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All for a patch of greenery

Dec 7, 2012

GARDENING

The common perception about a lawn is that it is a necessary component in gardens. Lawn grass, humble as it appears, is actually a very demanding and expensive garden component. Surabhi Johri offers tips on how to ensure that your lawn is in great shape.

Grass is a popular garden component which draws measured appreciation from environmentally conscious gardeners and for most of us, it defines the very existence of space surrounding a house. What started centuries back in Europe as a solution that suits the region’s climate, offering clear views of the approaching visitor, and a shared grazing ground for cattle, eventually became a mark of wealth and status.

Originally, mowing and fertilising happened as cattle grazed but eventually areas close to the house or the castle were maintained by hired labourers. Soon, artificial fertilisers came to be used. The low lying, less demanding ground covers like thyme and chamomile were substituted with turf grass which needed more work to stay in shape.

European migrants to the United States took with them manicured lawns and in the process of making beautiful surroundings, parks were created using lawn grass. With increasing development in suburban areas, everyone wanted a piece of their own beautiful surroundings. Thus urban living and grass lawns became inseparable.

Now the common perception about grass lawn is that it is a necessary component in gardens. Lawn grass, humble as it appears, is in actuality a very demanding and expensive garden component. It needs constant attention, plenty of sun, plenty of watering, fertilising, weeding and regular mowing.

All lawns are not meant to take traffic, particularly the ones which look most attractive. It is not uncommon to read signs “Do not walk on grass” near many lawns. Naturally, it’s a sensible question to ask if grass is the only solution that can cater to one’s garden requirement. If the only function it is serving is to cover the bare soil, then choosing a suitable groundcover instead of grass will be an ecologically responsible choice. Also, it is less labour intensive and aesthetically richer.

Unlike grass, once established, good groundcover does not allow weeds to grow. It spreads on its own and grows luxuriantly. Variety allows choices for all conditions and requires less maintenance. But if you are willing to opt for a lawn, then it will help you know a few useful and responsible practices.

Start with levelled, fine, weed free, organically rich soil. Keep in mind that all lawn grass varieties are not alike, so choose wisely. Some take more foot traffic than others, can survive under shade, while others need a lot of sunlight. Commonly available grasses are Bermuda, Mexican and Buffalo.

Bermuda takes better foot traffic but needs a lot of sunlight, while Buffalo provides surface cover in shade. Mexican variety has a lush, cushiony growth but does not take traffic well.

A little care

Grass needs to be mowed once a week during the period of its growth. Always use a sharp blade to mow dry grass and never mow too short. Going lower than one third of the height of grass puts it under stress, takes longer to recover and in the meantime, infection and weeds find their way into the lawn.

Mowing the grass and leaving the clippings in a thin layer to decompose in the lawn is an ecologically responsible way. Since it is 90 per cent water, it quickly shrinks and adding it back to soil saves fertilising by 20-30 per cent.

Fertilising the lawn is not just about keeping it green but also means building a healthy root system. Always use balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) or any other suitable organic fertiliser. The most common practice is to use urea. Though it provides a quick greening, eventually it leads to weak, weed-infested, poor-structured grass. Urea consists of nitrogen and excess of nitrogen encourages an upward growth and leads to thatch formation. Also, excess chemicals pollute the ground water system.

Occasional raking helps remove debris and opens up the mat-like thatch formation, which if left, encourages moss and weeds to take hold.

Yearly aeration using either spike or fork helps the drainage as well as surface of the soil which gets compacted by mower and traffic. Earthworms are nature’s aerators and fertiliser factories.

Consider using vermicompost. Also, a proper mix of organic matter, good soil and sand should be used to top dress the lawn once a year. We need to grasp nature’s signals. For instance, excess weeds may be a sign of extremely compact soil while persistent moss may indicate drainage issues. Some weeds grow only when the soil is chemically imbalanced. Learn to discriminate between pests and useful bugs. Water the lawn well in the mornings and keep the soil organically rich. Make your choice and keep your lawn beautiful.


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