On the third Tuesday in September, at our first meeting of the Gardener’s Association 2014-2015 Programme, we were pleased to welcome several new members. David White was an excellent speaker who has built up his horticultural knowledge through training and experience at Kew Gardens, Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and the Royal Parks.
He started his presentation by suggesting to us that there are alternatives for green areas in the garden. David put forward the case for artificial grass, which drew gasps of dismay from the audience, but useful if the homeowner has dogs, camomile – the non flowering form, which provides a lovely perfume when crushed and soleirolia soleirolii or “mind your own business” which provides a maintenance free alternative to grass as a ground cover. David then went on to explore the serious business of grass lawns and their care.
We learnt that lawns are made up of lots of different grasses but specifically two types, the creeping rhizomatous grasses and the finer tufted grasses. Rhizomatous grasses have roots which creep underground and this grass can survive drought and wear and tear whereas the finer tufted grass does not survive dry conditions or children playing. In these conditions the tufted grasses will die back leaving bare patches which are then colonised by moss. Scarifying a lawn covered in moss will only spread the moss as it is propagated by spores, so always kill the moss before scarifying.
David suggested a five point plan for a healthy lawn:
i) apply feed, weed and moss killer;
ii) ten days later scarify;
iii) spike to reduce compaction;
iv) over sow with fine tufted grass seed at 1oz per square yard and finally top dress with lawn soil.
David said that in the autumn a fertilizer high in phosphate to stimulate root growth and potash for winter hardiness should be applied and in the spring choose a fertilizer with less phosphate and potash but with higher nitrogen content for leaf growth.
After discussing the pros and cons of seeding versus turfing in terms of cost, speed, pets, situation and preparation David went on to discuss controls for fungal infection and hormone weed killers which are safe for pets and wildlife once dry – but he advised against composting grass clippings following its use. David stressed that watering little and often was essential to keep the fine tufted grass growing. Whereas a dry lawn will always recover when the rain comes it will be the rhizomatous grass which will come back; the fine, tufted grass will have already died.
A great deal of interest was shown by members as evidenced by the numbers of questions especially on the subject of pests – be they ants, chafer grubs, leather jackets or vine weevils. Chemical sprays are available and nematodes are a good alternative as once watered in they stay around to provide long term protection. But perhaps we should all think more carefully about our natural habitat and leave well alone and enjoy the delightful antics of our wood pecker and other feathered friends for whom ants and chafer grubs are a tasty and essential meal.
Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 21st October when Mike Day will talk about Unusual Vegetables. We look forward to meeting new and established members on that evening. Annual subscriptions are now due.