Keeping a lawn healthy

Ideally a lawn should be cut three times a week and the height should be reduced by no more than a third at any one time. In practice the first is never going to happen in a private garden, but the later is a good rule of thumb. The grass cuttings, unless you are using a mulching mower, should be removed and the most practical method of disposing of them is to use your councils recycling facilities. Making compost from them may seem a good idea but, unless they are mixed with a lot of other compostable material, grass cutting will not make compost – just vile smelling goo! In the past it has been recommended that you use the grass cuttings as a mulch around plants. In small quantities this can work but is unsightly and if too much is heaped up around plant stems it can lead to the stems rotting and the plant being killed.

Weed or feed

As you keep cutting the grass and then removing the grass cuttings you are removing the nutrients (plant food) that the plants have taken up from the soil to grow. This means you are slowly starving your lawn and if you starve something – be it a lawn or a person – it will succumb to things like illness and disease. Most domestic lawn problems come down to nutrition. Gardeners will complain that their lawns are sickly and full of weeds but when you suggest they feed it; they throw their hands up in horror and complain that that will just make it grow more. Now decide, are you going to have a lawn or just do the decent thing and give it a quick death at the hands of some weed killer. Either way you shouldn’t be torturing it! If the grass is going to out grow the weeds and fight off the diseases it needs to be properly fed, I’ve never heard a doctor say the best cure for that cold is starving you!

Most garden centres, and the like, are full of packets of lawn food; nearly everyone combined with a selective weed killer. Invariably every last one saying it will convert that sad collection of grass and weeds to something fit to grace centre court. The truth is that the groundsmen responsible for areas of fine grass like that don’t use combined fertilizers and weedkillers. They use fertilizer and very occasionally separate selective weed killers. This is partly because of cost, why pay for weedkiller that you don’t need.  There is though another problem with selective weedkillers; they are not that selective. They are weedkillers – they kill plants – its just that grasses are less susceptible to them than the broad leaved weeds. There is no chemical to treat grass weeds in a lawn and they do occur.

Selective weedkillers work by being applied at just the correct rate, too much and you kill your lawn, too little and you achieve nothing. So why do the manufactures sell “weed and feed” to the home gardener? Partly is because by adding the weedkiller they can add value to the product and so hope to improve their return. But the manufactures should not take all the blame because gardeners see weeds and assume the thing they should do is use a weedkiller to get rid of them, and a combined weedkiller and fertilizer seems a logical thing solution. Now this is not to say selective weed killers do not have their place, they definitely do, but prevention is always better than cure.


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