It’s true that In the 21st century lawns may be going out of fashion. They are seen as high maintenance and environmentally unfriendly because of their need for precious irrigation water. However the advantage of making a new lawn from seed is, that you can choose any type of grass seed you want. Drought resistant, low maintenance slow growing, fine or coarse. 100s of varieties now exist and despite their draw backs, there is still something wonderful about an area of lush green grass in a garden.
Preparing the ground
So that it has a chance to settle, prepare the soil several weeks before sowing. Dig over the site thoroughly and level it by raking the soil in various directions, breaking down any clods of earth and removing stones, weeds and other rubbish.
If the surface is particularly rough you may have to do a more thorough job. Use levelling pegs, a straight 2-50m (8-10 ft) plank of wood and a spirit level. Hammer in one levelling peg to a suitable height and put in the others at 2-2-50m (6-8 ft) intervals. Place the plank on top of the two pegs and check how straight it is with the spirit level. Hammer the pegs in as necessary until the plank is level. Repeat this procedure until all the pegs are at the same height.
Rake the topsoil until roughly the same amount of each peg is showing above the ground. If there are bad bumps or hollows remove some subsoil from the higher to the lower areas, but make sure the topsoil always remains on top.
A few days before sowing, break down the roughly-dug ground with a fork and then firm it by treading over the entire site systematically with your heels. Apply a general-purpose fertilizer, or lawn fertilizer, at 70g per sq m (2 oz per sq yd.). Next, rake the site with an iron rake making the soil as fine as possible and removing any large stones and other debris. Then firm and rake the soil again, this time working ‘across the grain’ of the first raking. Remove any more stones that have reached the surface.
Provided the surface of the soil is dry when you carry out this final preparation, you should now have a really fine surface on which to sow the grass seed. Just before sowing, go over the entire site in every direction very lightly with a rake, drawing it along the surface to produce mini-furrows. This will be a help when you come to cover the seed.
Utility lawn mixtures
Next choose your grass seeds: there are mixtures to suit all purposes.
If you require a utility lawn that is very hardwearing and suitable for games and a good deal of foot traffic, choose a utility-grade mixture which includes some really tough grasses. A typical mixture would contain 4 parts Chewing’s fescue, 3 parts dwarf perennial ryegrass, 2 parts crested dog’s tail and 1 part rough-stalked meadow grass.
Chewing’s fescue is a fine-leaved dwarf grass which is very drought-resistant and is included in the mixture to help give the lawn a finer appearance. But it will eventually die out and be overtaken by the dwarf ryegrass. This is a true utility grass, coarse-leaved, very hardwearing, and especially good on heavier types of soil. It will not stand really close mowing - and indeed a utility lawn should not be closely cut.
Crested dog’s tail is an older variety of coarse, hardwearing grass seed; it is good on light soils and withstands drought. Rough- stalked meadow grass is of creeping habit and clothes the soil with foliage. It is also a coarse-leaved type and is good on moist, heavy soils.
New mixtures are being developed all the time and seed varieties will vary from country to country so ask at your local seed merchant for their advice.
However, if you prefer a really fine lawn you must choose a luxury-grade mixture containing only fine grasses. Such a lawn is unsuitable for heavy use, but it will provide a beautiful setting for your flower beds and borders. You will have to give it much more attention and more mowing than a utility lawn. Mow it closely: this generally means mowing twice a week in the growing season (spring and summer). You must also feed and water it if you want to keep it looking really good, for it will soon deteriorate if you neglect it; the fine grasses will die out and coarser weed- grasses will take over.
For a fine lawn mixture, choose 7-8 parts Chewing’s fescue and 2-3 parts browntop bent. Both are very fine-leaved grasses. Chewing’s is a tufted species, while browntop is creeping and covers the surface of the soil with foliage. It is a very drought-resistant species, like Chewing’s, but this does not mean that you should neglect to water it in dry weather. This mixture will produce a dense, dark-green sward.
For shaded areas
Normal grass-seed mixtures are unsuitable for shaded areas under large trees or places overshadowed by tall buildings and walls. The grass simply would not grow well and would be thin and patchy. Fortunately, however, it is possible to buy mixtures specially developed for shaded areas. A typical mixture consists of 5 parts rough-stalked meadow grass, 3 parts wood meadow grass and 2 parts creeping red fescue. Wood meadow grass is very shade-tolerant and is often found growing wild on the edges of woodland and forest clearings. Creeping red fescue is an adaptable species, that is highly drought-resistant and has a creeping habit of growth.
