With a flat patch of land in front, it was obvious for me to plan a nice green stretch of lawn there. Images floated around in my thoughts, with me relaxing on the green-green grass on a nice sunny day, with a bottle of beer, some soft music in the background, and a book in my hand! The clouds floating around in the sky and an occasional wisp of the cool mountain breeze.
I started working on my lawn and this is how I did it. (The Basics)
The land was quite barren with lots of rocks and very hard soil to start with. The thought of a green lawn was pleasant but the reality in front of me was quite daunting. Anyway, I had to do it. So, first came the task of picking up all the rocks and gathering them in a corner. This was repeated again and again, with smaller and smaller rocks every time. Somehow, these seemed to appear out of nowhere even when I had prepared the surface. This was hard work but the soil was starting to look promising.
Next, I added some manure and planted some green peas. Green peas are nice and they also make the soil even more fertile. My primary interest was in rejuvenating the soil but I did enjoy eating all those peas too. Once the peas were harvested, I just turned the soil over and let the pea-plants turn to organic matter.
All this time, I was roaming around the region every day, and every day I collected the seeds from local grasses. These were all cold-season grasses and seemed to grow effortlessly everywhere.
A few days before the next rainy season, I scattered all these seeds in a freshly raked land. I had pulled out all the weeds just a couple of days earlier. (Initially, about a year back, I had tried starting a small lawn with chemically treated commercially available seeds but somehow my mind was not at ease and the lawn didn’t survive for long.) With these locally collected grass seeds, I was more at peace.
It started raining as predicted and in about a month, I had a lush green cover on the ground. Most of the seeds had sprouted.
Getting the lawn started was easy. The difficult part is maintaining it.
Mowing the Lawn –
Mowing the lawn is important. It has to be done regularly. Experts say that with every 33% increase in height of the grass, mowing is required. I don’t do it so often or so meticulously, but still, I feel that I do it very frequently. Maybe because mowing is hard work!
Chilled beer is required for mowing. It makes the lawn lush green. The ideal way to use it is by pouring into a large beer mug and drinking it after completing the mowing. Trust me, anticipation for a chilled beer after mowing the lawn makes one put all the effort into making a beautiful lawn.
The lawn mower has to have really sharp blades. For my lawn, I sharpen the blades before every mowing. Sharp blades neatly cut the grass whereas blunt blades damage the grass leaves. It takes just a couple of minutes. In fact, a flat-file for sharpening my lawn mower blades, is one of the best investments towards maintaining my lawn.
The grass should be mowed high. This is my lawn for relaxing around and not a putting green. So, high works fine! I mow at around 5 cm. That’s the highest my lawn-mower goes. My next lawn mower will have the option to mow even higher.
For those professional looking lines on the lawn, that are so frequently seen on golf courses, push the lawn mower in the same direction every time.
The best time to do it is when the soil and leaves are dry. I prefer mowing the lawn when the sun is high up. During rainy season, sometimes I have to mow the lawn twice a week. During winters, I don’t mow the lawn for a few months.
Which lawn mower works the best? The one that you are willing to use every time. I use a rotary lawnmower powered by electricity. Earlier I used to use a manual ribbon lawn-mower but it could cut only to a height of about 3 cm. That was too little for me. My dream is to have a ride-on lawnmower with a beer bottle holder (though I have a tiny lawn on two different levels, but then what’s the harm in dreaming?) Experts rave about mulching lawn-mowers that chop down the cut grass and add it back to the lawn. I have never tried them.
(A closer look at my lawn. Are those weeds among the grass blades? Yes! More about these later on.)
What Not to Mow –
I also leave a small patch untouched. The grass here grows tall and provides me seeds for repairing any bald patches.
How about creating a neat margin of your lawn? Leave about one-foot wide belt of ‘unmowed grass’ all around the lawn. This demarcation increases the visual impact of the lawn.
This ‘wild’ part of my lawn has a mix of tall grass that is seeding, clovers with lots of flowers, and some mix of dandelions and various weeds. It is a heaven for bees and ladybirds. Various butterflies flutter around, making relaxing in the lawn worthwhile.
Seeds from dutch clover and dandelions do fall on my lawn too, but who minds them? More about it later on.
If you have a lawn like mine, take care not to mow the lovely insects. Sometimes tiny flowers blossom in the lawn. Even dutch clover flowers open up at close to ground levels. Below the mowing height! These are magnets for bees, butterflies, and various insects. Take care not to mow these little creatures along with your grass. I take the help of someone who is as nature crazy as me to shoo away these insects using a broom in front of the lawnmower, while I cut the grass. (Actually, the best time to cut grass coincides when these are also the most active collecting nectar).
Hey, another thing. How to save the grass seeds! Once the seeds start to turn yellow-brown, cut the grass-earring, dry it in the sun, and store it in a dry container (but not air-tight). Keep the container in a dry and well-ventilated place. Use these seeds in the next rainy season. I make slits in the soil and bury the complete grass-earring as it is. Since these are not chemically treated, the seeds are prone to fungus and getting spoilt soon. So, for the next season, collect the new seeds before the next rains.
(Grass going to Seeds! This is something important to ensure a constant supply of good seeds for lawn repairs)
Fertilizing the Lawn –
Green green grass requires a lot of food. Twice a year, I fertilize my lawn using fine compost made from kitchen waste, grass clippings, dry leaves. One problem with fertilizing the lawn is that the trees planted next to the lawn tend to grow fast and give out lots and lots of leaves. This may be good or bad depending on what trees are growing around your lawn.
