The grass will be greener…
Tuesday 3rd September 2013, 12:10PM BST.
After a summer of being dried out by heat and trampled on by outdoor activities, your lawn may be looking a bit tired. If you want to restore any bare patches, or are even thinking of sowing a completely new lawn, early autumn is a good time to do it.
But how do you choose the type of seed for the job from the array of different grass seeds on the market?
Help is at hand from Which? Gardening, the Consumers’ Association magazine, who have just revealed the results of its test on 36 lawn seed mixes and repair kits, assessing both germination and appearance of the grass and coverage of each plot at monthly intervals.
Best overall lawn seed mix is Asda Multipurpose (£3 for 500g), which the survey says will give you a great looking lawn. In the trial, it established quickly, gave a dense, finer-leaded turf, was among the best in terms of coverage and appearance and recovered well after wear-and-tear tests.
The next highest scorer was Mr Fothergill’s Better Lawn (£5.99 for 500g, available from garden centres), which looked good throughout the autumn and following spring, recovered quickly after the wear-and-tear tests and had produced a dense sward by the end of the trial.
For those just repairing their lawn, the researchers recommend Miracle-Gro Patch Magic (£9.99 for 1kg, Tesco), which worked exceptionally well in the trial and established quickly. The plastic shaker contains coir and fertiliser with very little grass seed. The coir shows where you’ve scattered it and indicates where it needs watering. The grass is fine-leaved and green, but didn’t cope as well with wear-and-tear as other recommended lawn seeds.
Other recommended lawn-seed mixes include Wilko Multipurpose with ryegrass (£6 for 750g, Wilkinson), which produced tough grass with a good density throughout the trial, and Verve quick Start (£3.98 for 500g, B&Q) which was one of the first in the test to germinate and completely cover the ground.
If you are sowing a new lawn, you’ll need to dig over the area thoroughly to allow free drainage, removing stones and weeds as you go, then incorporate organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. On heavy clay incorporate sharp grit and organic soil conditioner. On light soils just incorporate the organic matter.
Firm the ground by laying a plank of wood on it and walking over it several times. Then move the plank across the site until the whole area is firmed, but not compacted.
Next rake the area to produce a fine ’tilth’ on which to sow the seed. You may need to rake repeatedly until the ground is level and the surface is crumbly.
Make sure you buy good quality grass seed which is the current season’s stock and choose the type to suit your needs. A lawn for a family-friendly garden may include a mixture of dwarf perennial ryegrasses to withstand heavy use, while a lawn just to look upon might be a mixture of fine tufted grasses. Always follow the instructions on the packet about seed distribution and don’t be tempted to sow more thickly than recommended.
To repair your lawn, loosen the soil in the bare patch with a fork, scatter grass seed and fertiliser over the area and rake lightly to work the seed into the soil. Water if it’s dry and cover with netting or fleece to keep off birds.
With a little help from the sunshine-warmed earth and the upcoming autumn rains, you should be able to give any lawn or lawn repair a head-start.
- Sign up to Which? for a one month trial for £1 and get access to all its product reviews, test scores and Best Buy or Don’t Buy ratings. Visit www.which.co.uk/signup for more information.
Best of the bunch – Heuchera
These value-for-money perennials provide not only stems bearing tiny summer flowers attractive to bees, but also wonderful foliage through the autumn, in shades from acid green to copper and deep burgundy. The darker shades look stunning in summer and autumn pots alongside lighter green spiky ornamental grasses and silver foliage plants. Some varieties are almost evergreen and have a good weed-suppressing habit at the front of the border.
Heucheras like a well-drained but fertile soil in a sunny or lightly shaded spot. They don’t like sticky, wet clay. If your soil is thin and poor, dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter and plant deeply, with only the crown above the ground. Mulch well each spring. They should be divided every three years or so, or they become woody. Good varieties include H. micrantha diversifolia ‘Palace Purple’, which offers the deepest foliage of purple bronze, with plants growing to 60cm (24in) and bearing white flowers, while ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ has large brown and burgundy leaves and ‘Key Lime Pie’ has soft mounds of acid-green leaves with silvery marbling.
Good enough to eat – planting onion sets
Onions are among the easiest vegetables to grow and now is the time to plant sets for overwintering. Sets are simply small onions which grow into normal-sized onions when planted, offsetting the need to grow them from seed. It’s best to buy heat-treated sets, which reduces the risk of bolting, and overwintering types are a good bet as they occupy space when it’s not used for anything else They should be planted 10cm (4in) apart in rows 20cm (8in) apart, deep enough to just cover the tip of the bulb. Apply a general organic fertiliser now, and again in spring to boost their growth. Keep them watered in dry spells and weed regularly as they won’t like being smothered.
Use overwintering onions fresh from the ground from the time the first few reach usable size, around late spring, and just keep pulling them up as needed, in May, June and July. Good varieties include ‘Electric’, which produces delicious red onions, and ‘Radar’, which will survive in cold areas and bad weather.
Top buy – lightweight rake
Fed up with heavy tools? Fiskars may have the answer. It has come up with a range of tools made from lightweight, yet robust, materials with aluminium shafts and ergonomic handles.
Anyone sprucing up their lawn or getting ready to tidy up autumn leaves may be interested in the Garden Light lawn rake, weighing 700g, which has a plastic coated shaft of hardened aluminium and drop shaped soft grip handle for optimal grip. It’s designed to help reduce back strain and make gardening work lighter. (£29.99 from garden centres, DIY stores and online at www.fiskars.co.uk)
What to do this week
- Plant out spring-flowering biennials such as wallflowers and forget-me-nots in their flowering positions to give them time to establish before the winter.
- Harvest fruit and store apples and pears for use over the winter.
- Sow parsley and chervil to provide leaves for winter and spring use.
- Continue to remove weeds from borders so they don’t shed seeds which will remain in the soil over the winter.
- Clear out summer bedding which is past its best and replace it with spring bedding.
- Lift maincrop potatoes on a warm sunny day, drying them on the surface of the soil for an hour or two before storing them in paper sacks tied at the neck, in darkness.
- Plant new border perennials and water the plants in well.
- Sow hardy annuals to be overwintered outdoors and in the greenhouse.
- Clear out the pond while the weather is still warm enough to make it enjoyable.
- Cut diseased leaves from plants and prune out affected parts of plants and dispose of them so that overwintering spores won’t survive until next year.
- Keep the border tidy by cutting back flowered stems and deadheading unless seeds are required.
- Prepare borders for planting perennials, digging organic matter into the soil before planting.
- Repot arum lilies for winter flowering under glass, using John Innes No. 3 potting compost.
- Cut back dead, diseased or broken branches of pear and cherry trees after picking.
- Check the greenhouse for repairs which may need to be carried out before cold weather sets in.
- Continue to take cuttings of tender perennials such as osteospermums and penstemons, which can be overwintered under cover.