Get your grass ready to survive and thrive in a long, hot summer with our ultimate guide to spring lawns
For a lush carpet of summer grass, weed, feed and air the lawn in spring
So what kind of lawn do you have at your place? The bowling green perfect front yard, the kids-and-dogs patch out the back or just a tiny serene green square to lay upon and gaze up at the sky?
Whatever the type, large or small, perfect or patchy, you’re a member of the great Aussie lawn-owners’ club.
It’s no secret we’ve had a long-term love affair with lawns and that they have almost iconic status in Australian suburban culture, but there’s no denying they do take a bit of work.
If you want your lawn to be lush for the warmer months, you’ll want to lavish it with TLC come spring.
After a long, hard winter, grass can need a bit of work to bring it back to a picture-perfect state.
It’s not complicated and for most average-sized lawns, it may take nothing more than a few hours’ work and a shift in mowing habits.
Here’s the Handyman guide to caring for your spring lawn to keep it loving you back.
Let it hydrate
Water is key to a healthy lawn in the warmer and drier months. The challenge is using water in an efficient and effective way.
Hosing the lawn results in poor water penetration, causing shallow-rooted grass that is less able to cope with hot conditions.
The best time to water is in the cool of early morning. Water slowly and deeply for best effect, using an oscillating sprinkler with adjustable coverage and attaching a timer to your tap.
To get the most from every drop, apply a soil wetting agent to improve water penetration.
And don’t waste water with an old leaky hose. Check the fittings connect properly and choose one with a high kink resistance.
Living with turf
While we all try to save water in the garden, we all like having a bit of grass, so here are lots of reasons to love your lawn, guilt-free.
GRASS produces oxygen and absorbs CO², with a 15 x 15m lawn generating enough O² across a year for a family of four.
THE ROOT MASS of a lawn acts as a filter, trapping excess nutrients and other materials to prevent them reaching waterways.
A HEALTHY LAWN of 450sqm can absorb more than 11,000L or 25mm of rain without significant runoff, reducing erosion and the burden on stormwater systems.
TURF CAN ABSORB as much as four times the amount of carbon as your mower puts out.
GRASS DAMPENS SOUND and reflected noise levels from a lawn can be 20% lower when compared with hard surfaces.
Turf has many more benefits than just being soft underfoot
Give it air
Over time, especially in areas of heavy foot traffic, the soil beneath turf can become compacted.
This reduces the movement of water, air and nutrients to the grass roots, leading to tired-looking turf and worn or dead patches. The simple way to solve compaction is aeration.
Dressing it up
To help grass grow through strongly after top-dressing, feed it a week beforehand and water well. The day before, mow lightly and dethatch with a spring-tine rake to remove dead or loose material.
Buy bags for small areas or bulk-buy from landscape suppliers for a big yard.
Top-dressing mix is generally 70 or 80% fine organic matter with the remainder being clean sand.
Don’t top-dress if it looks like rain or water straight after, as this creates a hard crust over the surface instead of washing it into the lawn. Water when new growth appears, after about a week.
Cover the area with top-dressing soil, spreading the mix to no deeper than 10-20mm. Let the mix dry, then rub it in with a soil spreader.
Keep it long
As the weather heats up, it’s time to put the mower back to work. In spring and summer a longer lawn is healthier, so set the mower a click or two higher.
You may be tempted to mow grass very low to reduce the need to cut it as often, but this only leads to scalped patches and a faster-growing lawn as it tries to recover from the damage.
Longer grass leaf blades insulate roots more effectively from high temperatures and feel better underfoot.
Through the cooler months, you should have been using the catcher on your mower and now, with the warmer weather, it’s time to switch to mulching mode.
As you mow, the clippings fall back into the grass thatch, providing natural organic nutrients, and also work as fine mulch, helping to conserve moisture.
Give the mower a wash and service in spring, as dirty or dull blades damage grass, which takes time to recover and often turns brown at the top.
Mow grass longer and more often in the warm months to keep it healthy
Feed it well
If you do nothing else to your lawn in spring, at least fertilise it. Feeding grass can actually help solve weed problems, as your lawn may be able to out-compete the weeds once it starts more vigorous growth.
There is a huge range of fertilisers available, so ask your local garden centre or lawn specialist for advice on the best food for your type of lawn.
The two simplest tips are to select a modern fertiliser that has a low weight per square metre application rate, and one that only needs to be applied two or three times a year.
For a quality lawn, a spring and autumn feed is considered the minimum requirement.
Be fertiliser savvy
If you’ve regularly used traditional synthetic fertilisers on your lawn, the pH of the soil can become acidic and less than ideal for lawn growth.
This acidification reduces the effectiveness of fertilisers, which often leads to more freqent use and increased acidity.
One way to break this fertiliser cycle is to apply lime or dolomite. This will help correct the pH of the soil as well as supply calcium, which assists with healthier lawn growth.
Hose-on liquid lime or dolomite is easier to apply than powdered types and is much faster acting.
Zap the weeds
Weeds don’t just look bad, they also create problems. Broadleaf and spreading and running weeds can rapidly cover grass, while painful bindii prickles make a lawn unusable.
And any weed takes nutrients away from the grass. With lawns, prevention is key, as healthy grass will out-compete most weeds. But if they’ve taken hold, there are ways to deal with them.
For small lawns or a chemical-free option, simply dig them out with a long-handled, pronged weeding tool or an old-fashioned daisy grubber.
It’s important to get all the roots, so don’t just grab the plant crown and tug. And avoid shaking the weed to stop the spread of seeds, tossing them in a bucket to dispose of later.
TIP Wear gloves, as some weeds are prickly and others have mildly caustic sap.
Long-handled weeders can be very useful
When manual weeding isn’t an option, spot-weeding with a suitable herbicide is the best approach for keeping chemical use to a minimum.
Glyphosate or vinegar-based herbicides can be useful, but be aware when using them that overspray can damage areas of surrounding lawn.
Herbicide can be applied directly to weeds using an old paintbrush or a special-purpose device such as a Yates Zero Weeding Brush.
Or use a hooded spray head, as there are attachments to suit many popular garden sprayers.
But even with a hood fitted, spot-spraying is likely to result in some damage to surrounding grass.
Use a selective spot-spray pack like Yates RTU Weedkiller For Lawns, but note that it isn’t suitable for use on soft-leaf buffalo lawns such as Sir Walter or Palmetto.
To target broadleaf weeds, clover and other lawn nuisances, use hose-on or granular Weed ‘n’ Feed products.
For large areas, use a concentrated herbicide-only product and mix it yourself. As their effect is governed by dosage, apply only the recommended rates or you may damage the lawn.
If you don’t have a pressure sprayer or for small patches of turf, attach a sprinkle bar to your watering can.
Use a buffalo-safe formulation for a soft-leaf buffalo lawn like Palmetto or Sir Walter. If you don’t know your lawn type or have a mixed lawn, also use a buffalo-safe formulation.
TIP Spray when the air is still.