Having decided on a mixture, you must then calculate the quantity of seed you require. You will need to know the sowing rate. For fine lawns this is 35-45g per sq m (1-li oz per sq yd.); for others increase the rate to 50-70g (1^-2 oz). Measure the length and width of your site and multiply to calculate the area. It should then be an easy matter to work out the quantity of seed required: multiply the area by the sowing rate.
Ideally you should choose a fine, calm day for sowing, when the soil surface is dry. Be sure to sow the seed evenly, otherwise you will have a patchy lawn. Divide the entire site into strips lm (1 yd.) wide by marking out each strip with string, secured by canes at each end.
Then calculate the number of square metres (square yards) in each strip and weigh out sufficient grass seed for each one. Sow half the seed up and down the strip, and the other half across it. This should ensure even sowing at the correct rate. Repeat the procedure for all the strips until the whole site has been sown.
If you wish to be even more precise you could divide each strip into square metres (square yards) by laying bamboo canes on the soil. Then weigh out the seed into the required number of small lots, sufficient for each square.
When sowing seed by hand, hold it well above the soil, say at waist height, and slowly release the seed as you walk the length and breadth of the area, moving your hand fairly rapidly from side to side. This ‘broadcast’ method usually ensures very even sowing.
You can also sow the seed with a fertilizer distributor, but only if the machine is adjustable. Obtaining the correct sowing rate is a matter of trial and error. Make practice runs over a sheet of polythene until you find the right setting. Measure out sufficient seed for a given number of square metres (square yards), put this in the distributor and make one run over the measured area of polythene. If the machine runs out of seed before the area is completely sown, or if there is still seed in the machine after running once over the area, then you will need to try other settings. It will only be worth your while using a distributor if you have an exceptionally large lawn; for small gardens, hand sowing is just as quick.
Care of new lawns
After sowing, lightly rake the lawn to cover the seed. Rake across the tiny furrows you made before the seed was sown. You will find that most of the seed is then covered with soil. Don’t firm the surface as it may become caked after rain or watering and so inhibit seed germination.
Birds can be a nuisance as they relish grass seed. Some seed is treated with a bird repellent; otherwise discourage them by stretching black cotton between sticks over the lawn in a criss-cross fashion about 8-10cm (3-4 in) above the soil.
It is very important to water whenever the surface of the soil starts to dry out, both before and after the seeds have germinated. If the soil is allowed to become dry germination will be patchy, and the seedlings can quickly die and wither away. In fact it is essential to carry on watering throughout the summer if you are sowing in spring, or well into the autumn if sowing during early or mid autumn (August or September). Apply the water gently and evenly using a lawn sprinkler on the end of a hosepipe. Always water thoroughly; dribs and drabs do more harm than good, so stand the sprinkler on each portion of the lawn for at least an hour.
The seedlings should appear in two to three weeks if you sow in late spring (April), or within one to two weeks after an early or mid autumn sowing.
Rolling and mowing
Once the seedlings are about 2-5-4cm (1-1£ in) high lightly brush the lawn with a brush or besom to remove any worm- casts. Carry out this task when the lawn is dry. Then you can give the lawn a light rolling - using either a small roller or, preferably, the rear roller of a hand- mower. This is to firm the surface of the soil which was loosened as the seeds germinated. It also presses into the soil any small stones which might otherwise damage the mower blades. ‘Light rolling induces the grass seedlings to produce new shoots and so speeds up the lawn- making process.
Start mowing when the grass is 5cm (2 in) high. Sharpen the mower blades well as they may tear out the seedlings or severely damage them. Set the blades high so that only the tops of the seedlings are removed.
Weeds usually appear with the new grass but annual weeds soon die out once you start mowing. You can hand- weed a new lawn, but make sure you hold down the grass seedlings with one hand while you pull out the weeds with the other, or you may also pull out the young grass.
On no account should you use the normal hormone lawn weedkillers on a new lawn as they could severely damage or kill the young grass. It is necessary to wait 12 months after sowing before starting to apply them.
Check my online gardening course on 'The Lawn Expert' if you'd like to learn more from me about how to grow, sow and maintain the perfect lawn.