How to keep grass looking green and healthy
A good lawn brings all the elements of your garden together and creates a perfect area for relaxation and fun.
With just a little effort your lawn can look lush and green all year round. The job of looking after a lawn varies with the seasons, location and type of lawn.
Grass that’s bowling-green perfect demands a lot of regular maintenance, whereas a more informal lawn needs little more than mowing and edging, plus the occasional seasonal treatment with an appropriate fertiliser to maintain healthy growth.
Your lawn care calendar
If you have an established lawn (rather than one that’s just been sown or laid), your priority will be to maintain the health of the grass and keep it looking good all year round, especially during warm dry weather. The best results will come from following a simple regular programme of maintenance throughout the year, rather than occasional bursts of activity and attention.
Early spring (February, March)
This is the time when most remedial work is done. But only when the weather is mild and dry: if it’s frosty or the ground is waterlogged, do nothing at all – treading on grass in these conditions will do more harm than good.
Late spring (April, May)
- If gaps have appeared between the turfs of a new lawn, they can be topdressed now.
- Lawns that are patchy can have bare patches reseeded. Keep newly sown areas watered during dry spells.
- Apply fertiliser and weed / moss killer, using the correct feed for this time of year (one with a high nitrogen content).
- Mow regularly, gradually lowering the blades – bearing in mind that the shorter the grass, the less resistant it is to wear and tear, and the more likely it is to suffer from water shortage
Summer (June, July, August)
- Continue to mow regularly. In dry spells, although the lawn is hardly growing, it’s still worth doing this, as it removes the tall leggy sprouts that appear and cuts off weed seed heads.
- If after a long dry spell your lawn is looking a bit brown, don’t panic – unless it is a new lawn, it will recover quickly.
- Don’t feed your lawn or apply weed or moss killers in dry conditions – they will burn the grass.
- If a cool spell occurs, patchy areas can still be reseeded.
If you do decide to water, give the lawn a thorough soaking, leaving the sprinkler on for at least half an hour in the morning or evening to avoid evaporation. A drop of water does more harm than none at all, as the roots of the grass turn upwards to seek it out – which makes them even more susceptible to drought damage.
Autumn (September, October)
- Remove fallen leaves from your lawn regularly. If allowed to build up, they will kill the grass beneath.
- Continue to mow regularly, gradually increasing the height of the blades – if you leave the grass too short during the winter, it will be vulnerable to frost damage.
- Apply autumn feed to help toughen up the grass for the winter.
- Spike or aerate the lawn and scarify it. Top-dress, if need be.
- Any edges damaged by overhanging plants during the summer can be repaired now.
Winter (November, December, January)
- The lawn can have its final cut of the year in November – or perhaps slightly earlier for those who live further north. Make sure your mower has very sharp blades so they don't tear the grass.
- Give your mower a good clean and service it after the last cut of the year.
- Continue to clear fallen leaves from your lawn.
Most importantly, avoid treading on grass in frosty weather – if you do, the frozen tips will fracture, and you’ll be left with a damaged lawn. If you need to work on beds or borders in these conditions, lay boards down over the parts of the lawn you will walk across, and especially where you need to manoeuvre a wheelbarrow.
Feeding your lawn
Fertiliser is vital for keeping a lawn lush and green. Lawns should only be fed during the growing season and usually need only two feeds a year – in spring and autumn. The spring feed should be high in nitrogen to kick-start the growth of lots of lush new grass, whereas the autumn feed should be high in phosphorus and potassium to toughen the grass up for the winter. Always choose a dry day for feeding, but make sure the ground is not too dry – water first if necessary.
Many lawn feed products combine lawn fertiliser with weed killer. They are applied in exactly the same way, but you need to be much more cautious to prevent the treatment spreading onto other plants, as it may kill them. The advantage of such a combined product is that well-fed grasses will grow more vigorously to fill gaps where the weeds have died back.
On smaller lawns, you can scatter granular feed by hand (with gloves on). If you are in doubt about how much and how far to scatter, mark out a square metre with canes and twine. Then measure out the dosage per metre, as instructed on the feed packet, and spread it inside the square – this will give you a visual guide to go by.
You can do the same when applying liquid feeds with a watering can or sprayer. Bigger lawns are best fed using granular feed in a wheeled spreader; these cover large areas quickly and ensure you are using the correct amount of feed.
To water or not to water?
New lawns require watering throughout their first season. But established lawns will survive dry summers perfectly well without watering, unless there are extreme drought conditions – at which point there will probably be a hose-pipe ban, anyway.
In a long hot summer, a lawn will go brown, but when cooler, damper weather arrives they will begin to recover. Watering a lawn takes copious amounts of water. In dry periods, once you’ve started you will have to continue, because the lush new growth triggered by watering will need further amounts of water to maintain it.
If you really must water, then make sure you do it either early in the morning or later in the evening – never in between, or the grass will scorch in the sun. Better still, connect a timing device to a sprinkler, set to come on during the night, when every drop of water will be absorbed by the grass instead of evaporating in the daytime heat.
