Lawn Care: Tips to success & how to grow successfully
Looking to take your lawn care game up a notch? Check out our latest article for tips on success and how to grow your lawn successfully!

Lawn Care: Tips to success & how to grow successfully

The topic Contours Landscapes will cover today, deals with lawn care and how to succeed with lawn. Lawn care is a long topic and one which is quite detailed. However, once you have the basics and stick with them you should be able to succeed in growing a thick, lush, healthy, disease and pest free lawn. Something fundamental to remember is that lawn is treated differently in different parts of our country. That is winter rainfall (Western Cape), warm summer rainfall areas (Natal and surrounds) and colder summer rainfall areas like Johannesburg. Also, the treatment of lawns varies according to the time of the year. To clarify, Summer is from December through to February. Autumn is from March through to May. Winter is from June through to August, and Spring is from September through to October.

This blog will first summarise what to do with your lawn throughout the year. Further, we will go into detail regarding specific lawn care topics. 

In addition to this blog, we also wrote another blog about the different grass types in South Africa. In the blog, we also give expert advice on lawn planting. 

For detail on Lawn Care specific to Sports Fields, you can visit our page on Sports Fields.

LAWN CARE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

LAWN CARE: WATERING & MOWING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS

Let us discuss a Lawn Care strategy specific to this weather. It will be hot and wet, as rain will be regular. You can cut down on watering and only water when the grass is dry. When dry, the colour will be dull and blue-green. If you walk on the grass, it fails to spring back, and footprints will still be visible after 2 minutes. 

Always water in the morning to ensure the grass is dry at night. It will prevent pests & diseases. Grass will grow and get long, but don’t set the lawnmower blade too low immediately. Instead, reduce height over three weeks.  If you cut too low immediately, you will land up with brown and then white patches and dry grass, known as ‘patching’ or ‘scorching’. Cutting the grass too low will expose the roots to sun and heat. The roots will dry out quickly since the short grass blades can’t provide shade.  The longer lawn requires less watering. Longer leaf blades store more energy for grass to grow better. In conclusion, the best practice for Lawn Care in Summer rainfall areas is to cut the lawn regularly. Avoid having a mower blade setting that is too low.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS

In winter rainfall areas, the weather will just be straightforward hot. It might rain occasionally. If there is little rain, ensure that the grass is watered efficiently. However, remember that efficient watering means deep watering once or twice a week and not daily shallow watering. Please note that for the same reasons mentioned above, you must not cut your lawn too low in winter rainfall regions. Grass will be struggling at this time of the year because of a lack of water. Longer grass blades will be beneficial.

SUMMER LAWN CARE: FERTILISING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS

Because grass is actively growing, an essential part of Lawn Care is fertilising. You should fertilise to sustain growth and keep the grass a lush green. The recommended lawn fertiliser for this time of the year is Talborne Vita Nitro boost 8:1:1. It has a high Nitrogen level. However, if you cannot find it, then 7:1:3 SR is also a great product. It is, however, not organic. Try and feed before heavy rain. Otherwise, you must water heavily to dissolve the lawn fertiliser. Some people also recommend LAN for greening. Remember that you must water heavily for a week after use, as LAN has a high burning potential.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS

At this time of the year in winter rainfall areas, you should not use a fertiliser too high in Nitrogen as the grass will be very stressed and dry. Instead, use a fertiliser high in potassium to encourage general health and disease resistance. An excellent product to use is Talborne Vita green 5:1:5, which is organic. Just remember, though, that any fertilising will require very good watering.

SUMMER LAWN CARE: WEEDING, PESTS & DISEASES

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS

Treating weeds in summer can be challenging as rain will wash away herbicides. Instead, focus on ensuring the lawn is as healthy and thick as possible. Consequently, the lawn will naturally suffocate weeds and not allow for weed growth. 

Only use selective broadleaf killers on finer leaved grasses. We don’t condone the overuse of herbicides. Research has shown that herbicides are harmful and toxic.

In summer, pests and diseases become more prevalent, especially in summer rainfall areas. Look out for pests like lawn caterpillars, mole crickets and Parktown prawns (Johannesburg). Further, look out for diseases like dollar spot and brown patch. Further down in this blog, you will find more info on these pests and diseases.  

