Your lawn guide

Do lawns have a place in home gardens?
The latest research shows that lawns - rather than being profligate water wasters that should be minimised or eliminated; are now being hailed as suburban lifesavers.  This research says that irrigated lawns and gardens are the single most effective means of mitigating the urban heat island effect, which is and will, kill West Australians in their homes.  So my answer is hell yes!

My next question is how can we grow a sustainable green envelope for our homes and communities that use resources efficiently and still delivers 24 hour cooling, particularly during our terrifically hot summers.

Unless you have a bore, which allows you to water 3 times a week you are restricted to two watering days a week through Summer and into Autumn.  Unless you have good levels of soil carbon under your lawn it will struggle to stay green and healthy on two drinks; regardless of which of the summer dominant lawn varieties you have, be it Buffalo, Kikuyu, Couch or Zoysia. Make sure that every watering event delivers a minimum of 10mls equivalent water to your grass.  You can measure this with catch cups placed around your lawn under the throw of your sprinklers. 

How can you add carbon to your lawn?
Before planting add a 20mm layer of Soil Improver to the soil and lightly incorporate into the top 20 to 50mm of soil.  Then plant your runners into this or lay turf on top.  For existing lawns aim to top dress with Soil Improver or Lawn Reviver at recommended rates, three times a year.  Soil carbon acts as a water and nutrient reservoir and creates a home for soil life, an unimaginably enormous bank of helpful organisms, which we now know, do the heavy lifting in assisting plants to prosper.  Another way of adding back carbon is to use a mulching mower, which chops the clipping up into a fine powder and pushes it back into the leaves and stems of the lawn. This returns nitrogen to feed the grass.  

Avoid using high nitrogen synthetic fertilisers and instead apply hybrid fertilisers that combine nitrogen with humus or carbon as these add to the carbon in the soil rather than destroying it. Examples include Baileys Energy Turf as well as the new Soil Matters Garden Complete Soil and Plant Food.

Controlling insect pests, weeds and diseases
I am trying my hardest to avoid using any biocides - chemicals that kill fungi, insects and weeds, because all of these products kill soil life and in doing so, make it so much more difficult to grow great lawn.  I hope you might be persuaded to follow this path.  I do have to warn you, this is no easy trail.  My experiences tell me that alternative treatments can be more expensive and more labour intensive than the quick but deadly chemical fix.  One example is my quest to control Bindii or Jo-Jo, that prickly weed that turns a lawn into a summer no go zone for barefoot kids. Another challenge is flat weed which produces yellow daisy flowers followed by a sphere of seeds each equipped with a tiny sail to carry the weed to the next germination spot.  To stop the prickles I mow the lawn every week of the year.  In early summer I alternate between the lowest setting and the next lowest so as to cut deep into the weed stems and flower heads.  This mowing regime does nothing to the flat weed so here I need to use a mechanical aid such as The Fiskars Xact Weed Puller to wrench each one out of the grass. Yes individually!

What is the best way to dethatch your lawn?
My rather cheeky answer is not to allow thatch to build up in the first place. Thatch consists of a layer of dead clippings and rotting stems that builds up a spongy layer above the soil.  If your lawn has such a layer use your mower at the lowest setting to run over the patch numerous times, from different directions to scalp the grass back to near bare earth.  

How do you keep thatch from building up again?  The key is to keep the soil life very active as this will effectively chew up all the leafy organic material and take this down into the soil where it becomes humus otherwise known as good carbon.  And how do you help the soil life to prosper?  Add beneficial microbes to your lawn.