The grass is greener
June is the time when your lawn will be looking at its best. Sue Bradley gives her tips for keeping it looking in top condition
Whether it’s an emerald pelouse surrounding a château or a painstakingly striped sward behind a country rectory, one thing that the French and English have in common is an abiding love for a lush green lawn.
Summer is the time when these grassy areas come into their own, providing a place to sit, play games or simply lie on a blanket.
The practice of cultivating areas of short grass has been around for hundreds of years, both for defensive reasons and sports use, although historians credit lawns as we know them today to the 1700s and innovations such as André Le Nôtre’s ‘ tapis verts’ – green carpets – within the gardens of Versailles.
Until the 19th century, the task of maintaining these decorative areas was extremely labour-intensive, with regular scything or grazing by animals needed to keep them in check, and this meant that lawns were generally the preserve of the wealthy.
This was to change with the invention of the lawnmower in Gloucestershire in 1830, after which short grass became a more familiar element of gardens belonging to people from all walks of life.
June is generally the month when lawns should be looking their best, with regular cutting and feeding being all that’s needed to keep them looking good.
The secret of mowing is little and often: avoid cutting the grass too short as this can weaken the plants and cause shallow rooting, leading to moss, weeds and lower tolerance of droughts. Instead, set the cutting height higher and mow twice a week if necessary.
Feed should be applied when conditions are cool and moist. If rain is in short supply, water every few days.
Even the best-maintained lawns can develop bare patches, a problem easily remedied by raking over the area and sowing grass seed. Water these areas well and net them to keep birds away.
Other factors affecting the appearance of lawns include moss, which usually occurs on areas that are damp and poorly drained. Remove it in autumn or spring by vigorously raking affected patches of ground.
Weeds can be an irritant as they compete with grass for moisture and nutrients and many people consider them unsightly, although others regard the sight of daisies poking their heads through the grass is a source of pleasure. A perfect sward is more likely if grass is regularly fed, aerated, raked to remove moss and mown, all of which encourages vigour and makes it more difficult for these opportunists to gain a foot hold.
Use a hand fork to dig out ‘rosette’ types such as dandelion and daisy, and clovers, and, if weeds are a big problem, look for chemical controls.
As summer leads to autumn, make the most of the opportunity to treat wear and tear while the temperatures are still warm enough to encourage newly sown seed to germinate.
Rake lawns well to remove ‘thatch’, which can include old grass stems and moss, and drive a garden fork into areas of compacted soil in order to allow air and moisture to reach the roots. Top dressing with a mix of loam, sand and compost is also worthwhile.