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How to Improve my Lawn!!

Updated on March 6, 2013

How to Improve my Lawn

Whether you are starting a new lawn or have an existing lawn, getting the soil conditions right in the first place is the key to creating a good quality lawn. In my experience, I have come across so many people who have laid down turf or sown grass seed, only to find some months later brown patches, cracks starting to appear during dry weather and moss appearing in areas that are damp or shaded.

This is all because they haven't done the ground work first, or in the case of existing lawns they have been neglecting their lawn, and using the wrong lawn treatments and techniques.

So, in this hub I will describe some of the best techniques and give you the understanding as to why poor lawns happen.

Waterlogged Lawns

During periods of rain, the ground can become waterlogged, it cannot absorb anymore, so it runs-off. This is especially present on heavy clay or compacted soils.

So why is This?

People who have new gardens and therefore new lawns, will more than likely have a heavy clay soil with the majority of the top soil removed during construction, leaving only a thin layer. This puts you at a disadvantage to start with, because all the goodness is generally in the top 15cm (6") and has a mixture of different aggregate sizes, ie: sand, silt, clay and larger stones.

But, for more establish gardens, the reasons maybe different, ie: the ground has become compacted, there maybe over use of artificial/chemical fertilizers and weedkillers, and it maybe due to the chemical composition of the soil.

Moss is another indicator of poor drainage and therefore poor soil conditions. Moss is also a pioneer plant, meaning it tends to grow in areas where there is poor soil nutrient levels, and its job is to start to produce some nutrients for the next generation of plants who continue the process.

A Little Bit of Soil Science

Clay particles are like thin platelets that have a negative charge and can therefore hold nutrients and water molecules between them, unlike sandy soils, where the spaces between the particles are much larger, they are less able to hold onto water molecules.

So how do you open up a clay soil to improve drainage?

The traditional technique on new and established lawns is to spike the ground with a garden fork, or uses a manual or mechanical hollow-tiner in autumn to take out small plugs of soil every three or four years, and then brush in some sharp sand. But, this method is slightly laborious and costly, as well as taking some years to see an improvement.

An alternative way is to add some form of lime to your soil. If you remeber from early, clay particles have a negative charge and are closer together, they are then able to hold onto water molecules that have a slightly positive charge, and this is why clay soils often become wet and sticky.

So, in order to open the soil and replace the water molecules we use lime. This contains calcium ions that have a positive charge and are then attracted to the clay particles, thus causing the clay particles to separate, allowing the movement of water. Magnesium, though the ions are positive, they have the opposite effect, causing the clay particles to come closer together, making the soil sticky.

There are two types of lime you can use, garden lime or gypsum (clay breaker). Garden lime is calcium carbonate (CaCO³), and gypsum contains both calcium and sulphur. The important thing is the calcium in either product, but the sulphur in gypsum is an added nutrient which is useful in disease prevention. Add this to your lawn in the autumn, because it takes a little while to get to work on the soil.

The amount of lime you add to your soil, is dependent on how heavy your soil is, but a basic application of 50g per sqm is a good start, more can be added later. If you grow lime sensitive plants, use gypsum, this doesn't raise soil pH, but is neutral in its action, whereas, garden lime will raise soil pH.

Using Artificial or Chemical Fertilizers and Weedkillers

Since the advent of chemical agriculture, we have been persuaded to use artificial/chemical fertilizers to fertilize our lawns and to control weeds with weedkillers. Unfortunatley, the fertilizers largely only concentrate on Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK). Both nitrogen and potassium are highly water soluble, and though they may give an initial boost to a lawn, they do not last. What doesn't get used gets washed out into the ground water and pollutes our waterways.

Phosphorous on ther other hand has 3 x negative ions and therefore tends to get locked-up by calcium ions to create calcium phosphate. Generally, in my experience most soils have sufficient levels of potassium and phosphorous already present in soils, so there is no need to add anymore; it is only on poor soils that additions maybe required.

The other downside of using chemical fertilizers (some but not all) and weedkillers, they are made from water soluble salts and these have an adverse affect on soil microbes etc. If you have ever poured salt onto a slug and watched it react, the salt just sucks the moisture out of the slug, this is what happens to the soil microbes, thus killing them.

Natural Lawn Care with EM

Professional lawn care experts are beginning to use more natural products to improve the colour and health of there lawn, but also, more natural products are more cost effective in the long term.

As well as applying lime, restoring natural levels of micro-organisms in the soil, (bacteria, fungi and yeasts) is best done with EM - Effective Micro-organisms, a blend of naturally occuring beneficial micro-organisms, currently being used in over 120 countries.

Effective Micro-organisms contains three main groups, photosynthetic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. These naturally occurring ingredients, work synergistically together to secrete beneficial substances, such as vitamins, hormones, enzymes, organic acids, bioactive minerals and various antioxidants.

EM improves the quality of the soil over time, thus improving the quality of the lawn, reducing weed growth, insect and disease attack, gradually eliminating the need for herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers.

EM promotes photosynthesis, strengthening plant vigour, increasing their ability to withstand drought, flood and temperature extremes. Also, EM naturally removes harmful substances, such as heavy metals, salts and agrochemicals from the soil.

EM increases soil temperature through microbial activity, enabling earlier growth in colder areas. Also, EM improves soil aggregation (ie the soil particles will not get blown away as easily), permeability and water holding capacity, thus reducing the need for irrigation; any run-off will be of good quality too.

Applications of EM should be carried out evry 7-10 days @ 1000:1.

Rockdust

As mentioned before, artificial fertilizers do serious harm to the micro-organisms in the soil and help to encourage weeds. A better alternative is to use rockdust, such as Vulkamin. This is a natural mineral fertilizer, made from ground-up rock; there are different ones on the market depending on where you live.

Rockdusts are full of trace elements that are slowly released by the soil microbes over time, ideal for improving the health and vitality of your lawn; apply once a year during winter for best results.

by Alistair Olver

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EM Used on a Golf Course

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