Healthy, thick lawn


We can grow thick lawn from existing lawns with a few simple steps.   There are a number of things we need to do to grow thick lawn that feels soft and cushiony under our feet.

The first thing is to realise that some of the softness – some of the give is due to a build up of the lawn plant itself.  We may identify this as being thatch. Left year upon year, this isn’t a good thing, but managed correctly, it’s what we want.

The lawn is a plant – a community of plants – and its important to recognise that it grows in a manner that can build upon itself. For that we need stolons and branching stems – lateral growing tips – rather than a clumping growth habit.


Soil compaction and its results

Generally, healthy soil with healthy soil microbes, earth worms and abundant soil life is perfect for growing thick lawn.  If the soil is compacted then there is going to be a lack of oxygen and water getting to the living beings in the soil and to the root zone. That will inhibit lawn growth.

I’ve cultivated thick lawns for my clients and I’ve had delivery guys attempt to ‘quickly drive’ or ‘quickly park’ on a client’s lawn. No. I don’t think so!  The soil and the microbes don’t recognise ‘quick’ anything. It only takes seconds to squish the oxygen from the soil and compact it. That few seconds can take years and/or dollars to rectify.  I’ve been known to stand on the lawn in front of a vehicle stopping them from driving on it!

Another client had a string of tenants who parked their cars on the lawn. It had been a lovely thick lawn.  It quickly turned into a patchwork of hard, bare earth and in time we saw it become inundated with weeds. Cars parking on lawn ruined growth of thick lawn

This photo to the right shows what it started looking like.

There are a number of ways to decompact soil, and I’ll discuss some of these in another blog. For now, note that in order to grow thick lawn, we generally need a de-compacted soil.  However, we can reduce soil compaction naturally by following the steps in this blog.

When we want to grow thick lawn, we should also consider the suitability of the grass to the area. For example, if a full sun grass is in a shady spot then it’s growth will be inhibited.

If the soil is constantly wet or water logged then it’s likely that the growth of the lawn will be negatively affected, if not dying off. A waterlogged soil tends to lack oxygen. It becomes anaerobic and generally these conditions aren’t sufficient to sustain lawn life…


Lawn fertiliser… do we really need it for thick lawn?

Unless you have set up your lawn to require synthetic fertiliser and have a base that’s all sand and no nutrient your lawn does not necessarily need a synthetic fertiliser.

To grow thick lawn we should add a good dose of rock minerals on an annual basis. Rock minerals are full of naturally occurring micro nutrients and are good for the soil, good for microbes, good for worms, good for plants.

We might also add a liquid seaweed or fish based soil conditioner in spring to help support the soil to grow the lawn. Not all lawns get this, only those that I feel might need it… ie those that might struggle through a hot summer or that are compacted and need to tempt earth worms to come up.

I hear you asking why we might use a liquid soil conditioner rather than a solid granular or pelletised organic fertiliser.  Well, when we work in a garden we’re not in control of who visits it.  This is particularly the case with professional gardeners.  Pellets and granular bits of organic fertiliser can easily be eaten by birds, cats, dogs, children… and it could harm them.  For that reason, I tend to stick with liquids that enter the soil leaving few trace elements on the surface that can cause harm.

I’ll talk about this in another blog but I’ll mention it here: soil showing extreme measures of pH can lock up nutrients.  It isn’t the pH that does this, the pH is the indicator. Adding lime can increase alkalinity.  Adding sulphur can increase acidity.  However, soil chemistry is much more complex than this.  We can cause a lot of problems if we just start adding chemicals like lime and sulphur without knowing the chemical make up of our soil.

Soil will become pH neutral (around 7) as the microbial community develops.  So this isn’t really something we need to do to create a thick lawn per se.  Getting the microbe community in balance means feeding them.

We’ve added rock minerals, a bit of soil conditioner and now we need to stop taking away from the lawn. If the energy exchange between you and the lawn is mostly negative, then we won’t tend to have thick and healthy lawns.

So how do we give back to the lawn?


Raise the mower blades to grow thick lawn

First and foremost: raise the mower blades. Unless you are a green keeper for a bowling club, raise the blades. This should become standard practice. Raise the blades…

Lawn is like any community of plants. If we keep cutting grass within an inch of its life, its growth will be hard, gnarly and tortured. Most of my garden maintenance clients now have thick and soft lawns. It’s interesting to notice where my clients front lawns end and the neighbours start. It’s usually quite obvious…

In winter we definitely need to raise the blades. In fact, we can raise them in autumn in preparation for winter. I call this winter preparation mode.  We’re training the lawn for winter.  We’re letting it grow longer and in doing so we’re allowing it to stay a bit warmer, to have more leaf surface area to account for shorter days.

In late spring we can reduce the blades a bit but not so that we’re scalping the lawn. Try not to reduce the blades so that you are cutting and seeing brown bits of grass…. unless you are intending to get rid of the thatch…

So there’s the exception. If one of my client’s lawns has too much thatch building up then I might reduce the blades in early summer. But I’ll only do this once or twice in early summer and only when the lawn is well hydrated.

There’s no way I would stress the lawn out this much if it were also looking thirsty and drought stricken. If you want to create a dust bowl, lower the blades in a drought…


Take the catcher off the lawn mower

Another key thing is to take the catcher off. When we put the catcher on we are literally taking away from the garden. Energy is leaving. With the catcher off, we’re recycling nutrients and organic matter back into the soil.  Microbes and worms feed on this.

Now, a few things on when not to take the catcher off: when there are weeds going to seed. We don’t take the catcher off when there are weed seeds because we don’t want to germinate weeds in the lawn. If we have lawn seeds, then yes we can definitely take the catcher off.  This will also help us grow thick lawn.

If the lawn is long, as in long and overgrown…  taking the catcher off will result in clumps of cut grass dumped on the lawn. This isn’t good. Unless we are going to clean up those clumps the result will be:

a) dead grass under the clumps;

b) diseases; and

c) ugliness.

So in the rare instances where we’ve left the grass grow a bit too long, we may need to put the catcher on. But if we raise the height of the blades to the highest then we might find we can leave the catcher off! In that case we’ll just need to mow it again sooner and on a lower blade setting. It all depends on the length of the grass.  Of course, the longer we’ve left the lawn to grow the more likelihood there are weeds going to seed.

If the grass is wet then leaving the catcher off isn’t the best idea either as it tends to clump and the wet off-cuts can cause disease.  Likewise, most blades won’t cut the grass property when it’s wet.  This can result in tearing the grass blades rather than cutting them.  This can open too many doors for fungal disease.

So creating a good, thick lawn is largely a maintenance thing. It will take some time but it won’t take a lot of money.  It’s about how we treat our lawn plants and how often. Mowing at least fortnightly in the summer, monthly in the winter.

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