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Maintaining Lawns

There aren’t many things more relaxing than watching kids play on a beautiful lawn or kicking a footy on the grass in the backyard.  For many, it’s part of the dream of home ownership. Of course, like any part of the garden there is a little work but the trick is to get into a regular routine so that the lawn is always in good condition and this will help to prevent any problems with pests, diseases and those annoying weeds.

The value of a well-maintained lawn to a home is more than just its beauty.  A thick lawn functions in a similar way to an air conditioner as breezes are cooled by the moisture in it and this brings down the temperate around the house.  In fact, the temperature at ground level can be up to 10°C less on grassed areas than paved areas.  Studies have shown that lawn, combined with good landscaping, can increase the value of a house by 15% and it also helps to reduce the street noise from the neighbourhood.

It is worth remembering that a healthy garden is far less likely to be affected by pests and diseases and, of course, lawns are no different.  Prevention is always the best approach with the aim being a lawn that has an even coverage of green leaves, a well established root system and no bare patches caused by continual shade or damage.

There has always been a debate about when and for how long to water but with the implementation of water restrictions and the community interest in reducing the amount of water used, it has become clear that lawns don’t need as much as we used to think.  The best approach is to water lawn as deeply and infrequently as possible to encourage a healthy, deep root system and therefore vigorous turf that is tolerant of drought and resistant to disease and insect pests.

A healthy lawn which is on soil that allows the water to penetrate will do very well on two ‘deep’ applications of water per week in summer and nothing but the rain in winter.  Frequent shallow watering encourages weeds to grow and causes the grass to grow shallow roots meaning that it will be susceptible to drought and diseases.  Lawns that are watered deeply and less often will seek out moisture lower down in the soil and produce leaves that are hardy and thick.

WA soils are notoriously hydrophobic meaning that the water just doesn’t penetrate down to the roots, no matter how much is applied.  To make sure that the water does get down to where it’s needed, wetting agents should be applied at least twice a year to break up the waxy coating around the sand allowing the water to break through. The difference in the speed that the water soaks into the soil after just one application is incredible to watch and well worth the investment.

The term ‘deep watering’ is difficult to define since this very much depends on the type of sprinklers used.  Sub-surface irrigation systems are very efficient for lawns since they deliver the water to exactly where it is needed with almost no loss through evaporation but, because they apply the water very slowly, the Water Corporation recommends that they remain on for between 20 and 30 minutes at one time.  Pop-up sprinklers apply large amounts very quickly so 10 minutes is enough where as rotary sprinklers apply water slowly and should be run for 30 to 45 minutes.  Gear driven rotor sprinklers need 25 to 30 minutes but these have the added advantage of being designed to cope with windy conditions so that the water doesn’t get wasted by being blown on to paths and walls.

Automatic reticulation systems must be the biggest time saving device in the garden as, to an extent, they allow the watering to be ‘set and forget’.  However, they do need to be checked regularly and it is worth setting a reminder at the beginning of each month to watch each of the stations in action to make sure the sprinkler heads haven’t been blocked and that there are no leaks.  This is also a good time to re-program the length of watering to account for the amount of rain that is expected.

The best time to turn the sprinklers on is first thing in the morning when there are less winds to blow the water away and the evaporation rates are lower.   The watering restrictions put in place by the Water Corporation allow each household one application between 6pm and 9am on two watering days each week but sprinklers are totally banned in winter.  They continue to have inspectors in the suburbs handing out ‘on the spot’ fines of $100 to those that do not adhere.  It is worth visiting their website at to find out the watering days for your area.

There are many excellent lawn fertilisers available on the market with some formulated especially for lawns such as buffalo.  It’s important to know the variety of lawn so that the correct product can be applied but the team at Better Pets and Gardens can help with this if a photo or a sample is brought into the store.

In general, choose a slow release lawn fertiliser so that the nitrogen releases over several months producing steady leaf growth and a strong root system.  Although some products may require more frequent applications, in general the best times to apply are three times a year at the beginning of spring, summer and autumn.  Water the fertiliser in straight away or apply it just before rain is due.

Fast release, high nitrogen fertilisers are useful for quickly greening the lawn before a garden event such as a party but they will also cause very fast leaf growth which requires more frequent mowing but then provide no benefit soon after. For the average home garden, these are not as effective as a slow release formula.

During winter, the lawn slows right down.  The cool weather causes it to stop taking up the nutrients and some species may begin to appear a little brown.  This isn’t a problem at all as it will soon bounce back when the weather warms up again however, clover uses this time of slow growth to move in and become established.  To help control this, lawn fertiliser high in iron designed specifically for the winter months can be applied around June or July.

Lawn products that feed the lawn at the same time as kill the weeds are a fantastic time saver as they are quick to apply and fast to act.  Be sure to choose one that is suitable for the variety of grass that it is to be used on as not all are suitable for buffalo.  A second application may be necessary six weeks later to kill any new weeds that appear and always wear gloves and old shoes and don’t let it fall onto paving as staining may occur.

Maintaining a thick, green lawn involves developing a good mowing technique.  This involves keeping the mower height at a high setting so that only the top third of the leaf area is removed at any one time.  At a height of 3cm or more, the roots are still sheltered from the harsh sun by the remaining leaves and less water is lost through evaporation.

Scalping the lawn by cutting it down to the thick, brown stems will not only expose the soil to weed seeds but also cause the soil to dry out faster.  The lawn will become weak and dry and dead patches may occur where it just can’t recover.  Always ensure that the mower blades are kept sharp as this will also help to prevent damage to the grass.

Keeping the lawn a little longer means that it will need to be mown a little more frequently, perhaps every week at the height of summer and fortnightly at other times of the year but this might take the place of a trip to the gym for exercise as mowing the lawn with a power motor is a great form of cardio-vascular exercise.

To make mowing a little easier, investing in a mulching mower might help to ease a little of the work load since there is no catcher that needs to be emptied.  Mulcher mowers cut the grass into very tiny pieces and scatter this back on to the lawn as a fine mulch that is hardly even noticeable.  This mulch reduces evaporation, saves water and also makes it harder for weed seeds to penetrate.

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