Whilst scarifying a mossy lawn recently, after a few passes and a good rake, these curious patterns were revealed in the grass:
Looking a little more closely you can see that the grass is bent over one way on one stripe, and the opposite way on the other stripe:
This effect was not caused by the process of scarifying, or by raking the moss out, but by the years of mowing the grass in the same direction every time.
This lawn was a nice rectangle and the owner had a gardening crew come in and cut his lawn once a week. This crew obviously followed the same routine each time, starting at the same point and going in the same direction with the same mower week in, week out. As a result of this routine, the grass tended to bend over in the direction of mowing and ended up growing along the ground, rather than upwards and spreading.
The result is long, thin grass which has trouble thickening, and hence encourages moss ingress.
The advantage of mowing in different directions each time
If you mow your lawn in a different direction each week, it will prevent this “bending over” of the grass blades, leading to a thicker, and healthier lawn.
If you find that your grass is starting to bend over and grow stalks horizontally, the easiest way to fix this is run a light rake over the lawn before mowing. This will help the grass to stand up, bringing about a much cleaner cut of the grass, helping it the fill the gaps more readily. You will find that the lawn will quickly look thicker and much tidier.
Lawnscience (South Manchester) Ltd
Even if you consider yourself a big fan of gardening, it’s possible you haven’t put all that much thought into grass. Grass is what you put between the more interesting plants to avoid your garden looking too much like a car park. However there are actually many different grass species, even if most of them take the form of something short, green and pointy at the end. Knowing the different species of grass and what circumstances they thrive under can be the difference between having the sort of lush carpet of greenery you dream of your lawn becoming and something far less appealing.
So while you may think of most grass species as interchangeable, when you’re planning a garden from scratch or even thinking about replanting your lawn after it’s been damaged by the elements, it’s worth taking the time to get to know the different types of grass species you could seed the lawn with and the functions and needs of each breed.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common species of grass you’re likely to find on a British lawn.
Dwarf ryegrass is also known as Turf Ryegrass, or Lolium perenne. It’s a strain of perennial rygrass specifically bred for a shorter growth period and its ability to produce more tillers (the stem of the grass shoots), resulting in a thicker lawn. You may recognise this species by the purple or reddish colouration at the base of the plant. Over the last thirty years this species has become one of the most popular breeds of grass around for lawns, particularly because it establishes itself so quickly. It prefers moist soils and doesn’t get on at all well with the shade.
Known by the Latin name Festuca Rubra, Red Fescue is a cool-season grass that’s great for the difficult to maintain shaded areas. You’ll often find this at campsites, resorts and anywhere in the shade of a mountain.
It’s popular because it’s low maintenance. It needs very little in the way of fertiliser, irrigation or lawn mowing. While it does well in dry, shady environments, it’s not great in very hot climates. Many like to pair it up with smooth-stalked meadow grass to get a good covering in both shaded and sunned areas. It’s not as wear resistant as some grasses and can take some time to germinate.
You can identify by its extremely fine blades and deep green colour. It comes in two varieties, Chewing Fescue, which is a bunchgrass that has an upright growth habit, and Creeping Red Fescue, which as you can imagine, spreads very slowly with short root patterns.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue
Slender Creeping Red Fescue or Festuca Rubra Litoralis, to give it its scientific name, is naturally a more slender relative of creeping red fescue and is a common species to find in most lawn mixes. Gardeners like it for the fine balance it strikes between looking appealing and withstanding harsh weather and environmental conditions. It will always work best in well drained soil, doing well in drought conditions but perhaps not ideally suited to more moist soils. However, you should still be sure to water it at least once or twice a week.
Creeping red fescue does well in shaded conditions, so is perfect for tree-lined areas or spots that don’t get a great deal in the way of sun. It’s also a species that takes hold quickly once it’s planted, so it’s a good breed for when you’re starting up a new lawn.
