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Operation prevention.

Byline: John Humphries

NO sooner is the end of the lawn-mowing season in sight, there are problems that need attention if the grass is to remain healthy and vigorous next year.

An accumulation of moss, thatch, and compaction is the legacy of regular summer Humphries mowing and general wear and tear, which, if ignored, will eventually reduce what was once a fine lawn to a threadbare, muddy patch of the kind found in front of goal posts after the "keeper" has done his stuff all season.

HOME TRUTHS John Whatever we think about grass, and no matter how much we hate the annual ritual of mowing, a good quality stretch of well-maintained turf adds value to every property, because a garden is today more than ever regarded as an extension to the house.

Moss is found in most lawns and if left untreated spreads quickly, smothering the grass.

While minor traces can be left, it is necessary to use a moss-killer if a considerable amount is present.

Dead moss can be raked out a week or two after treating with a proprietary moss-killer, or lawn sand. But if the lawn sand contains sulphate of ammonia, it is best avoided at this time of year, because it stimulates leaf growth, which is best avoided after a summer spent cutting it!

Thatch accumulates between the roots and foliage of all established lawns. A fibrous layer of organic material, some living, some dead, it consist of stems, decomposing mowings, and other debris, collectively known as thatch. On acid soils, where bacterial activity is slow, it can accumulate to form a deep, carpet-like "pile". If the soil is strongly acid (below pH 5), apply a top dressing of calcium carbonate (ground chalk or ground limestone) during winter at the rate of two ounces per square yard on light sandy soils and four ounces on heavy soils.

Routine raking and the use of a collecting box on the mower will keep the thatch in check, and, in fact, in moderation it acts as a mulch keeping the surface of the lawn moist, protects the lawn against wear and makes the turf more resilient.

But if it is thicker than half an inch it impedes drainage while fertiliser applied in spring takes much longer to be effective, having difficulty reaching the roots of the grass.

While small electric scarifiers can be hired to remove thatch from larger lawns, a spring-tined rake will deal effectively with smaller areas.

What is removed can be safely added to the compost heap in small quantities after mixing with other materials.

If the drainage is poor, and there is a rapid build up of thatch every year, then the only permanent solution is to lay land-drains during October - or as some might prefer, turn it into a patio!

Compaction is a problem suffered by most lawns at the end of the summer. Sometimes it is localised where deck chairs and other garden furniture have stood, or it may be more general as a result of regular mowing with a heavy mower.

Because compaction causes drainage problems, this in turn encourages the build up of thatch and moss during wet weather, so there should be plenty to be seen this autumn.

Spiking the lawn with a garden fork or special tool relieves the compaction by aerating the soil. If the lawn is used a lot this should be done every month at closely spaced intervals penetrating with the fork to a depth of two inches, deeper where the compaction is deeper.

Powered aerators can be hired to treat larger areas of turf, always watering thoroughly after the holes left by the machine have been top-dressed with a sandy soil mixture.

Top dressing at the end of summer with a mixture of sand, loam, and organic matter irons out the surface level, eliminating minor hollows where children have been playing.

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A lawn scarifier used to help maintain a moss-free lawn
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 19, 2009
Words:659
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