Lawn establishment in Warm Climates

Nearly everyone loves a beautiful lawn, even non-gardeners. It's one of the first things most of us think about creating in a new garden, perhaps because it's one of the easiest and often cheapest way to quickly "finish off" a new home. Once the grass is down, it's much easier to keep mud and dust out of the house, it makes the property look much neater, and it's not so much of a hassle to let the children out to play, or to invite guests over for a visit.

 

Along with paving, lawn areas provide the majority of open spaces within a garden. These open spaces contrast with the more solid mass of walls, buildings and plants. As a general rule, the area covered by open spaces should be around three times greater than the area covered by such things as plants, walls and buildings. If a greater area is covered by lawn and paving, the garden may seem to be very open and the sense of privacy or protection may be lost. If the area of lawn and paving is less than 75% of the open space, the garden may feel too imposing or enclosed.

 

If the aim is to achieve a forest-like garden, then the objective is open spaces less than 10%.

 

In small patio or courtyard gardens, it is often impossible to maintain an acceptable ratio and it may be a mistake to use both paving and lawn in an 'open' area. The effect of two small areas composed of two different ground coverings can look 'patchy' and often breaks the visual unity. One or the other will normally create a far better effect in a small area.

 

LAWNS ARE GREAT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!

  • The front lawn of an average house has the equivalent cooling effect of around two average sized air conditioners.
  • An area of 250 sq metres of lawn (approx) generates enough oxygen for the needs of a family of four.
  • Up to 90% of the mass of lawn grass is in the roots (below the ground).

This binds the soil and is extremely efficient in stopping erosion.

  • Lawn grasses filter dust and dirt from the air, pollutants from water (making soil water much cleaner), and absorb unwanted gases such as carbon dioxide.
  • Lawns absorb a great deal of water in heavy rain, greatly reducing the chance of flooding.
  • A healthy lawn is a very soft surface (eg. An egg can be dropped onto 4cm tall lawn grass from as high as 2.5 to 3 metres without breaking).
  • Child mortality and suicide rates have been shown to be lower in areas of trees and lawns than in city areas without much vegetation.
  • Hospital patients have been shown to recover faster when they have a view of trees and lawn.

 

LAWN SHAPE and DESIGN

  • A long narrow lawn will draw the eye along the length of the lawn. A feature (such as a large tree or statue) located at the far end of this type of lawn will enhance the overall visual effect.
  • The slope of the lawn surface should relate to the mower ‑ too steep will be difficult for some mowers to negotiate. Too much unevenness in the lawn will cause the mower to shear the grass. On sloping blocks, terracing may be needed to avoid these problems. A slope of 1 in 80 is ideal.
  • Totally flat lawns don't drain well and the grass growth is poor (particularly in heavier soils). If soil isn't sandy, sub‑surface drainage is necessary for a quality lawn.
  • Don't have paths ending at a lawn ‑ people then step onto the lawn at the same place all of the time which means that point gets more wear than anywhere else. You are better off having a path running along side a lawn area so that people can step onto the lawn at various spots.
  • All parts of the lawn should receive direct sunlight at some time during the day (even if only briefly) if the grass is to grow well.
  • Low branches over the lawn should be removed ‑ the grass needs light & you need to be able to walk under the tree when mowing.
  • Avoid having grass planted right up to the edge of a building. The eaves prevent rain reaching that strip of grass, so you will end up with one strip of lawn getting a lot less water compared to the rest of the lawn (in this situation it is better to plant a mulched garden bed which doesn't require as much water).
  • Seats, planter tubs or other furniture should not be permanently left on a lawn.

While lawns are great addition to the garden, they are not always the easiest thing to maintain in top condition. If you love the idea of a perfect lawn, why not establish a few small patches and give them lots of attention, rather than trying to create and maintain a vast area of grass.

WHICH LAWN

There are many different types of lawns; some which are easy to maintain, and others which require a lot of work. If you want the perfect lawn you will need to spend a lot of money and time, both to set it up initially, and on a regular basis, to keep it looking good. If you want to save some money, and you are prepared to accept something which doesn't always look quite as good, as long as the ground is covered with plants, you can plant hardier grasses, and mow the weeds when they appear, letting them become part of the lawn cover. A rough weedy lawn can be quite functional, particularly for a young family, and there's no reason to get too fussed about making it a showpiece if all you need is something green, clean and tidy.

