn’s roots.

Win out against weeds

Dig out dandelions, daisies and docks with an old kitchen knife or daisy grubber, making sure you completely remove the roots, or they’ll simply grow back. You can use ‘spot’ weedkillers if you’re not averse to chemicals – you can do this with sprays, wax sticks or by impregnating sponges. Large areas can be treated with a selective weedkiller or ‘weed and feed’ products.

Repair the damage

Fix badly damaged edges by cutting a damaged section from the lawn and turning it 180 degrees in on itself (the damaged part will now face inwards and the newly cut section forms a new edge). Firm the grass down with the back of a rake so roots are in contact with the soil. If there’s a gap behind your new edge, fill it with sieved topsoil and reseed. It might be easier to lay a path to the shed than to constantly battle against threadbare patches in your lawn. Lay paving slightly lower than the surrounding lawn so you can mow straight over it.

Feeding time

Feeding your grass will make it greener and it’ll grow more thickly, in turn helping it resist weed and moss invasions. Late spring is the best time to feed your lawn. Spring fertilizers are high in nitrogen to help the grass develop a rich colour, but also include phosphates and potash, which improve root growth and disease resistance.

Lay a new lawn from turf

Use a good-quality turf and lay it down as soon as it arrives, as it will not keep. Lay a strip all around the perimeter, accommodating curves by notching out V-shapes with an old kitchen knife and bending the turf around to fit.

Next, fill in the centre with an interlocking brick pattern, working from a board laid on the last strip you laid. This will help level the area and stop you walking on your newly prepared soil.

Once laid, water it daily for the first few weeks and avoid walking on it until it’s rooted into the ground. Cut it when it reaches about 4cm tall.

Water wisely

Established lawns can be left to their own devices to save water. Even if they become brown, they’ll almost always come back with the return of wetter weather. Indeed, watering may weaken growth, as grass roots will seek out water at the lawn’s surface and so dry out. Leaving it longer between trims will give the appearance of generally greener grass. But recently sown and newly laid lawns should be kept well watered in hot weather. To minimise evaporation, water in the evening to allow it to soak into the ground, or early in the morning before temperatures rise.

Fix gaps, hollows and bumps

These can mar the look of your lawn, but don’t fear – they can be easily repaired:

1 Rough up threadbare areas with a rake.

2 Remove excess soil, or top up holes and hollows with sieved compost.

3 Sprinkle on some seed.

4 Firm the area down with the back of a rake, making sure it’s level with the surrounding lawn.

5 Water well.

How to… feed your lawn

Specialist fertilizers come in powder, granule or liquid form

Liquids are easy to apply using a watering can or a hose-end applicator and work quickly, but can be expensive for large areas.

It’s hard to apply powder and granular fertilizers evenly. Go across the lawn one way, and then the other way, at a 90-degree angle.

For accurate application, try a fertilizer spreader, or hopper on wheels, which applies fertilizer at a given rate when pushed up and down the lawn.

Dry products need to be watered in dry weather, so apply before rain or get out the hose if rain doesn’t arrive within 24 hours.

If you’re happy to use chemicals, many fertilizers include a weedkiller too. However, only apply these on a still day, as wind can lead to drift into your flower borders, with drastic effec