Diarmuid Gavin: 'My top 10 tips for spring lawn care'
On this island, we pride ourselves on our velvet-textured lawns. They make the perfect foil for planting, great surfaces for children's games and are a relatively cheap way of dealing with the space which your garden inhabits. Much of our appreciation is to do with tradition and housekeeping; it's hard to imagine gardens without lawns. We see them everyday, everywhere. Indeed, they define our suburbs.
As a garden feature, however, lawns are about as sustainable as using peat-based composts or chemicals which are poisonous to insects.
We give over huge areas of planting to a species that we never allow to flower, meaning that pollen isn't produced for our bees to harvest. At the first sign of any flowering weeds appearing amongst the grass, we destroy them with killer concoctions. And we use vast quantities of petroleum and electricity in keeping them perfectly trimmed so they look nice and controlled for us and the neighbours. It won't last. The end of the lawn as a feature is approaching… but that won't do you much good this weekend!
For now, grass remains the centrepiece of many plots. And as these lawns have taken the usual winter battering, here are my top 10 tips to restoring healthy turf for the season ahead.
1. Get cutting. As soon as growth starts and if it's not sopping wet, commence mowing. Regular mowing is the single most important factor in lawn maintenance and your best weapon against weeds taking over.
2. Keep the blades high for the first cut and reduce height gradually over the next few cuts. The ideal height for average lawns is around one inch. You would only cut closer than this on a very fine bowling-green type lawn.
3. Scarify, which means giving your lawn a good scratching over with a spring-tine rake. This will gather up all the winter debris and thatch that has built up.
4. Soggy or compacted lawns can be improved with aeration. For small lawns, just give it a good prodding with a fork and brush in some sand for improved drainage.
5. Regular mowing will do most of your weeding for you, but it's a good idea at this stage to remove tap-rooted weeds, such as dandelions and dock weeds, completely. Use a knife or weeding fork and dig out. If you're left with a large bare patch, this will soon be colonised by grass or you can patch up with some grass seed.
6. It's time to give a spring feed to encourage fresh growth. This will make your grass stronger, edge out the competition from weeds and moss, and make your lawn less susceptible to disease. Spring feeds are high in nitrogen and give your lawn an emerald glow. Apply feeds when the ground is moist or before rain is due.
7. If moss is a problem, you can apply a chemical-free Irish product called MossOff, available at vivagreengroup.com. It's safe for use around children, pets and pond life.
8. Spring is the best time to reseed your lawn. This could just be patches that need improvement, or a complete renovation job. Cover with netting while the grass germinates to keep the birds from tucking in.
9. Assess your lawn shape. Can it be simplified or improved? A half-moon edge is a great tool for sharpening existing edges or cutting new shapes. Remove obstacles; to keep mowing simple, keep your lawn clear. Can that bench be sited on a paved area instead? Cut off low-hanging branches from trees that get in the way.
10. Edging gives a really neat finish to the lawn. However, if you need to reduce your maintenance schedule, consider installing a mowing strip. This is a line of bricks or pavers at the edge of the lawn which is set slightly beneath the level of the lawn so that the mower can move over the edge.
If your patch of grass isn't too big, why not join the green revolution by using an old-fashioned hand-push cylinder mower? It costs nothing to run, is emissions free, your lawn will get a great cut and you'll get a good work out!