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Turning a sow's ear into a silk purse

How to turn a paddock into a lawnThe Team at Grass Clippings are always happy to receive direct requests via email from lawn owners seeking more specific advice to their lawn problem. This request from an amateur lawn owner concerns the desire to turn an area of once paddock grassland into a lawn area. We could have replied to the reader personally, which we of course did, but the information provided will be of use to all of our readers so compiling a technical post on the lawn blog seemed more appropriate in this instance.

An old Groundsman’s saying is to give the paddock or grass area a good 'weed and feed' to see what you have got left to play with.

The area you are hoping to turn into a nice uniform green sward will have a high proportion of weed grasses contained within it and not desirable turf or lawn grasses until over seeded. Getting the area of grass 'clean' from weeds and nettles is an important task so that the existing grasses have a fighting chance to develop without this added competition for any available water.

A quick fix is to mow it with a pedestrianised mower to 'train' the grass to being cut in a certain way and let it get on with it. It will soon turn up green and look reasonable.

The first consideration should be to the existing levels of the paddock and desired levels of the finished lawn, especially creating a seamless join in between the two areas. If you have big undulations that in your view are unacceptable, then killing the complete paddock area off with a Glyphosate based total weed killer, waiting two to four weeks and getting a tractor mounted or pedestrianised stone burier to turn the field in and start again. A Stone Burier unlike a Rotovator will 'flip' the field surface upside down and if done correctly will leave a tilth of soil on the surface, bury any stones and leave a great seed bed ready for over seeding with your desired seed mixture. The mounds will be levelled and the hollows filled as the machine works across the paddock. Rotovators on the other hand tend to bring all the debris to the surface, and old turf sods, requiring a lot of hand clearing of debris and rocks etc and then firming with a Cambridge Roller or Disc Roller just ahead of mechanically over seeding with a Chariot Seeder.

The Stone Burier will only follow the natural lie of the land. If your need is to do a major 'cut and fill' and moving soil from one area to another then you will need a JCB with a skilled operator and Mate on a Dumper to move the soil from A to B ahead of stone burying.

If you think that you can work with the existing surface of the paddock and turn it into a lawn and not too worried about the present weed grasses or levels. You have a choice of selective weed killing the paddock or totally killing it off. If you are planning to over seed the area, killing it off and scarifying the old surface and aerating it is the same process - just it will not be green until the new seed comes though! Just killing the weeds does not kill the weed grasses and these will form part of the new lawn, which is not ideal. If you are going to perform the job once, best do it right first time to get the desired results. Even once you have a new lawn area, weeds and weed grass seeds from surrounding paddocks will always be flying around in the air and seek a runway or lawn on which to land and germinate.

When we visit lawns, we visualise the garden and 'line of sight' from the house. The mowing regime can change from one area of lawn to another around a property. Closest to the house would be the 'formal' lawns, maybe extending some 10 to 20 metres away from a house. Mown on a setting 3 or 4 from lowest on a Hayter. The next 11 - 21 metres could be mown a little higher and then beyond this you would get into an informal area and tree line where you can let the lawn grow a little higher like a golf course rough, an area that is only mown a few times a year with a ride on lawn mower.

The first stage of the renovation process is to mow the area with a ride on lawn mower, collecting the clippings. Mow in many directions as you can. Then mow with a pedestrianised lawn mower and keep mowing little and often in many directions until you can get the lawn mower no lower. Collect all the debris. At this point, you can use the ride on to collect the debris from the pedestrianised rotary mower as it is often easier to mow on a low setting if the grass box is not on. Mow down to a level until you are almost scalping the grass but not damaging the lawn mower or yourself in the process. It will take a bit of effort but worth it.

Once you have completed the task above, scarify and aerate the area. Mechanically over seeding the old paddock with the desired grass seed mixture and fertilise it ahead of top dressing.

Stone burying the old grass area in it is often more cost effective with better results than trying to turn a Sow's ear into a Silk Purse.

Should you need advice on renovating an old lawn - take a look at an earlier technical post on the subject.

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Images courtesy of Country Care Fencing
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