Green Lawns - We All Want One, But How Is It Done?

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It is interesting the number of people who drive slowly past that really nice green lawn in the neighbourhood.  You'd think it would be a lot of work but the owner is rarely in the front yard working on it.  How do they do it?  It comes down to a number of factors but mainly light, nutrients, water, the type of grass, and whether the type of mower suits the grass.

Fertiliser and NPK

NPK is the ratio of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium present in a fertiliser.  Chemistry wizzes will recognise NPK as the chemical symbols for those three elements.
Nitrogen is primarily responsible for making the leaf blade green, while phosphorus and potassium encourage strong root growth and plant structure.  In choosing a fertiliser for your lawn, pick one with a high nitrogen content and who's NPK ratio might look like 12:4:8 or 12:5:5 such as Munns Green-Up, Munns Golf Course Green or Scotts Lawn Builder.

In addition to a good NPK is a coating technology which releases the nutrients into the soil in a timed fashion over a number of months.  Both Munns and Scotts have this technology, but also consider a fertiliser with a wetting agent.  Wetting agents, or surfactants, enable water infiltration into a topsoil.  Good fertilisers are fine by themselves, but wetting agents make them work.  All 3 fertilisers mentioned above also contain wetting agents.

Try to avoid fertilisers which also incorporate weed killers.  For most home gardeners, these will only bring about a new raft of problems since they don't suit ALL grass types.  Treat weeds as a seperate and on-going process.

Lastly, apply fertiliser while it's raining - water activates fertiliser.  Don't apply if rain is forecast; apply during actual rainfall.  And apply less fertiliser more often - it is better to apply 60kg over 9 months in 6 seperate applications than to give it all to your lawn at once.

Sunlight

How much sun is your lawn really getting?  Patchy growth can often be attributed to poor light penetration through tree cover.  If you don't mind doing some pruning, trim back your trees, otherwise, cut your lawn taller.  Since the leaf blade is the solar panel for the grass, cutting the lawn longer will enable more sun to be received in areas where less light is available.  In the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens you might notice the grass is cut taller under all the trees for this reason.  The horticulturists cut the lawn on the mower's highest setting all the way to the drip line of each tree or bank of trees.

For a lot of my clients, we cut lawns on a 5 (out of a possible 11 height settings), while clients with dense tree cover might get their lawns cut on 11, and slightly more frequently.

Watering

While many parts of Australia are in drought, watering may not be a viable option for most people.  The options are rain water tanks, washing machine water or grey water, or bores, dams, or creeks.  My favourite option is simply making rain water work harder.  During rainfall, I am out madly spraying surfactant on my lawns with a backpack sprayer.  Products such as WettaSoil come in hose-on packs too, so don't feel as though you need to go to the added expense of buying new equipment if you don't want to.  Munn's also does a powder-based surfactant which spreads just like a fertiliser, and the added bonus being that it activates when wet, and goes back to its natural state when dry.

Grass Types

The grasses which typically look the best when cut are couch grasses, however, they can also be high maintenance.  To have that fresh cut look on a couch lawn can require mowing every day during summer, or once per week with a growth slowing agent.  Couch is that very thin bladed grass which is often used on bowling greens, putting greens, and cricket pitches.

For domestic lawns, slower growing, and broader leafed grasses are Palmetto, Sir Walter, and combinations of fescues and blue grasses marketed under various brand names.  The great thing about these grasses is they also stay green in winter and during periods of prolonged dryness.

Lawn Mowers

The lawn mowers which give the best finish to virtually any type of weed-free lawn are the barrel or cylinder mowers.  However, these mowers are expensive to maintain, aren't suitable on properties with stairs, are very heavy, and can only trim about 10mm of grass height per mow - in many instances, this may mean mowing your lawn every day, unless you use a growth slowing agent.  The lawns on which they are used will also need to be almost free of undulations, so a lot of top dressing will be required prior to switching to one of these.

The great thing about these mowers, though, is that if your property suits this type of mower, mowers are available with cutting widths of 36 inches, so you can trim your lawn in no time.  Standard rotary mowers, by comparison, will usually have a cutting width of 18 or 19 inches.

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