Consider:

  • It is nearly always easier to grow a top quality lawn in sandy soil.
  • Good drainage is essential for any lawn, particularly during the wet season. If the area is poorly drained, you will need underground drainage pipes and a good well drained topsoil to be sure of a quality lawn.
  • It is difficult to produce good lawns in shaded areas, so those shaded parts of the garden may be better paved or planted out as a garden bed, or alternatively reduce the shadiness of the area by perhaps removing some of the plants creating the shade, or thin their foliage. Lawn breeders are slowly releasing a range of shade tolerant specimens that will be available over the future years.
  • Weeds will be a problem in any top quality lawn, particularly in rural areas or on new estates where weed seeds blow in from nearby paddocks.
  • Be careful about bringing in contaminated topsoil (containing weed seeds, pests or salt).

This is more likely if you buy cheaper soils or from less reputable suppliers.

  • If you buy cheaper sod or instant turf, you are also likely to be buying grass which is contaminated with some weeds, even if you can't see them when you first establish your lawn. They will soon make an appearance.
  • Hardy, thick stemmed creeping grasses (eg. Kikuyu or carpet grass) are often easier to grow and maintain as a lawn, but they rarely look as good as less hardy finer leaved grasses.

 

 

CREATING A LAWN

There are many different ways of creating a new lawn. The most common are sowing seed, laying sod, and sprigging.

The simplest and cheapest way is to rotary hoe and level an area, let the weeds grow, then remove the weeds, either by spraying them or removing them in some way, or by cultivating them into the soil. On a larger property mowing the weeds may be quite acceptable. If you use a hardy ride on mower or tractor mounted slasher, the mower will gradually even out any bumps or undulations in the ground (particularly if there is a heavy roller bar at the back of the mower). If you spray any weeds (eg. with a Glyphosate based spray) before cultivation, and sow grass seed after rotary hoeing, you will probably get a better quality lawn than by just mowing or slashing the weeds, then cultivating. You will almost certainly get a quicker cover of grass, particularly if the seed is raked in and kept well watered for the first few weeks.

A seed sown lawn can be rough if you are using hardy species such as couch or clover, but for a quality lawn, the groundwork must be done well. If you plan a quality lawn, you need to eradicate all weeds first, remove any dead vegetation (ie. old lawn grass, dead weeds, etc) and any other rubbish, then, unless the soil is free draining, such as some sands, you should establish a surface with sufficient slope to ensure good drainage, but not so much of a slope that the topsoil washes away.

Lawns raised from seed are generally the cheapest and easiest, as long as you water them regularly until they get established. A few things can go wrong, but if they do, at least you haven't blown a fortune. A heavy downpour of rain can wash seed away before it germinates, but if it's raked in properly so it's covered with soil, and if the area has good drainage, this is not too likely to happen. Birds or wandering dogs can sometimes disturb a newly planted lawn; but criss crossing the area with strings between posts can help prevent this. Tie a few old rags to the strings, so the animals can see them.

A lawn grown from sod or instant turf can be easier and certainly faster to establish than seed, but it can also be more expensive. Not all instant turf is good quality. Some is contaminated with weed seeds or bulbs and roots of weeds which sprout some time after planting. Some instant turf suppliers are rough in the way they handle their turf and though it may look good when it arrives, it may deteriorate and perhaps die soon after.

Instant turf usually comes with relatively few roots, and needs a good fertile, well drained soil to sit on top of, along with plenty of watering for the first few months to encourage the roots to move down and take hold. Experienced tradesmen can lay an instant lawn well and achieve a very level surface, but without proper care, the job can result in an uneven and patchy surface.

Sprigging involves taking pieces of a creeping grass such as couch or kikuyu and planting them directly into the ground. Many of these grasses can take a while to establish enough to compete with weeds though, so it's often a good idea to sow seed over the top (or else choose carefully the time of year you plant the sprigs to ensure fast growth).