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Improving a poor lawn

Grass Clippings - Grass tuft
We loved the image this UK based lawn owner took of some tufty grasses in his lawns sent to us in an email that we thought we would share it with our readers in a Q & A blog post so you could all benefit from the lawn advice given.

First a big thank you for your great website, it's a mine of information covering everything to do with grass. You kindly offer your expert opinion, so could you please tell me what you think of the attached photos?


Question - Our lawn was laid 30 years ago and I use fertiliser spring and once in summer. I hire a petrol scarifier every second year and have spiked a few times. The sandy soil was never great, the site is sloping with rock about 30cm below. Over the past 4/5 yrs following summer drought we have noticed large areas of this grass (or maybe it's moss or weed) which smother the ordinary grasses. The stems are very fine and brown, carrying green grassy tufts on their end. When set to about 40mm the mower catches the green leaving brown areas with only a few green leaves. Where this stuff is sparse, mainly in shadow of the house, the grass looks fine.

The past wet winter has seen a buildup of moss and thatch up to an inch thick in places. I pulled this out with an electric lawn rake, wrong time of year perhaps but this stuff was like carpet underfelt. As you see on the right of the picture, I'm left with a brown burnt desert
mostly comprising the problem grass/moss/weed. I would be really grateful for your views.

Answer - Turf grasses like garden shrubs, so not live forever and your challenge is to maintain them in the hope that they will live as long as possible to provide the grass cover and density you require to keep the bare soil covered.  That's the basic task of turf grasses.  They will thin out, be affected by pests and diseases and mowing and maintenance regimes and of course the weather. 

Be cruel to be kind.  The lawns pretty much had it is the stark truth.  The basic problem with your lawn looking at the image above is that it is only green at the top and there is a big distance between the crown of the plant and the tips of the grasses.  You need to lose the volume of the grass by mowing the lawn in as many directions as you can, a mower notch at a time down to the lowest you can physically get the mower without damaging it.  You will get a lot of grass clippings off the lawn and you may need to keep the grass box off and rake the debris up by hand or use a garden blower.  It will make great compost.  On the final few sessions and passes with the mower, put the grass box on to make sure you collect up any remaining debris.

If you have ever seen a grassy vista / path in amongst other longer grasses when you have been to one of our fabulous national gardens or across a field, you will see how the grasses easily adapt to a change of mowing practice or foot traffic.

Then follow this Lawn Renovation Process and you may decide to totally kill off the lawn and then renovate the lawn as it advises.  By doing this, you will kill off any undesirable grasses rather than keep them in the new sward after the lawn improvement programme has been completed.

If you are blanket over seeding your lawn, they may be a period of around two months with regular rainfall when you are looking at a bit of a mess but as soon as the new grasses sown germinate and develop, you will soon have a lawn to be proud. 

Then plan to mow at regular intervals, in multi directions at around 15mm - 19mm, fertilise every three months and react to weeds, pests and disease and over seed little and often throughout the year if the turf grasses thins a little.

We hope this advice helps.

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