As a garden writer, friends and family often expect me to be the owner of a pristine lawn, but the reality is the opposite! This time last year, I was chuffed with the lush, green lawn outside my back door. I’d scarified it heavily the previous autumn to remove thatch (dead material) and spiked the lawn to allow air and water down into the root zone. Turf had been treated to a specialist autumn feed to bolster the lawn’s resilience to harsh winter weather.
By spring, the grass was a deep shade of green. Job done, or so I thought! Along came summer 2022 with temperatures of 40°C, while barely a drop of rain fell from mid-June until September. By late summer, my formerly lush lawn resembled a brown, parched landscape.
Like most gardeners, I’d been trained not to reach for the sprinkler during drought. Apart from wasting precious water during periods when mains supplies are under strain, it’s expensive as I’m on a metered supply. But by last autumn, the damage to turf across the UK was so severe that gardeners up and down the country were surveying their sorry swards with despair.
If you are also wondering what to do about a drought-ravaged lawn, don’t worry. With the weather warming up, now’s the time to take action. With a little springtime TLC, it’s possible to nurture turf back into tip-top condition ahead of summer.
Why Haven’t Lawns Fully Recovered?
After a wet winter, many garden lawns have bounced back to a certain extent, with patchy grass being the most common complaint. Two thirds of a grass plant lies beneath the soil surface, in the form of roots, and established lawns with deep roots that tapped into underground moisture reserves during last summer’s drought are most likely to recover, even if the top growth is looking sparse.
New lawns that had been sown prior to the drought, or sit on dry, sandy soil are more likely to have suffered and will be crying out for renovation, as roots may have perished. Whether a lawn recovers or not also depends on the type of grass you have. Lawn experts advise that tougher blends containing perennial rye grasses and tall fescues offer greatest resilience to drought while fine mixes of bents and slender fescues are more likely to suffer in extreme heat. Most gardeners won’t know their lawn’s composition, but sowing or thickening up lawns with more drought-resistant seed mixes is going to be necessary as climate change takes hold.
How to Get Rid of Moss in Your Lawn
Winter waterlogging has made this spring a corker for outbreaks of moss and my north-facing, shady garden is a prime example. The scruffy, yellowy green appearance of moss makes lawns look unsightly in spring and hinders the growth of healthy grass.
To make matters worse, patchy grass after last summer’s drought has created ideal conditions for moss to spread. Outbreaks are rife in lawns that sit on compacted soil (especially acidic soil). Mowing your lawn too short can encourage moss too as it makes grass more susceptible to stress during drought.
Traditionally, gardeners have tackled moss in spring using products that contain sulphate of iron. They turn moss black in weeks so it can be pulled out using a spring-tined rake. Like many gardeners I prefer not to use chemicals, so turn to a new generation of products that kill moss naturally and prevent fresh growth. The bonus is that modern treatments ‘digest’ moss, so there’s no need to rake it out. Good examples include Neudorff Organic CleanLawn, Miracle-Gro EverGreen No Rake and Viano’s MO Bacter.
Why are Lawn Weeds Thriving?
Patchy lawns are a dream come true for broad-leaved lawn weeds. Ugly invaders, including dandelion, plantain and clover, wasted no time setting up home in my tatty turf. Weeds are often deeper-rooted than some grass species, giving them extra resistance to drought. That’s why lawn weeds often thrive while grass turns brown in summer.
Turfcare professionals, including gardeners who keep lawns lush at estates that open to the public, increasingly believe that encouraging a thick sward is a natural deterrent to broad-leaved weeds, as healthy grass crowds lawn weeds out without using chemical treatments.
Before that can happen, however, existing weeds must be eliminated and patches re-sown. A selective lawn weedkiller (one that targets lawn weeds but doesn’t harm turf) will do the trick, but organic gardeners should use a hand fork to remove weeds, along with their roots. This clears the way for fixing bare patches that are left behind.
Can Grass Seed be Sown in Spring?
While autumn is the best season to sow grass seed or lay turf, giving lawns time to establish before temperatures rise, new lawns can be established in spring, although they’ll need to be kept watered into summer because the grass won’t have a mature root network.
Similarly, fixing dead or worn patches of grass now will result in grass that’s better placed to withstand summer wear and tear. To treat small patches, I use quick-fix patch repair kits which contain a blend of seedling soil and grass seed. They’re ideal for small areas but will only be successful if dead grass and lawn weeds are removed before lightly raking the soil and adding the mix. Regular watering is essential.
Where larger patches of dead grass blight lawns, I use a half-moon edging iron to cut around the affected area before sliding a spade under the soil to lift it away. Next, I use a garden fork to lightly break up the soil at the base, before adding fresh topsoil, firming down and sowing grass seed at the rate recommended on the box. Birds can be a nuisance, pecking at grass seed, so if you lightly rake it into the soil the seed will be less likely to vanish!
Finally, if you plan to treat grass to a high-nitrogen, springtime weed and feed product, apply it to established lawns and leave re-seeded areas to develop at their own pace.
Follow these top tips to help rescue your lawn this spring and let us know how you get on in the comments.