If you have a lawn this is the ideal time of year to assess its state, give it a boost and get it in shape for the wear it’ll get this summer.
A lawn area will quickly get compacted especially if it’s walked on when wet. All the air in the soil will get squashed out and the soil will set hard (especially in clay areas) therefore making root development nigh on impossible and increasing the chances of moss taking over. Aeration is critical to the success of a lawn. Use a fork and a foot to make regular holes in the lawn a few centimetres deep. If you have a large lawn hire an aerating machine to make big slits and brush in sharp sand to open up the soil. If your soil in summer is on the rock-hard-concrete side then take out plugs with a hollow tined fork and backfill with a sand and loam mix. Don’t use a roller on your lawn. Unless it’s a bowling green already it won’t really help level it and will more likely add to compaction problems.
‘Thatch’ is the debris of dead matter that always builds up under the surface of a lawn over the years. To remove thatch from a lawn, use a spring-tined (wire) rake and don’t be scared to rake hard. This process will also help to get rid of moss, and you’ll quickly see exactly how much grass there really is or isn’t in your lawn! All the grass will stay in place, the thatch and moss will be pulled out, and the process of scarifying will stimulate the grass to produce runners and sideshoots, therefore thickening up the lawn.
A lawn will always benefit from a good feed in spring to really get it going. Nitrogen encourages healthy lush green foliage. It’s easy to use organic products such as municipal compost, which can be raked thinly on top of the lawn. It may look pretty awful for a few days, but the new growth will quickly push through. Other feeds such as seaweed extract or chicken manure mixed up as a liquid feed, will also help to green up your lawn. Avoid overfeeding as this causes lush growth that’s prone to disease.
Before doing any mowing check that the blades on your mower are seriously sharp. A close look at a blade of grass which has been ripped rather than cut with a blunt mower will show you that it’s an uneven cut, open to disease and has quickly gone brown round the edges. Most people don’t pay enough attention to the sharpness of the blades, but they should.
For your lawns first cut of the year make sure the setting is pretty high and over the next few cuts reduce it at each stage. If you mow at a low setting you are liable to scalp the grass, which it can take ages to recover from. However tempting it may be, don’t cut when the grass is wet as the mower will get stuck and cause damage.
If you have slight dips and humps you can work on it over time by top dressing with a sharp sand and fine soil mix in the low areas. The grass will grow through the top dressing and find a new level. You can realistically only bring up the level by about 10mm a time using this process in spring and autumn, so it may take a couple of years to really show. Larger levels of unevenness can only be dealt with by lifting the turf adding or taking away some soil underneath to achieve the right level and laying the turf back down again on top.
If after you’ve had a good old scarify and aeration session there are areas of your lawn that are looking a bit folically challenged, you may need to bulk up the density of your lawn. Cut it first, make sure the bare bits of soil are fluffed up with a fork, and then sow the seed over the existing grass at around 25g per square metre. Rake gently, and then firm down with the back of a rake. Apply an organic fertiliser and water in well. When the grass is 5cm (2in) high, cut again.
Lawns don’t do well in shade. Rather than trying to get some miracle cure shade-loving grass seed to take (contrary to the claims on the seed packets I’ve found they don’t really work) you’d be better off thinking of an alternative such as low shady planting or another surface.
It’s unlikely that your lawn will be dry at the moment, but in the summer it may need the occasional soaking. As with most plants a regular soak once a week is far better than a light watering every day. If you only water lightly most of the water will be evaporated and unless it seeps deep into the root system the roots are being encouraged to be drawn up to the surface, making them more vulnerable to drying out.