If there’s one part of your garden that has suffered the most in that last wet, miserable winter, chances are it’s the lawn. Whether you have grass (that doubles as a football practice/play/dog-exercising area), a bowling-green that’s your pride and joy or something in between, it will need your help. But what is it that makes a wet winter such a problem?
Too much water around the roots and especially water that doesn’t drain away fairly promptly can cause the roots to ‘suffocate’. Like you and I, plant roots need some fresh air and oxygen and when its lacking they start to go downhill rapidly. Worse still, if your soil is quite heavy or clay-based or if you have walked over the lawn when it was wet, it’ll will have become compacted. It happens easily, especially on those heavier soils. It stops the roots from getting the air they need and makes them less able to take up the nutrients they need. You’ll also find that a compacted lawn becomes more prone to diseases, and that weeds, moss, liverworts and algae all invade more easily after winter damage. .
So what can you do ?
First try to reduce further damage:
*Avoid walking on the grass until it dries out a bit.
*If you do need to access flower beds close to the grass, perhaps for weeding, soil preparation or planting, if it is still wet, lay a plank or board on the grass you’ll be working from. This will distribute you weight a bit and make compaction far less likely. Simple but effective!
*If the surface is really wet, don’t be tempted (or persuaded!) to mow the lawn, better to wait or else you’ll create a seriously compacted layer on the surface.
*Consider laying some simple stepping stones across the lawn later in the year. Work out where your regular routes are and you’ll find the lawn suffers less and you’ll bring less mud in to the house on your feet too!
A lot of damage will have been done already ,so it is essential that you try to improve the lawn’s condition :
*Aerating the lawn helps to encourage deep grass roots and allows them to get the air they need. On a small lawn there’s no need for any special equipment : Just drive a garden fork into the surface to a depth of at least 10cm (4in), ease the fork back and forth slightly to enlarge the channels you are creating, then repeat every 10-15cm (4-6in) over the lawn.
*On larger areas you can use a ‘hollow tine aerator’ attachment for your lawn mower or hire an aerator machine. These remove cylinders of soil so creating a longer lasting improvement in drainage and aeration.
*If you buy some horticultural sand and brush it into the channels you have created, this helps to keep drainage and aeration better for even longer. Just a word of warning though, don’t be tempted to try to economise by using builder’s sand as it often contains salts and toxins which may harm the grass and other plants!
Once you have improved drainage and aeration and the weather starts to dry up everything should start to improve – even the earthworms which are so important in keeping the lawn well aerated and healthy, will be able to cope better. But if you want to really kick-start the lawn into good growth, this is also a good time to do some general spring lawn care :
*Give the lawn a feed. There are lots of lawn feeds available, just choose one which specifies that it is for ‘Spring’ use as this will contain the right balance of nutrients for the time of year. Many lawns are looking decidedly yellow after the winter and need a tonic.
*Remove weeds. I prefer to cut or fork them out (an old kitchen knife works a treat to dig out deeper rooted weeds such as dandelions and thistles) Alternatively you can use a general lawn treatment containing a fertiliser and weedkiller combined. The idea is that the feed encourages good grass growth to take the place of the weeds you’ve killed or removed.
*If moss is a serious problem then you could also use a moss treatment but you may find that, once drainage and aeration has been improved, the moss starts to struggle anyway.
By taking your lawn in hand now, you’ll not only make it look a lot better for the whole season, but you’ll also save yourself work later on!