Scarify your lawn
Scarifying is the essential process of removing thatch (dead grass, moss and other debris) from the grass to avoid bald and yellow patches in the lawn. These unsightly patches are caused by the moss, which acts as a sponge preventing light, water and nutrients from reaching the roots of the grass.
Scarifying can be achieved using a hand tool, such as a lawn rake (look for ones with spring tines) or a powered scarifier. We recommend scarifying vigorously in spring to give your grass the best chance of healthy growth throughout the rest of the year. And again, once the weather cools in autumn to prepare it for winter. Scarifying can leave the lawn looking brown for a week or so after, but don't worry, the luscious green grass will soon come back.
Aerate your lawn
Aerating, or spiking, your lawn improves drainage and stimulates growth by allowing air to get to the roots. Do it in the spring and the autumn for best results, as well as if your lawn is getting compacted.
You can spike with a garden fork, but it’s quicker and easier to do it with a specially designed multi-prong aerator or wear a pair of lawn aerator shoes and simply walk up and down the lawn – good for your lawn and great exercise too!
Top-dress and level your lawn
If your lawn has humps and hollows, top-dressing will help level it out. This is best done in spring or autumn, or both.
You can either buy top-dressing material (also called lawn conditioner or turf dressing) or mix your own, using equal parts of sieved garden soil, compost and sharp sand (not builder’s sand, which contains lime). Rake or brush the mix into the hollows, making sure it’s no more than 1cm thick – don’t bury the grass completely, or it will die. A good top-dressing mix will not only help level the lawn, it will also feed and improve its structure.
Fix bare patches of grass
Bald or coarse patches can occur after the grass is treated with weed killer. Remedy by overseeding, the process of sowing new grass seeds into the existing lawn. It increases the density of the grass and reduces weed and moss growth. Start by aerating the soil and mix lawn seed with compost at the ratio recommended on the product’s packet before watering the seeds in.
Alternatively, use a triple-action patch repair product that combines lawn seed, lawn feed and coir, such as the Miracle Gro Patch Magic range. Coir is a natural fibre that absorbs water and expands around the seed, protecting it while it grows and supplying it with nutrients.
For more tips and advice on how to sow grass seed, head to our helpful guide.
Regularly cut the grass
Grass needs regular mowing as soon as it starts to grow. Set the blades high on your lawnmower for the first few cuts of the year and reduce the height of the blades gradually – it’s better for it to be too long than too short.
The mower blade should also be nice and sharp, otherwise the grass will tear and lift out of the ground. In the heat of summer, it’s best to let the grass grow a bit longer so it retains moisture, and in the late autumn months a longer lawn will be less vulnerable to frost damage.
Once the grass has been cut, there are two options available. Either gather up the cut grass with a garden rake and dispose of it (a lawnmower with a collection box will also do the job). Or join the hot trend of grasscycling. Grasscycling involves leaving the cut grass on the lawn to act as natural fertiliser.
Change your mowing pattern
Always mowing in the same direction compacts the soil and causes the grass to lean in the direction it is mowed. Changing your mowing pattern every few weeks will keep the grass healthier and more upright and enable you to achieve a cleaner cut. It can be fun making different patterns on the lawn.
Whether you prefer neat contrasting stripes or concentric circles, every change of direction will contribute to a healthier, greener lawn. For a traditional striped effect, use a mower that has a roller.
Tidy the edges
It isn’t always possible to take a lawnmower right up to the edges of a lawn, so these may need to be trimmed by hand.
Edging shears are specially designed to enable you to maintain a neat and well-defined edge around your lawn. Small areas of grass that are awkward to mow are best cut with lawn shears; long-handled versions are the most comfortable to use.
An electric or petrol-driven trimmer makes light work of most edging and trimming tasks; choose petrol for bigger gardens and tougher brush cutting. If you want to use a trimmer for edging, choose one that has an edging facility.
An edging iron – also known as a half-moon edger – is useful for cutting away worn or uneven lawn edges along beds and borders and also for cutting turf. Use it with a rocking, sawing motion as you press down to cut.
Weed your lawn
Even if you love having wild plants in your garden, there are some that need to be dealt with – otherwise you run the risk of them taking over your lawn.
Trefoils, plantain, chickweed, speedwell, clover, creeping buttercup, dandelions, spear thistles and creeping thistles are the ones to get rid of. Hand-weeding is fine if there aren’t too many – for deep-rooted dandelions, use a weeding tool.
If there are weeds all over the place, treat them with lawn weed killer spray or granules. Use lawn weed killer only – any other kind will kill everything, including the grass.
As for moles, if they really are a nuisance, then they can be trapped, or smoked out of their molehills by dropping in special smoke cones or moved away with a sonic mole repellent.
Other pests that can damage a lawn include leatherjackets (crane fly larvae) and chafer grubs, whose larvae feed on the roots of the grass and cause it to turn yellowish brown in patches.