Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

The Perfect Lawn

Lawn grasses are remarkable plants and their power of survival is never more obvious than during hot dry summers when there’s a hosepipe ban. It doesn’t take long before the lawn is brown, parched and seemingly dead, yet like grasslands worldwide from the Prairies to Africa, they always re-grow when the rains appear. So I’m not too worried even though my lawn looks a little pale as you see in the picture, even though it’s been refreshed by a shower of rain. Watering is unnecessary, unless you insist on an immaculate lawn and is better used on other plants like trees and shrubs that were recently planted that are more susceptible to drought. If you must water, do it thoroughly once a week in the early morning or evening; a little water encourages roots to the surface, making it more vulnerable to drought. Position sprinklers carefully so water is not wasted on walls, fences or paths and if the lawn starts to flood, stop the sprinkler, allow the water to soak in then lightly spike the surface.

Coarser grasses like rye grass and fescues are less susceptible to drought, so most general purpose lawns should be fine, but my advice is be water wise and don’t water your lawn, you may need it later in the year for something more important! You may have to put up with weeds infesting the grass but they can be controlled by ‘spot weeding’ using herbicide or by hand. The key to recovery is to help the lawn recover once the drought is over and be thorough with your annual lawn maintenance in early autumn when it should be scarified by hiring a lawn rake, weed-killed and fed with high potash autumn feed. The usual reaction to drought is to cut the grass short, but you should raise the height of cut to 5in/4cm and mow at least once a week. Cut too low and you encourage moss and weeds, the lawn is ‘scalped’ where the blades scrape the surface and it really begins to suffer.

Another way to save water is by ‘tactical watering’ in the vegetable garden. Water thoroughly when the plant needs it most and you’ll get excellent crops. Vegetables with edible seeds and fruits like peas, beans and marrows have the greatest need for water when the flowers and pods are forming so give them about 22 litres/sq m per week while leafy crops like lettuce and spinach need 11-16 litres/sq m per week. It depends on the rainfall and soil type, over-watering makes tomatoes tasteless and carrots bland, if you stop watering for a couple of days before harvest, the taste becomes more concentrated. Root crops need regular watering to stop them from splitting but don’t overdo it or they produce leaves instead of root – about 22 litres/sq m a week is enough. You’ll need to water your hanging baskets and containers at least twice a day; early in the morning, evening; check them at lunch time too. Plants like petunias and pelargoniums are drought resistant, but under watered fuchsias and lobelia can take weeks to recover. Feed your flowers weekly with high potash fertiliser and many varieties need dead heading daily for a dazzling display. Don’t forget to check other permanent container plants daily too, regular feeding and careful watering will ensure that your plants remain in tip-top condition right through the summer!