By Kate Wall
Even the best laid lawn can develop problems over time. Whilst pests and diseases can cause problems for lawns, many other problems arise that are more often the result of choosing the wrong turf variety for the situation, or giving inappropriate care to the lawn. Here we look at 10 common problems and how they can be prevented or overcome.
One of the most common problems with a lawn is the sparse growth that is achieved when it is not receiving enough sunlight. Lovely thick new turf gradually gets thinner and bare patches appear. Lawns require plenty of direct sun. There are varieties of turf that are more suited to shady locations, and as a rule of thumb, the broader the leaf the more shade tolerant the grass is. Buffalo grasses such as Palmetto® Stenotaphrum secundatum ‘SS100’ PBR and Sapphire® Stenotaphrum secundatum ‘B12’ PBR are recommended for areas that get less than half a day of direct sunlight. Shade tolerance is also related to how much wear a lawn gets. A lawn that gets high wear will need more sun to allow for more sustained growth to withstand that wear. For buffalo grasses, 50% shade is needed for high wear lawns, but they will cope with only 3 or 4 hours of sunlight in low wear situations. If you get much less sun than that, turf is not your best option. Spaces which only get 1 hr or so of sun per day, are not suitable for turf grasses at all, and instead lawn alternatives such as native violets or dichondra could be considered, or a particularly dense and compact form of Liriope, Isabella® Liriope muscari ‘LIRF’ PBR, can also be very effective as a lawn alternative in shady areas.
Some people tend to wait until the lawn is getting up around their ankles or the weeds are going to seed before they get out the mower. This may save work but it will spoil the lawn. Lawns (and hedges!) prefer to be cut by small amounts more often. Regular mowing – weekly in summer if the lawn is being watered, will keep the lawn from ever getting too unruly, and encourage a thicker, healthier lawn which is better able to out-compete weeds. Weeds on the other hand definitely prefer the occasional big chop so by mowing less often, you are favouring the weeds above the lawn. If you want to reduce mowing, try a turf variety which has a slower growth rate such as Empire™ Zoysia japonica ‘SS500’ PBR. It does not need as much mowing as other turf varieties however regular care will still result in a much nicer lawn.
Wear and Tear
Turf for High Wear
Lawns are pretty hardy on the whole and will take a fair bit of use before they start to show thinning due to wear and tear, but some varieties of turf will take more wear than others. For high use areas, Kikuyu or Couch are the most hard wearing of turf varieties and fastest to repair from damage. Zoysia is considered medium wear and should also be considered for areas that get some wear and tear. Keep in mind that a thick lawn which receives regular mowing and watering will be more wear tolerant than a thinner more neglected lawn. Certain areas, such as those that receive high foot traffic, can remain problem areas. In these locations consider installing stepping stones or a path to reduce the wear and tear on a lawn.
Very high traffic areas such as family play areas or areas which have cars parked on may need extra help. You can lay a grass reinforcing product under the turf which will help protect the roots from damage. A new product has recently been released specifically for these situations, it is called Scuff Turf™, and is ready to lay turf with a layer of strong reinforcing plastic incorporated into the turf to protect the rhizomes from wear and tear.
Most lawns will do better with some watering, even the drought tolerant varieties. Although we are fairly well aware of the need to be water wise, we don’t want to see our lawns browning off, so watering of lawns is fairly common. Unfortunately over-watering of lawns is also fairly common. Grasses will grow more quickly when there is more water available, so will need more mowing, and more fertilising. This rapid growth can result in grass that tends to be soft, weak and very attractive to pests. Overly wet soil is also perfect for fungal problems. Frequent shallow watering is not the answer here, like the garden, grass needs a deep drink to encourage deeper roots and stronger plants. Depending on your weather, soil and slope conditions, a decent soaking once a week will be sufficient for the lawn.
Mowing Too Short
A common lawn myth is that if you mow it shorter it will take longer to grow long again and save on mowing. This is only true in so far as by mowing too short you have scalped the lawn, leaving too little green leaf for adequate photosynthesis for growth and the result is an unattractive, stressed lawn. The success of a very short lawn is actually in more frequent rather than less frequent mowing. Each time the lawn is mown, only a small amount of leaf should be cut, leaving at least half of the green of the leaf remaining. This leaves the lawn looking green, and encourages new growth – not just in height but also thickness. The result is a healthy lawn at the desired height. A stressed lawn that has been scalped will be more patchy and more prone to weed invasions.
In Part 2 of Common Lawn Problems we will look at problems to lawns caused by lack of edging, leaving clippings or leaves on the lawn, soil pH, weeds and over fertilising.Click Here for Part 2
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