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  Lawns - Including how to shape your lawn, how to prepare a new lawn and leveling

introduction to lawns An Introduction to lawns.

Lawns come in many different shapes and sizes, from formal lawns through to rough grassland in an orchard. There are many functions, whether somewhere to relax, a foil for your plants, or a play area for the children.
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When choosing the type of grass to use, all functions of the garden need to be taken into consideration. If you have a family garden, therefore a lot of wear and tear, then you need a grass which is hard wearing and plants like chamomile, for example, would not be suitable. Finer grasses can be used for a formal garden.

Lawns may struggle in heavily shaded areas. Moss may take over in shaded, damp areas. Special seed mixtures are available for shaded areas. Removing or reducing the object casting the shade may be a possibility.
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Grass is the normal choice for lawns as it is hard wearing and attractive all year round. It can be cut regularly to a low height as the growth comes from the base of the plant.

The quality of the grass used is dependant on the climate and uses of the garden. Formal lawns, which are mainly ornamental, can use a higher quality seed, bearing in mind that to create a perfect, even lawn takes a lot of maintenance.

In colder climates a mixture of fine leaved grasses can be used. An ideal mix is Chewing's fescue (Festuca rubra var. commutata), creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra var. rubra), highland bent (Agrostis castellana) and Browntop bent (Agrostis tenuis). For warmer climates cultivars of Bermuda grass are excellent.

For utility lawns grasses need to be hard wearing and poorer quality seed or turf can be used. There is a lower level of maintenance for this type of lawn. In colder areas perennial rye grass is mixed with red fescue (Festuca rubra var. rubra) or something similar. In warmer areas use Bermuda grasses or St. Augustine grass. Carpet grass (Axonopus) is ideal for low maintenance, having a more coarse leaf but requiring less frequent mowing.

When you are planning your garden, if you are going to have an area as a wild garden, or you have an orchard, long and wild grasses can be used. These are also suitable on sloping areas, or alongside a stream or pond, where it is difficult to use tour lawn mower. Bulbous plants like daffodils look superb mixed in with the wild grasses.
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Shaping your lawn

The lawn is often the largest area of any garden therefore time should be spent when planning your garden as to the shape and position of your lawn, talking climate and the uses of your garden into consideration.

The shape of the lawn can be just about anything you want. Are you planning your flower beds around the shape of the lawn or using it to bring together existing features? Do you have a large garden where a geometric lawn bordered by paths would be suitable, or a small family garden, where a small circle is all you have room for?

Curved, irregular designs can be used to link different areas and levels of your garden. They can be used to lead your eye to a focal point such as a pond, or attract your eye away from a less pleasing feature, such as the garden shed or compost heap.

Narrow paths of lawn are difficult to maintain as the wear and tear of normal traffic can crumble the edges and the grass will struggle to survive. They are also difficult to mow. If you have an area of lawn which seems to be used as a shortcut by the family then it may be preferable to lay a proper path or use stepping stones in this area.

Edging the lawn with bricks or paving makes maintenance easier when it comes to mowing as the shape is clearly defined. Trailing and bedding plants can be used to soften the edges of a border whilst still allowing the grass to growth underneath.

If you have a fence or hedge that the lawn goes up to then it is a good idea to leave a strip of soil about 18cm (1ft) between the lawn and the fence so that you can easily mow the edges.
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How to Prepare a New Lawn

The key to establishing a new lawn is in the preparation of the site. The time spent at the beginning can prevent the need to alleviate costly problems at a later stage.

Clear the site completely. Remove tree stumps and roots and all rubble including large stones. Any existing grass which cannot be renovated should be removed at this stage.

Remove perennial weeds such as couch grass, dandelions and nettles, ensuring the entire root is removed. Alternatively, before cultivation of the soil, spray with a systemic weed killer. Rake away dead leaves. Using a weed killer initially will also reduce the chances of weed grasses. Also remove annual weeds.

The best topsoil for a lawn is a well drained, sandy loam. The sub-soil should be free draining. In wet conditions drainage should be improved. Soil that drains too freely, often due to a high sand content, can be improved with organic matter.

Dig or rotavate the whole area. Any large stones brought to the surface should be removed. Produce a fine tilth by raking the soil. This improves soil structure and makes leveling easier.

Most grasses grow at a pH level of 5.5-7.0. Increase alkalinity by digging in lime.
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Lawn Leveling

Minor variations in the level of your garden can easily be altered by dragging topsoil from one area to another, firming occasionally. The ground does not need to be perfectly level, but bumps and hollows will cause problems when it is time to mow your lawn.

To achieve an accurate level for a formal lawn a more accurate method is needed.
  1. Create a straight edge using two pegs and string to form a taut line, or use a path or patio.
  2. Mark a number of pegs the same distance from the top.
  3. Working from the straight edge, knock pegs into the ground at equal intervals, lining up the marks at the required level of the lawn. Line the marks up 2cm (3/4 inch) below the required level when using turf.
  4. Add further rows until the site is covered.
  5. Use a spirit level to check the pegs are at the same height.
  6. Adjust the soil level to the marks on the pegs.
If the site needs extensive leveling remove the topsoil, dig over the subsoil then rake and level. Firm this down then add an even layer of topsoil, preferably 20-30cm (8-12 inches) deep. Continue with the method outlined above.

After the soil is level the final surface can be prepared for your lawn.

Tread evenly over the soil to ensure there are no areas which may later sink. This may need to be done several times, but do not over compress the soil. Do this when the soil is dry, when wet the soil becomes too compacted.

Thoroughly rake the surface to a fine tilth. Soil should be level with no bumps or hollows. If you are intending to sow grass seed then all stones over 1cm (1/2 inch) should be removed. For turf remove any stones over 1.5cm (1 inch).

Allow the site to settle for 3-4 weeks, using a hoe to eradicate any annual weeds that may appear.

Once the site is ready, apply fertilizer a few days before establishing the lawn. Use a fertilizer which contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Apply according to the instructions on the packaging.
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