Winter has been thoroughly unkind to Scottish Lawns this year. It’s been cold, wet and frosty. And according to the weather forecast, there’s more to come. As soon as the soil starts to warm up, lawn lovers all over the country will be wanting to help their lawns recover from winter and prepare for summer. Find out how with our lawncare calendar for 2018.
If your lawn is anything like my lawn, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself at the moment. (I'm writing this in late february) Mine looks a bit tatty round the edges, the tips of the leaves are yellow and there are some baldy bits where the dogs and children have been playing.
If your winter lawn looks like this, the best thing you can do for now is keep off it!
But when spring comes, it'll be time to look at relieving soil compaction to improve drainage.
My first job this spring is going to be to trim the edges of the lawn and give it a very gentle mow.
I lie – my first job will be to service the lawnmower and sharpen the blades. I should have done it before Christmas but never got around to it.
The first cut of the year
Mowing your lawn for the first time after a nasty winter is more about waking the plants up than it is about getting the perfect finish.
Make sure the mower blades are clean and sharp. Then raise the height of the cutting bar to as high as you dare. Certainly no lower than 5cm. Put the grass box on – you don’t want wet clippings on your lawn at this time of year.
Trimming the edges of your lawn in early spring makes it look better immediately. Follow it up with a gentle mow and the whole garden will look a lot more loved.
All you are aiming to do is cut off the very tips of the leaves. That will stimulate the grass plants to start growing. For the first cut, I like to mow once and then straight away mow at 90 degrees to the first pass. That way I have a better chance of cutting any blades of grass that have been pushed over by the first pass.
As the soil warms up, your lawn will grow faster and faster. The best advice I can give you is to mow little and often. Letting the lawn grow long and then scalping it really does weaken the plants.
Mow your lawn little and often.
It may look as though you've hardly touched it but the plants will respond well to being treated considerately.
Gradually reduce the cutting height – but don’t mow less than about 2.5cm. Longer grass is more durable than shaved grass.
“Big” Jobs for Spring
Soil compaction is not unusual in lawns – it means you’ve been enjoying them! However, compacted soil makes it much harder for the grass plants to thrive. Air, water and nutrients are not absorbed as well as they could be and so the roots struggle to support healthy growth.
Hollow tine aeration is how greenkeepers reduce compaction. Small plugs of soil are taken out of the lawn leaving little holes for food, air and water to get into. If your soil is in poor condition, you could topdress after aeration.
Topdressing is a mixture of 70% sand and 30% topsoil. It is brushed into the holes left by aeration. Not only will it improve drainage and airflow in your lawn, it helps to level out little lumps and bumps.
Scarifying your takes all of the debris out of the sward allowing the soil beneath it to breath. Every lawn accumulates bits of dead leaf, clippings, moss etc at the base of the grass plants. Over the course of a year, they form a layer that we call thatch. Thatch slows down water absorption, harbours disease spores and can inhibit the growth of the plants. You can use a rake to scarify your lawn – I’d recommend hiring a machine though, or better still, getting a lawncare professional to do it. It’s hard work!
Start your annual feeding regime in early march. It’s vitally important to feed your lawn regularly throughout the year. Grass plants need to make a lot of protein and energy to withstand wear and tear and mowing. They use Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sunshine to create the nutrients they need. It’s your job to make sure they have enough of the first three – Mother Nature will provide the sunshine……I hope!
Now is the time to overseed bare patches with a good quality grass seed. You don’t need much of it. Just be sure to protect the seeds from birds until they have germinated.
Lawn Care for Summer Time
Keep up the feeding and mowing. If – and it’s a bit “if” – we’re forecast a hot dry summer, you can raise the mower blades a little. That will help to make sure the grass stays greener for longer.
If you grass does turn brown in summer, don’t worry. That’s natural. It will green up again after rain. Please don’t waste water irrigating an established lawn. New turf though is different – newly laid turf MUST be watered in summer to make sure it establishes properly.
No matter what season it is, it's vital that your lawnmower blades are kept clean and sharp. Think of them the way you would your kitchen knives. If they're dirty and blunt they're likely to cause more problems than they cure.
If you’re picnicking and playing on the lawn, be sure to move rugs, toys, furniture etc every day. Grass needs to see daylight if it is to stay green.
Autumn Lawn Care
Time to swap to a different type of feed. This time, use a formulation with very little nitrogen. The plants won’t be growing very fast but they need to build strong cell walls in order to cope with winter weather.
If your lawn has built up a layer of thatch over the summer, scarify in early autumn. Don’t leave it too late because the plants need to recover before the bad weather comes.
Aeration at this time of year is a good idea too – it will help with winter drainage. Again. Don’t leave it too late. If you’re not done by the end of October, wait until spring before you try again.
Keep mowing regularly and be sure to remove autumn any autumn leaves as they fall. I’m lazy, I use the mower with the grass box on to pick up dead leaves. It chops them up beautifully so that I can mix them into the compost heat. If kept in sealed bin bags for a couple of years, autumn leaves rot down to make leafmould. It’s an excellent mulch and well worth waiting for.
Winter lawn care
Mow if you can – but if the weather is nasty, don’t worry about your lawn. The best thing you can do for it is keep off it.
Other helpful articles
Hosting a wedding, a christening or a birthday party this summer? Start preparing your lawn as soon as possible in advance. <read more
Moss is the Scottish lawnlover's arch nemesis. Find out how to keep it at bay in this article from April 2017 <read more
An inexpensive lawn aerator - for large lawns you can
hire a mechanised version.