The first step is selecting which lawn seed to use as how the lawn is used will determine the type of lawn seed needed. If it's a lawn that is for the family then a harder wearing seed is best but if you want a fine, manicured lawn then the finer seed will achieve this look. It also pays to consider what your soil is like.
Grass seed comes in three types and is blended to suit particular uses.
The three types are:
• Coated – This seed is coated in a fungicide, fertiliser and bird repellent. It can take a little longer to germinate.
• Uncoated - This is bare seed. It will germinate quicker but has no protection from birds or fungi.
• Treated – This is seed that has had a treatment applied with the benefits of a coated seed but without a layer of heavy coating so has a quicker germination time than coated seed.
There are a number of blends available. Blends are good because they combine the advantageous properties of individual seeds which help them to withstand conditions that may otherwise kill one variety of seed.
Choose a blend that best meets your needs. Check packets to find out the blends properties and remember to find out the amount of area the seed will cover.
Preparation is the key to growing a great lawn. A lawn won’t establish if the base is not prepared properly. Follow these steps to ensure your lawn gets the best start.
• Spray weeds such as couch, kikuyu and paspalum which are difficult to control. Don’t dig weeds under, as many will reappear.
• Clear away all stones and builders debris.
• Work up the soil to a depth of about 10cm using a rotary hoe or garden fork until the soil is a fine crumble. If your soil is of poor quality you may need to add topsoil to a depth of 5cm.
• Using a levelling bar and rake, work across the area in several directions removing all lumps and bumps. A firm, fine top layer produces best results.
• Contour the ground so that water runs away from the house and garden and it has an even finish.
• Compact the soil until it is firm enough to walk without leaving deep footprints.
SOWING LAWN SEED
• Use your rake to loosen up the top layer of the soil and create a seed bed.
• Apply the seed in even, broad strokes, rather than just dropping it on the ground. You can do this by hand but using a seed spreader can make the job and fertilizing later, far easier and more efficient. Apply in small sections so you can keep better track of where you have been and keep some seed back to fill any patches later on.
• Lightly rake to cover the seed. This will improve the germination as the grass seed will have better contact with the soil.
• Water the area regularly so that the soil is saturated but avoid creating puddles as this can move the seed around resulting in patchy growth. It’s important to keep the area moist until the seeds have germinated. Water uniformly and to a depth of about 5cm. If you let the area dry out your seed will die. The type of seed you use will alter the time it takes for the seed to germinate. Coated seeds will begin to germinate after 7-10 days in the warmer months but may take up to 20 days in colder seasons. Uncoated seed will germinate faster as there is no coating to break through but are more susceptible to bird theft. Treated seed germinates the fastest at approximately seven days and has bird repellent properties.
MAINTENANCE FOR YOUR NEW LAWN
Once the grass shoots emerge you can reduce the frequency of watering so that you are soaking your lawn once a week after the third mow. Although, if the weather is particularly dry or hot you may need to water a little more frequently.
Mow the new lawn once it is about 5cm high. Set the lawn mower on high and lightly trim only the tips off the new grass blades. This will encourage root growth and allow a dense grass mat to form. Continue mowing this way for the next three months.
Wait about six weeks before applying fertiliser to the new lawn as your lawn will only need fertiliser after the first mowing. Also, don’t spray with any weed or pest control for at least two months after sowing; weed by hand if required.
MAINTENANCE FOR YOUR OLDER LAWNS
Watering is essential to maintain a green pasture over the hot summer and autumn months. Grass is resilient and even if it turns brown and dries off completely, it is more than likely that the roots are dormant, waiting for water to revive them. A sprinkler system or a soaker hose is the most efficient way to water lawns. Over-watering is usually more of a problem than under-watering. Waterlogged soils allow moss and unwanted moisture-loving weeds such as buttercup to become established. If ‘run-off’ is a problem, especially on steep slopes with clay soils, use a fine spray for short periods (five minutes) per watering. You can improve soil structure using a peat and sand mix or by spiking or aerating the lawn.
Once the lawn is well established the mower blades can be lowered - but not too low - longer lawns can look more luxurious and are generally healthier. However, if you let your lawn grow too high, unwanted weeds and coarse grass will become dominant. The average lawn should be cut to a height of 2.5cm at times of faster growth and to 3cm in slower growth periods. This encourages deeper root growth helping the grass to thicken and strengthen minimising the competition from weeds, resulting in a greener, healthier lawn.
If you want to leave your grass cuttings after mowing but minimise unsightly heaps try a mulching mower which cuts the grass finely removing the need for a catcher to collect grass clippings. This also helps to protect your lawn from disease which can be caused by piles of grass cuttings left to break down naturally.
Lawn fertiliser is usually applied in spring and autumn. Feeding your lawn will make it denser, less vulnerable to weeds ensuring strong healthy growth. Use a specially blended lawn fertiliser high in nitrogen for grass and always spread evenly and water in well after applying fertiliser to prevent burning.
Lawn aeration is the process of making holes in your lawn to increase the flow of oxygen, fertilisers, nutrients and water to the roots. Aiding the flow of these components encourages the root system to grow and loosens up compact soil and helps breakup thatch. Thatch is a build-up of material, including un-decomposed stems and roots, on the soil surface that hinders root growth and helps pests and disease to thrive. A bit of thatch is ok but when it is more than ½ inch thick it will hinder your lawns growth.
If you have clay soil aeration should be done once and year and is most effective in spring or autumn when the weather is damper. Use a garden fork and spike the lawn all over using a straight up and down motion as this breaks down the compacted soil and lets water drain away. The holes should be around 10cm deep and 15cm apart.
Weeds, Moss, Disease and Pest Control
Weeds will grow in even the most manicured lawns. However, a well-maintained lawn will have fewer weeds than a neglected one. Sometimes the best way to eradicate weeds is to cut them out with a sharp knife. But some, like docks, have a long tap root and so a selective lawn weed spray is a more practical and permanent approach. Choose a weed spray designed especially for lawns as some weed sprays can affect grass and plants that you may have nearby. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
• Onehunga weed is a common problem for lawns in summer as the seeds have sharp little prickles which are uncomfortable for bare feet. This weed is best controlled by applying a weed killer especially formulated for this weed in October when the plant is in flower.
• Anything that is growing in your lawn other than grass in called a broadleaf weed. To remove these spot spray a lawn broadleaf weed killer.
• Moss often grows in shady areas particularly under trees. Remove low limbs to increase sunlight exposure and check the drainage of your lawn. You can also apply a moss control product however you will need to re-seed the area once the moss has gone.
• Keep the layout of the lawn simple with easy curves rather than severe squares or rectangles. This makes it easier for the person mowing and is more pleasing to the eye.
• Small mounds left by earth worms are a sign of a healthy lawn; they aerate the soil and add nutrients back in to it.
• Grass grubs are larvae feeding on the roots causing stunted growth and yellow/brown patches. Get rid of grubs with a granular insecticide or try watering infrequently but deeply, in effect flooding the lawn.
• Porina feed on the grass chewing it off at the ground level rather than feeding on the roots. The grub is grey and can grow up to 6cm. Treat as per grass grub.
• It’s a good idea to test the pH level of your soil every couple of years. Lawn soil should be acidic, around 6-6.5 on the pH scale. If your lawn is too acidic you will need to apply garden lime or dolomite and if it’s too alkaline apply sulphate of ammonia. Take care when applying these products and always follow the instructions on the product packets carefully.