Diarmuid Gavin: The green, green grass…
Lawns are our favourite garden feature and a bit of time spent this month will have yours shipshape for summer
We have all watched our lawns take a fair amount of battering during this seemingly unending winter, soaking up relentless rain like a sponge until it all got too much. The snow melts slowly released even more water which compounded water-logging issues. Venturing across my own lawn, I sank into the soft green with a muddy squelch underfoot.
It's only now in mid-April that the ground is beginning to dry out in many places. But lawns are famously resilient. They are our favourite garden feature, and no matter what the elements throw at them through winter or summer, they will recover.
We ask a lot of our lawns; we wish to gaze at green carpets which are as lush as the Augusta golf course fairways. We love the idea of a green ground-cover (it acts as a foil to our tapestry of garden planting) as a place to lie on, to picnic on, to roll down and to mow. And so, the annual ritual begins again.
Let's look at what needs to be done to get it looking ready for our outdoor summer season.
We'll start with cutting. You may have already given the lawn its first trim, so it's a good time to examine the state of play. Keep in mind that the first mow of the season is done with the blades high, then gradually lower them as the year progresses.
Rake off winter debris with a spring-tine rake - the one with wire prongs which fan out from the centre. This is called 'scarifying' and should be done with vigour. Remove all the resulting decaying organic matter - which is known as thatch - to the compost heap.
If the ground is compacted you may be advised to aerate using a hired hollow core device which will take out regular plugs of soil. Brushing in some silver sand after this procedure will greatly assist with drainage and the natural exchange of gasses.
Moss is a common problem after wet winters and many people obsess about their desires for a moss-free lawn. There are a number of products on the market that can get rid of the current crop. However, if your lawn is in a damp or shady area it will probably return next winter unless you sort the source of the issue - if that's possible.
VivaGreen's MossOff (available at garden centres and hardware stores nationwide, see vivagreengroup.com) is an Irish-made chemical-free product that will kill moss in a lawn or on pathways, decks or tarmac driveways and car parks. It's safe to use around animals and won't harm wildlife.
Johnson's After Moss Lawn Seed (available at garden centres nationwide, see johnsonslawnseed.com) is a good way to fill in the gaps once you have removed dead moss. This lawn seed is coated with calcium carbonate which helps raise the pH of the lawn, helping to deter moss in the long term.
To fill in bare batches, rake the bare soil to a fine tilth, sprinkle seed, lightly cover with compost and water in.
Regular mowing is your best bet to keep many weeds, such as dandelions (pictured) at bay as the flower heads can be cut off before they mature and spread their seeds. Don't mow too low as you don't want to scalp the grass, just the weeds. Some perennial weeds are best dug out and the remaining patch filled with grass seed.
If, however, you feel your lawn is really past it, consider starting over with a nice new roll-out lawn. The key thing here is to keep it well watered while it establishes itself. This is a good time of year to lay a new lawn as the earth is heating up, but there's still plenty of moisture available.
April is also the time to give your lawn its spring feed. There are lots of products on the market - what you are looking for is a high nitrogen fertiliser which will help green up the lawn. Some of these come in handy packs which allow you to sprinkle them evenly as you pace up and down the lawn, and there are also "weed and feed" combos. Do this before rain is forecast, otherwise your solution may burn the lawn. If it doesn't rain, water the lawn to activate the product.
During the growing season, if you don't have time to mow the grass, create an illusion of neatness by clipping the edges with an edging shears. If your edges around the garden borders have become a bit blurred, use a half moon gardening tool to cut a new edge - it will give an instant fresh look.
You might consider putting a new brick border around the lawn this year and do away altogether with the need for clipping the edges.
Creating new lawn shapes is a great way of adding movement and interest to your garden: is it time to change that square patch out the back into a circle or oval?
Circular lawns work very well in small spaces or irregular shaped gardens as it takes your eye away from awkward features and keeps your attention with the space.