The lawn sleeps tonight

It may be winter but we should still keep half an eye on the health of our largest and most useful evergreen. It doesn’t take much but a few simple steps now might save you a bucketful of angst later in the year.

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Film: Archie Sinclair

There are two ways of looking at the next couple of months.

Either (the optimistic view) we are about to embark on the short slide into springtime or (for the pessimists among you) it is all going to be awful with cold and snow and traffic chaos and very possibly more power cuts, floods and hurricanes. Whichever way your particular cookie crumbles it is winter and we might as well get used to it: grumbling ain’t going to change anything!

So let me give you a cheery thought upon which you can chew: we are very lucky to have lawns. I know that for much of the year people (including me) are often nagging at us to dig the things up and replace the dull old turf with something more ecologically diverse and less monocultural. But it does have a whopping great advantage at this time of year, in fact two big advantages.

Firstly it requires virtually no maintenance at all – no mowing, edging or feeding – until the spring and, secondly, because it is gloriously green. Even the weediest, mossiest of lawns glint in the low sunshine like emeralds on a billiard table: just imagine how depressing life would be if grass was an herbaceous perennial which died back in winter? Our fields, bowling greens, roadside verges, football pitches and lawns would be brown and muddy and that would tip all of us into the camp of the misery guts.

In order to ensure that you have a healthy green lawn throughout the winter there are just a couple of steps you should take:

1. If your lawn is very wet or frosty, try hard not to walk on it too much. If you do then you run the risk of compacting the soil and thus preventing air from getting to the roots of the grass. This creates a perfect growing conditions for moss and such rampant lawn weeds as creeping buttercup or bugle. There is a slight problem with advice like this as children need to be exercised, footballs need to be kicked and, most importantly, if there is snow then snowmen must be built.

No lawn is so important that such activities should be banned. No matter what happens it will, I promise, recover and be repairable in the spring but if can minimise traffic now it will save you headaches later.

2. If it is relatively dry and frost free (generally towards the end of winter) you can do a bit of scarifying – vigorously raking the surface to get rid of any build up of thatch (dead grass) – and aerating – spiking the lawn to relieve the compaction mentioned above. If you have anything more than a teensy weeny postage stamp of a lawn then it may be worth renting a mechanical scarifier and aerator as to do it by hand is seriously hard work. And quite boring.

However, if you feel like treating yourself (and it is winter and we should use any excuse for a treat), you could get the new Allett Kensington Petrol mower which has a variety of ingenious cartridges – one for scarifying, one for dethatching, one for aerating. Plus it has a nice heavy roller but its beefy engine makes it surprisingly easy to handle.

3. On the subject of machinery, this is the perfect time to get your mowers and strimmers serviced. I have a horrible tendency to forget this until forcibly reminded by the necessity to mow the grass. Book them all in now for oil changes, blade sharpenings and general lubrication and greasing. It is very annoying if your mower breaks in June and takes three weeks to fix by which time you are living with a shaggy savannah instead of a tonsured and tidied sward.

4. Rake off any leftover leaves that may have gathered in a corner of the lawn. You can either pick them all up and put them in the compost or, if you are a lazy gardener (or one with better things to do with their time,) just rake them onto the flower borders where they will quietly rot down and become worm food.