Dig It! Lawns (4 September 2017)
Our listener question this week comes from Sandra, who has a large, steep garden at an altitude of 800m, and is worried about some new brown patches on her lawn.
The grass not only has to put up with cold temperatures in winter, it also has to deal with an orientation that means it gets a lot of sun during the day. This causes additional stress to the grass. You can help your grass with regular watering in the summer during drought periods and spring and autumn feeds to make up for all the nutrients you remove every time you cut it.
Animals, particularly dogs, can damage lawns with their urine. Female dogs leave the most noticeable effects as they squat to pee, and the urine is more concentrated in one place than with male dogs. The urine can burn the grass, thanks to an overload of nitrogen. When the grass grows back it will be noticeably greener than the surrounding lawn, thanks again to the remnants of the nitrogen. You can fix this, if it’s your own dog, by diluting the urine promptly with a watering can of water. If it’s a visiting dog, you probably won’t notice until the grass has started to die back. You can still water heavily to help to dilute the nitrogen, but it will be too late to save the grass. Instead, scrape back the damaged grass, and re-seed on top. Early autumn is the perfect time to do this.
Daddy long legs, or crane fly can cause huge damage in lawns, as the larvae eat the roots of the grass. Birds then compound the problem by pecking the grass in order to eat the larvae, and they can even attract larger predators like badgers which can cause a huge mess. You can find out by digging to about 10cm around the damaged area, and if you find the larvae, then dig them up and feed them to the birds. There are also effective nematode treatments that need to be watered on around this time of year. Ask at your garden centre for suitable treatments.
Sandra’s lawn also has some patches of millet. This is a tough-stemmed, invasive grass variety that is often present in bird seed mixes, and manages to survive pecking and is often transferred on birds feet, well away from the bird feeder and sometimes into other gardens. If you only have a little millet, then you can easily hand pull and reseed straight away. Larger patches will have to be treated with a specific anti-millet product like the one from Gesal which can easily be watered on.
The lush green lawn, beloved of lawn enthusiasts, requires lots of hard work, water, and fertiliser. We simply don’t get enough rain here over the summer, particularly in a hot summer, to have one without help from a watering system. You can help your lawn by raising the height of cut over the summer months, allowing the lawn to trap more moisture between the grass blades. When you do come back to cutting it, drop the height of cut gradually, and let the grass recover between cuts. A balanced autumn feed as well as reseeding into any gaps will make a big difference by the end of the month, allowing you to enjoy your lawn well into the autumn.