This species is known by many names. In Latin it is Agrostis Capillaris L. Gardeners known it as common bent-grass, colonial bent, brown bent, fine bent and even highland bent. It’s well known for being rhizomatous (having a lot of roots) and perennial (it lives longer than two years) and is widely distributed across the UK, doing well in terrains as diverse as damp soils, meadows, acidic grassland, rough ground and pastures. It can thrive even in nutrient poor soil and is commonly found in upland pastures.
This species is a real survivor. It is able to thrive under a vast array of conditions and germinates in both the spring and the autumn. This is why common bent is also one of the more common wild grasses, as likely to be found out in the Lake District as in anybody’s back garden.
Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass
Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass has the Latin name Poa Pratensis. In the States it’s known as the far more folksy sounding Kentucky Bluegrass. It produces a hardwearing turf notable for its dark green leaf. You’ll notice it’s a little bit broader than other, more slender breeds of grass, and benefits from an extensive root system that makes it a great survivor of droughts and damage.
This species also attracts a wide array of wildlife. This is great if you want your garden to be as much a home for nature as somewhere to relax with a tall G’n’T and a good book. Smooth-stalked meadow grass is a dinner invitation to caterpillars of the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, and well as the Common Sun Beetle.
Annual Meadow Grass
Known by the Latin name Poa Anua, annual meadow grass is a staple of golf and bowling greens throughout Great Britain. It’s not often using in seed mixtures but it’s a favourite for cultivated turf and often finds its way onto other lawns as a contaminant.
It tends to avoid acidic soil and soil that is low in phosphate, and can be particularly sensitive to drought. This is why it tends to be more common on those lawns that are regularly seen to. However, it can flower throughout the year, meaning its seeds are commonly spread simply by attaching themselves to the undersides of people’s shoes and tire treads.
To work out which seeds best fit your garden take a look at the landscape, where the sun falls, how much moisture your lawn will be getting, and even which seeds are likely to be coming in from nearby lawns and grassy areas. Whatever your circumstances, there’s bound to be a breed that’ll suit you.
This guest post was written by Mark Bartram, who is the managing director of Lawnmower’s Direct.
This week I was called to a lawn which had been infested with a fantastic specimen of Dog lichen (peltigera sp.), so in this post I will take a closer look at this fascinating, almost alien-looking species which finds its way onto very neglected lawns.
Black slime on my lawn?
Dog lichen is an extremely curious-looking organism, and very noticeable if a patch manages to find its way onto a lawn. It can find its way onto lawns across the whole of the UK, and the rest of the world.
It looks like a series of grey or black “scales” which spread over the lawn. These scales (called a thallus) have a white underside and can grow to about 3cm across. They swell during wet weather, storing water, and dry out to a thin paper-like thickness in dry conditions.
So what is dog lichen?
It is not a weed, but a lichenised fungi. This means that it is actually two organisms living in symbiosis with each other, and fungus and an algaea covering the fungus. In the case of dog lichen, the algae supplies the fungus with food and the fungus provides the algae somewhere to live and a ready supply of water.
The presence of Dog lichen on a lawn is a sign that the soil is in a very poor state, for it thrives on nutrient-poor soils which are badly drained, compacted and often shaded. It is usually accompanied by a large amount of moss infestation, as mosses thrive in similar conditions.
How does dog lichen get on my lawn?
Dog lichen reproduces like a fungus, releasing microscopic spores into the atmosphere which can travel for many miles on the wind. Once they land on a suitable piece of poorly-maintained lawn, if their species of symbiotic bacteria is present, then the lichen will begin to grow.
How do I control dog lichen on my lawn?
Dog lichen is a result of poor growing conditions for grass. As it is not a weed, there are no chemical weed killers which will control it. However, it is not very tolerant to changes in growing conditions, so simply improving the soil will have a dramatic affect and discourage the lichen from growing and spreading.
To improve the soil, aerate the lawn well. This will allow air to penetrate down into the soil and improve the drainage, kick-starting the bacteria growth again. Then brush in a high-quality top-dressing, improving the quality and structure of the underlying soil. A good feed will also benefit the grass, helping it to strengthen and re-populate the affected area.
Lawnscience (South Manchester) Ltd
RHS Website: Algae, lichens and liverworts on lawns