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS

Because summer is the non-rainy period in winter rainfall areas, it will be the best time to apply selective broadleaf herbicide if needed. Most importantly, to prevent harming the grass, apply herbicide in the morning while it is still cool. Never at the hottest time of the day! Also, don’t use herbicide when it is windy. The wind will blow the herbicide onto the surrounding plants in beds and damage or kill these plants. 

SPRING LAWN CARE

AUTUMN LAWN CARE: WATERING & MOWING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

In summer rainfall regions, the weather will start becoming cooler. Rain will fall less frequently. You will now most likely have to water your grass more frequently. If you did slightly lower your lawnmower blade in summer, you could now set it slightly higher. The general rule with lawn is to never cut more than 1/3 of leaf blades at a time.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

In winter rainfall regions, you might start experiencing some rains, although it is not the rainy season yet. The rainy season is said to begin between May and June. If you are beginning to experience some rainfall, then cut down on watering. If there is little rain, ensure that the grass is watered efficiently. However, remember that efficient watering means deep watering once or twice a week and not daily shallow watering. Once you get enough rain, you can start to lower your lawnmower blade but remember not to go too low. 

AUTUMN LAWN CARE: FERTILISING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

For Autumn, I would recommend using a high potassium fertiliser like Talborne Vita green 5:1:5. Potassium helps grass withstand stress, drought and disease. Moreover, it increases cold-weather tolerance. Remember in colder summer rainfall regions; this will be particularly important.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS: 

After a hot dry summer, you may have the problem of having some thatching and dead grass. If it is severe, you can do scarification and aerate. (We discuss these processes further down in this blog and in our other grass blog). Light lawn dressing application and adding superphosphate to encourage root growth, will result in the grass filling up all the bare patches again. If you have large dead empty patches, then maybe consider purchasing some plug trays of grass and planting new grass. See part 2 of this blog for tips on planting grass. 

 Use the same fertiliser as you would have for summer rainfall areas Talborne Vita green 5:1:5 in preparation for cooler weather. This fertiliser also contains a fair amount of Nitrogen, helping with growth.

AUTUMN LAWN CARE: WEEDING, PESTS & DISEASES

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS: 

As your rainy period starts to finish, you can consider herbicide application if necessary. Follow the rules above for application. Weeds thrive in acidic soil. You will find it difficult to control weeds if the problem is due to soil PH. If you suspect this may be the case, take a soil sample to a laboratory that does soil PH testing. Should you have acidic soil then applications of agricultural lime can do the trick to solve your uncontrollable weed problem.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS: 

If you have a weed problem, maybe consider spraying now before the rainy season hits, as spraying can be difficult when heavy rains fall. In winter rainfall regions a very serious weed is winter grass (Poa annua). It is particularly prevalent in damp shady areas. The best time to spray a pre-emergent herbicide like Kerb, for example, is in May, before the weed seeds germinate. Kerb is a pre-emergent seed inhibiting herbicide most appropriate for dealing with this kind of weed. Winter grass can do serious damage to your lawn as it has a web-like, shallow root system which chokes the root system of lawns.

Winter LAWN CARE

winter LAWN CARE: WATERING & MOWING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

In summer rainfall regions the weather will be cold in some areas and cooler in sub-tropical areas, but both these areas will now usually be very dry. This means that you will have to maybe step up watering a bit to keep the lawn going. Remember that grass is not actively growing at this time of the year so do not go crazy with watering. Grass will be slower growing at this time of the year so lawnmower blades can be lifted. Also, longer leaf blades will make for better stress tolerance as leaf blades carry energy for the grass. Only mow when required. In very cold areas a general rule is to not cut the lawn lower than 7centimetres. Due to grass not needing much cutting at this time of the year, this would be a great time to service all lawn mowing equipment.

In cold summer rainfall regions, you may experience frost. Try and stay off the lawn when there is frosty weather as walking on it can encourage moss & algae to form. Frost can cause dead and brown patches. You can overseed these dead patches with lawn seed. Two common examples of this seed are All Seasons evergreen & Shadeover.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS: 

In winter rainfall regions rainy season will have started so not much extra watering is required. Because of the rain, lawns will start rocketing now. You can now lower your lawnmower blade. Be prepared as mowing will have to take place more regularly. Remember not to go on the lowest blade immediately, but gradually lower it over a couple of weeks. If possible avoid going onto the lawn when it is very wet and soft. This will prevent the ground from becoming muddy and rutty. 