Another thing that I have done is to add some White-Dutch Clover seeds to my lawn. Initially, I was too concerned with my lawn showing only pointed green-green grass but now my lawn has a mix of these. In fact, this was a standard practice many decades back, before the chemical factories took over the marketing and made every lawn owner believe that these were weeds and had to be removed. 2,4-D is the famous chemical that has turned lawns all over the world into chemical storehouses, harmful to both insects and humans.
Me? I am happy with clover growing around with the grass.
(Ladybird – One of the best friends, a gardener can have !)
Lawn Care –
A few other activities also make up my lawn care routine.
Watering the lawn in the dry season is important. Less frequent but deep watering is what I recommend. At least 3cm of water every week, helps my lawn during the dry season.
Removing the thatch is supposed to help but I am still to see so much of thatch built-up that I have to do this. Birds in my locality also help me with this. Russet Sparrows, Jays, Thrushes, and various others are busy pulling out the thatch every day to build their nests.
I do remove weeds manually. Pulling them out is easy, especially when the soil is moist. I still leave a few dandelions here and there. They do look pretty and break the monotony of green grass, though, I collect the flowers before they have had time to seed. 2,4-D is a big no. It kills the beneficial clover too, weakens the grass to some extent, and is said to even harm the bees and ladybirds.
What do I do when my lawn is overpowered by dandelions? I consider a dandelion salad! It’s easy when you know it. Good for health, tasty, and the lawn is taken care of. If you are interested, write to me, I’ll share my favorite dandelion salad recipe.
Rollers? I am totally against rollers. That heavyweight compacts the soil in the garb of flattening the bumps. Instead, if there’s a depression, week by week fill it with a mix of sand and fine soil. Experts call it top-dressing.
Aeration is good for the lawn. If you have nothing, then get a rake and try imitating Jackie Chan while you pierce the lawn surface with it. It’s fun once you grasp it. Just don’t overdo it (both acting and aeration).
(Mynah strolls around on the lawn, picking away some of the insects. Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, Oriental Turtle Doves, Blue Whistling Thrushes, and Black-headed Jays love to stroll in our lawn)
Pest / Insect Control –
The biggest problem my lawn faced initially was with grubs. These are C-shaped larvae in the soil that feed on roots. To fight them, chemicals are available. Some of them are quite safe too, or at least, that’s what the company says. I have moved on to spraying neem-oil mixed with detergent and water. This seems to be helping my lawn nowadays. The patches that are completely dead – I turn the soil over, a few of the grubs are eaten away by birds and then I spray the neem-oil and plant new seeds.
Ladybirds love clovers and they take care of small insects.
Birds love to hop around on the lawn and they too reduce the insect load. And for the birder in me, it’s fun to watch them hopping around.
What not to plant around your Lawn –
It actually doesn’t matter much. Just plant whatever looks good to you but keep these two things in mind-
Think of how your plants and trees will grow. A lawn needs lots of sunshine. There are shade grasses available in the market but the ones I collected from the wild were all growing in sunny spots and so I like to keep my lawn sunny. There are no tall evergreen trees on its south. That’s where the sun goes during winters when my lawn needs the sun most.
Second point – Avoid planting allelopathic plants / trees. Yes, it took me some time to learn that word. Though the grass is tough, various other supportive plants are not. So, be careful. Plant your bottle-brush tree at some distance away from the lawn. It kills the dutch clover and many other weeds. It’s bad for some varieties of grass too.
Nothing much to write here. Just go by what the weather and the grass tell you.
In early spring, fertilize the lawn. Don’t be too hasty about it though. Do it when it is time for the grass to grow. Too early, and you may end up with more weeds than grass. Though that is also not a bad thing.
In summers, deep water your lawn.
In rains, keep the height of grass under control.
In early autumn, fertilize again if your grass says so. Yes, you have to learn to understand what the grass says. Let some of the dry leaves (carried to the lawn by the autumn wind) lying around. They will finally end up nourishing the lawn.
Winters? Just keep off the lawn. Especially during frost. The grass can get badly damaged if you walk on the frosted lawn. Also, if you use wood to heat up your home during winters, spread the fine ash on your lawn. Even if it has snowed, spread the ash over. It will give nutrients to your lawn.
A green-green lawn, a dream that I am enjoying.
Now that my lawn is ready and green, I enjoy it. I hate the lawns where the boards read ‘keep off’. yes, too much of foot-fall damages the grass. However, my place doesn’t have so many people all the time and so I don’t have any such boards.
What fun is a green lawn, if the kids can’t roll on it and if I can’t have a nap with my face covered by a hat?
For me a healthy lawn is one that is nice and green, with clover running around at places and a couple of dandelions enjoying the sun!
Here’s one last tip – If you want to photograph your lawn, do so after two days of mowing and watering in summers, and just one day after mowing during rainy season. It takes a day or two for the grass to come out of ‘mowing stress’ and look beautiful.
The images in this article are from the lawn I have been maintaining in front of our homestay – Maini’s Hill Cottages.
Lots of information came flowing my way through Mr. Aashish Vaishnava, someone who helped me understand lawns. Do check out his company – A V Golf Design
IMPORTANT – If you are inspired for a healthy lawn, go ahead with it but if and only if you stay in a region that gets ample amount of rainfall. Don’t grow a lawn if you are going to depend on irrigation. That is wasteful. Grow a patch of wild-flowers instead then and opt for rewilding.