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Give your garden a makeover

We spend a lot of time focussing on keeping our home in tip-top condition, so it makes just as much sense to pay attention to the outdoors - the garden.

 

It's not easy to determine a single problem when areas of your lawn start to go brown or die, but there are ways that you can learn to identify individual problems and the solution required. Quickly appearing and expanding dead spots can be caused by a number of difficult-to-diagnose lawn diseases or pests.

While most lawn problems can be kept at bay by proper annual maintenance, fertilizing and watering, there are additional problems that you may encounter. In this article we focus on friendly ways to keep a garden looking good, so that birds and other creatures

White grubs

Adult chafer beetles lay their eggs in the soil and the resultant grubs hatch and feed on underground plant parts. A large grub popullation can easily destroy the roots of your lawn, leaving the tops to wither and die. Where infestation is severe,  roots are eaten away to the extent where turf can be rolled back like a carpet.

Symptoms: Irregular dead spots caused by beetle larvae feeding on grass roots. Damage is worst in the autumn. Dead turf pulls up easily, like a rug, revealing c-shaped larvae.

Solution: Imidacloprid applied in late spring to early summer is the most effective chemical control.

Proper fertilization and regular watering of the lawn can help to prevent infestation.

Mole crickets

Light brown in colour and up to 4 centimetres long, the adult lays her eggs in the soil in spring and the hatched nymphs feed on the root system of your lawn. If not controlled, the cycle continues and will eventually destroy a lawn.

Symptoms: Brown spots and occasional upturned heaps. When turf is removed, tunnels may be seen in the soil.

Solution: While chemical pesticides are relatively effective, there is a more eco-friendly alternative that comprises dishwashing detergent and water poured into the holes (if you can see them). This needs to be done regularly and, while not a permanent cure, will cut down the population significantly.

Lawn caterpillars

Symptoms: Most active at night, these destructive caterpillars eat the roots and young shoots of lawn, eventually causing it to die off in large, dead patches.

Solution: Check for lawn caterpillars by leaving a damp towel on the grass overnight. In the morning, you should see quite a few caterpillars under the towel. Insecticide is sadly the only option - treat with Margaret Roberts biological caterpillar insecticide, which leaves no harmful toxic residues and does not poison bees, birds or other wildlife.

Brown, dry grass

Symptoms: Where parts of lawn start to dry out and the grass appears to be dead, this could be caused by heavy compacted areas.

Solution: It is essential to perform annual aerating of the lawn. Use a garden fork to 'spike' the entire lawn just before spring. Consider installing stepping stones if this area has regular foot traffic - human or animal !

Circular dead spots

If you own dogs you're probably used to seeing these dead spots in the garden, especially since they are caused by dog or cat urine, particularly female dogs.

Symptoms: Small dead spot usually surrounded by lush, dark green grass. Caused by dogs making a pit stop.

Solutions: Simple but difficult—keep the dogs away. The dead spot will usually recover, especially if you soak it with a hose.

The best practice is to train your pets to use a particular spot for their daily basis, either a sand bed or surfaced area that can be easily cleaned.

Winter grass

Symptoms: Small clumps of grass that appear on bald spots or at lawn edges. Abundant seed heads allow easy dispersion of the grass.

Solution: Manual removal at the first sign is the best solution for eradicating this weed. Remove the weeds before moving to avoid spreading seeds throughout the garden.

Nutsedge

Symptoms: Small clumps of grass that appear on bald spots or at lawn edges. Abundant seed heads allow easy dispersion of the grass. This plant can easily become rampant in any garden.

Solution: Regular mowing will control the plant by reducing the food source, and the tuber will eventually die off. If seed bearing plants are trimmed or mowed, collect all clippings and dispose of in a plastic bag to prevent any accidental spread. Manual removal also assists in preventing spread.

Annual care and maintenance of lawns

When regularly fertilized, watered correctly and maintained properly, a lawn will provide year-round enjoyement. It is necessary, however, to perform certain tasks annually to maintain a good, health growth.

Aerating the soil is important for lush growth and strong root structure, and will assist in a healthy lawn that resists mosts diseases.

Aerating reduces soil compression and increases water holding capacity of the soil but the process also involves scarifying and removing old thatch (dead grass). This way the root system of plants can access oxygen, moisture and minerals from soil, thereby helping in healthy growth of plants. The best time to aerate the lawn when it is cool and dry, in late winter or early spring. You can use an ordinary garden fork to aerate a lawn, or cut down on the time spent by investing in a mechanical aerator that does all the hard work for you!

Mechanical aerators have integral spikes mounted on rollers that provide uniform aeration of lawns.