If you have figured out that your soil is very compacted and this is causing drainage problems, you can aerate the soil a bit using a garden fork. Grasses that grow via rhizomes and stolons don’t usually require aeration.

WINTER LAWN CARE: FERTILISING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

Due to a drop in temperature and little to no rain, Grass in summer rainfall areas will usually be quite dormant. This means that fertilising is not really necessary at this time of the year unless the grass is struggling. If you would like to fertilise then 5:1:5 would be appropriate as well as something general like a 2:3:2 product. 2:3:2 and superphosphate are actually quite appropriate at this time of the year, as it has high phosphates which strengthen roots. Organic products will also work quite well like Fertilis which is an earthworm castings product.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

Again 5:1:5 can be used as a fertiliser as the potassium generally strengthens the lawn and the Nitrogen will help with vegetative growth and keeping grass green whilst actively growing. You can also use a product like 2:3:2 or superphosphate which has high phosphates and will strengthen roots.

WINTER LAWN CARE: WEEDING, PESTS & DISEASES

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

Herbicides can be applied if necessary as rainfall will be minimal but this is usually not the time of the year for weeds to be actively growing.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

If you haven’t already sprayed in May for winter grass weed, then you need to do so in June, as spraying in July and August doesn’t usually work. Because of the rainfall, weeds will become an issue so stay on top of your weeding game. Moreover, because of rain, applying herbicide can become a bit difficult. Watch the weather report diligently, and if necessary, find a time where there is less rain to do the spraying. Also, keep your lawn as healthy as possible. This will naturally prevent weeds from overtaking.

WINTER LAWN CARE: PREPARING YOUR LAWN FOR SPRING

In August, which is the last month of winter, you should practice an essential lawn care process, which is ‘Spring treatment’. Spring treatment can also take place in September. This practice is required predominantly in summer rainfall regions, but you can also do it in winter rainfall regions. Spring treatment is where one practices scarification (garden rake), aerating (garden fork), and a light lawn dressing application as well as adding some superphosphate or 2:3:2 to encourage roots. This is to prepare lawns for spring and summer. The practice must only take place on runner type grasses, like Kikuyu, buffalo and tougher cynodon’s, not tuft forming grasses like All Seasons evergreen and shade over. Before ‘Spring treatment’ takes place make sure to mow the lawn short (not too short) as well as if weeds are really bad, treat with herbicide and wait for weeds to die first (a week or so), remove and then ‘spring treatment’ can take place.

SPRING LAWN CARE

SPRING LAWN CARE: WATERING & MOWING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

In summer rainfall regions, the rainy season wouldn’t have started yet, as it usually starts towards the end of November. You could, however, start experiencing some rains. This means you will have to do some watering but remember to train your grass to be water-wise by watering less often but deeply. Training your lawn to be more water-wise is a good practice in preparation for spring and, in particular, summer. Remember to water in the morning in sub-tropical areas to prevent fungal diseases. At this time, do not cut the lawn too low as temperatures are rising, and you don’t want your roots exposed to heat. The general rule is to not cut more than 1/3 of leaf blades at a time. 

If your lawn took too hard a knock due to an extremely dry winter, consider replanting your lawn. You can replant your lawn by sowing seed, (colder regions) or by planting instant lawn or plugs. Make sure you prepare your area correctly before doing this. See part 2 of this blog for some essential lawn planting tips. If you have some dead patches on the lawn, consider just replanting in these specific spots. Plant new grass by cutting up instant lawn sods or planting plugs. Before doing this, you must practice spring treatment if not already done in August (see above and below for instructions). Suppose you have small shallow depressions in the lawn practice lawn dressing. Should there be more prominent and deeper depressions, lift the grass, add soil and superphosphate, and plant the grass again.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

In winter rainfall regions, some rains may still come out of the rainy season, so you don’t need regular watering yet. Towards the end of spring, rain might start dwindling, and you may need to increase your watering again. Remember to practice water-wise watering by watering less often but deeper. As the rains come to an end, your grass will be growing slower. This will require you to lift the lawnmower blade. It will gradually become warmer, and you don’t want to expose the grassroots to heat.

