Phil DudmanLawn lovers rejoice

Gee, haven’t lawns copped a rough time in the past 10 years or so. The big issue is maintenance – mowing, fertilising and watering – and sure, there can be negative environmental effects associated with that if you’re an absolute lawn fanatic … but if you keep your lawn small, and you’re not aiming for the perfect bowling green, then it’s barely an issue… and in fact, a bit of lawn is a good thing.

My lawn area is an integral part of my garden design (from my book Down To Earth Garden Design, ABC Books)

Garden beds come first at my place, so I’ve kept my lawns small… even my footpath is planted up… so it only takes me around 10 minutes to mow, front and back… compared to my poor old neighbour, with a similar sized block, who takes about an hour each week. Now that’s high maintenance gardening!

Although my lawn area is small, it’s an important and central part of my integrated garden design. It’s a truly multifunctional space… it connects me to the different areas of my garden, it’s a place to play and roll about and it’s a lovely extension of our entertainment space. It feels great underfoot, and we get to enjoy its positive environmental effects… it’s much cooler than any alternative useable surface… so there’s no reflective heat into the house, it’s less dusty, and because I’ve levelled the spaces, the water soaks deep into the soil when it rains. Consequently, I never water it… and if it gets really dry, well… that’s tough, it’ll come back when it rains. I do however fertilise in spring if there is a bit of rain about, using an organic fertiliser that releases its nutrients slowly over an extended period, so I don’t get a massive sudden surge in growth… and it feeds the soil to keep the microbes happy too .

Use a garden fork to aerate a compacted lawn

I do love my little patch of lawn… and if you do too, then there are a few things you can be doing now to get it in shape before winter. The first thing and probably the best thing you can do is aerate those compacted areas where you tend to walk a lot … compacted soils aren’t good for healthy growth… so just plunge in a garden fork at intervals across those hard areas and wiggle it back and forth to loosen them up. That immediately opens up the soil to allow air and water to penetrate to the roots. Two people armed with a fork and a glass of wine is better than one… it never looks good drinking alone.

If you’ve got dead patches in need of repair… then plant them up. Sowing seed is good, but it takes a fair bit of attention to establish. It’s much easier to just buy a few strips of turf and plant those… or if your thrifty like me, dig up and transplant a couple of plugs from your existing lawn. They’ll spread and fill the gaps in no time.

Autumn’s a good time for feeding lawns … so if you think that yours could do with a boost, then spread around a little blood and bone or pelletised chicken manure. If it doesn’t need a feed, then save your good stuff for the vegie patch.

And just a little tip on mowing, and it’s one you hear a lot… set your cutting height as high as possible… the longer grass helps to keep out the common flat lawn weeds we get through winter… and the bigger leaf blade means the plant can produce more of its own food… which makes for a healthier lawn. For me, it just feels much more luxuriant to walk on… like a shag pile carpet.

And if you’re looking for some ideas on how to minimize the size, but maximize the usability of your lawn, then why don’t you check out my garden design book that has a heap of readymade design solutions for a range of different backyard shapes.

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