SPRING LAWN CARE: FERTILISING

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS:

The grass will start growing again, so you can feed the lawn with either a 5:1:5 for general strength, 2:3:2 for patchiness (Strengthening roots) or Talborne Vita Nitro boost 8:1:1/ 7:1:3 SR if the grass is growing, but it is a little yellow or not as green as you would like it to be. If your lawn took a knock in winter and is very patchy, then fertilise with 2:3:2.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

After the winter rains, you should have a healthy, full lawn. If this is the case, feed with a general food like 5:1:5, which will help strengthen the grass in preparation for a dry summer.  Since it contains Nitrogen, this lawn fertiliser will also help if the grass is yellowing. If you have drainage problems due to heavy rains, aerate the soil a bit. 

Should you be thinking of replacing some lawn or getting a new lawn area started, Spring is the ideal time of year to do it.

SPRING LAWN CARE: WEEDING, PESTS & DISEASES

SUMMER RAINFALL REGIONS: 

Start looking out for nutsedge grass and spray with a product like Basagran or similar. When the rains start, weeds may become more of a problem. With more rain, fungal diseases can occur, so keep a lookout for this and ensure drainage is correct. If there is a drainage problem, then aerate your soil. Also, remember to look out for lawn caterpillars.

WINTER RAINFALL REGIONS:

Seeds that fell during last summer and autumn have also gathered plenty of water over the rainy season. Their early internal alarm clocks give them a head start. Every kind of shape and structured little (non-grass) leaf pops its head out of your sparse and probably waterlogged lawn and begins to spread through your fragile turf overnight. 

Watch out for termites that can become a problem in spring and summer.


EXPLANATION OF SOME LAWN PROCESSES AND TOPICS

SCARIFICATION

Some types of lawns go dormant in winter and die back, particularly in cold summer rainfall areas. Examples of some are Kikuyu and some Cynodon types. Remove the loose dead grass in early spring to ensure a healthy lawn in summer. If you don’t remove loose dead grass, it tends to settle under new growth, which can cause a spongy layer under new growth and can lead to fungal infections. This process is called scarification and is essential to ‘spring treatment’. You can do scarification by using a plastic or soft metal rake. Be careful not to over scarify in sub-tropical areas.

AERATING OR SPIKING YOUR LAWN

 Aerating is usually a part of ‘spring treatment’. It is using either a hired spike roller or a garden fork to make holes in your lawn area to aerate the soil. The only other time of the year you would do this is if your soil is compacted and therefore not draining correctly etc.

PESTS

  • Lawn caterpillars are usually active between December and January and in summer rainfall areas. The symptom is that they will eat down the lawn to ground level. You can determine if lawn caterpillars are present by placing a black plastic bin bag on the lawn overnight. This should draw the caterpillars to the surface, which will be visible on the lawn when you remove the bag in the morning. You can also use a wet towel for this. Alternatively, if you suspect an infestation, you can mix approximately 5 tablespoons of dishwashing detergent (ammonia based) and pour it over the area you suspect. The caterpillars should show themselves within 10 seconds. Use Margaret Roberts’s caterpillar insecticide to treat this as it contains Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria they will ingest and die. It is entirely environmentally friendly.
  • Mole crickets can also be problematic on lawns. The damage caused is that they eat the grass roots, resulting in bare patches. The best solution is to dilute an insect spray and pour it down the cricket holes. If you have hadedas in your garden, they will eat them and control the problem.
  • Harvester termites are destructive during dry summers, so this can be a problem in winter rainfall regions. Termite foraging usually takes place in the evenings. The symptom is dead patches on the lawn and mounds of soil on the lawn. You can treat a termite infestation by purchasing bait which contains insecticide.

DISEASES

  •  Brown patch is a fungal disease that happens a lot in compacted and poorly drained soils. The symptom is small, discoloured areas of grass growing to form dead patches. The solution is to treat the lawn with a fungicide like copper or other. After this, aerate the soil and add coarse river sand.
  • Dollar spot is a fungal disease which causes small circular areas of straw-coloured, dead grass. Treat as above.
  • Leaf spot is a fungal disease which causes small dead patches on the lawn in warm, humid areas.

Key takeaway

In conclusion, we hope this article has given you the information that you need in order to keep your lawn healthy throughout the year no matter what province you live in and what your conditions are. Part 2 of this blog discusses the different types of grass one gets, helping you to choose the best suitable lawn. Moreover, it contains detail on how to plant grass and how to do overseeding in winter, for colder regions.

The article was written by Jessica Ruger (Horticultural blog writer) on behalf of Contours Landscapes and Contours Design Studio. Ficus picture provided by Trees South Africa.

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