Get ready to reap the rewards of paying your lawn some attention

Ok, so we may still be a few weeks away from the first cut of the season but with increasing daylight hours and the potential to see a gradual warm up in temperatures, I thought it fitting to provide you with some food for thought for the coming season.

When planning my turf programme, I always look back at the previous year and think how I could improve the health and presentation of the lawns here at Harlow Carr. There are many factors to take into account: mowing frequency, height of cut, choice or fertilizer, timings of major renovation works, lawn aeration and scarifying, which need to fit in around peak visitor periods to minimise both disruption to our visitors and to our programme of works.

With visitor numbers topping 450,000 and the events programme getting busier, the pressure is on to keep the lawns looking their best whilst coping with a high footfall. The biggest problem we face is compaction and on a clay-based site with an annual rainfall of around 32 inches, a lot of work is needed to try to improve soil condition and keep the surface firm. This is primarily de-compaction or soil aeration where a metal tine is mechanically punched vertically downwards into the soil to create a hole or remove a plug of soil through which air, water and nutrients can travel to the roots of the grass plant. The holes naturally close in or grow over or can be back filled with a coarse washed sand to help with drainage. This process is becoming more frequent to improve the top root zone of the soil, providing a drier surface. This technique can be used at home by pushing in a garden fork to its full depth and pulling it back slightly to gently relieve the turf. A light top dressing of sand on a clay soil brushed into the sward or worked in with the back of a rake will offer some degree of surface aeration and help surface drainage. Alternatively, on sandy soils use a loam to help with water retention in those hot summer months. Lawns which receive this treatment will be healthier, more vigorous, easier to maintain and have fewer disease problems.

By creating better growing conditions your grass will grow stronger and make it more difficult for weeds and in particular, moss, to compete. However, in some situations where moss is well established and quite dense, an application of iron sulphate followed by scarifying 7-10 days later may well be necessary. The iron sulphate will blacken the moss, preventing sporulation, and give good green-up of the grass due to increased chlorophyll production.

Once you’ve got to grips with what’s going on below the surface you can start to concentrate on what’s above ground – your lawn. Feeding your lawn as the weather starts to improve, generally late March/early April, with a low nitrogen fertiliser will kick start your lawn’s growth, giving it colour but without putting on lots of top growth. This is a policy that I’d stick to throughout the growing season - too much nitrogen leads to too much soft fleshy top growth, increased chance of disease and the need to mow too frequently. As a general rule of thumb never remove more than a third of the plant’s leaves so if you are cutting to an inch you should ideally be mowing before the height gets to an inch and a half. Ensure blades are sharp; a clean cut will recover far more quickly than a ripped cut, discouraging disease and leaving a healthy plant. By maintaining favourable conditions for plant growth, you can rest assured that your lawn will look its very best.

Jobs for the Week

• Plant bare-root roses when it is dry underfoot. Add well-rotted manure or compost before planting and mulch well after planting

• Trim lawn edges and ensure lawnmower is serviced and ready to go

• Move deciduous trees or shrubs

• Lift and divide snowdrops

• Cut back ornamental grasses before new growth begins

• Cut back Cornus and Salix, grown for their colourful winter stems, down to their bases

• Install new, or clean out old, water butts to be replenished ready for the summer months.

With thanks to Kevin Fowler, Horticulturist at RHS Garden Harlow Carr


1 March – 1 April: Bath House Gallery – Textiles Showcase

Browse and buy beautiful pieces made by talented local textile artists. From felt, applique, embroidery and woollen work, there will be something for everyone. Normal garden admission.

3 March: RHS Members’ Advisory Service

RHS Members can get face-to-face gardening advice from an RHS advisor from 11am – 3pm on the first Saturday of the month and every Monday from 1pm – 3pm. Come to our desk in the entrance conservatory with your questions. Normal garden admission.

11 March: Mother’s Day

Bring Mum for a leisurely stroll around the garden this Mother’s Day. Take in the spectacular spring bulb displays – from daffodils and hyacinths to scillas and trilliums – and perhaps a coffee and cake at Bettys Café Tea Rooms next door. Normal garden admission.

20 March: RHS Spring Free Day

Visitors have the chance to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of RHS Garden Harlow Carr in spring - for free!

As the UK’s leading gardening charity, the proceeds taken from events and tickets sales at all RHS gardens help to fund the many activities undertaken by the RHS to promote horticulture and help gardeners. For further information on all the above events please call 01423 565418.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Crag Lane (off the B6162 Otley Road), Beckwithshaw, Harrogate HG3 1QB (if using Sat Nav use postcode HG3 1UE). Gardens open every day of the year, except Christmas Day, from 9.30am until 6pm (or 4pm Nov-Feb inclusive). Last entry 1 hour before closing. RHS Members (+ 1 Family guest) Free; Prices (excluding Gift Aid): Adult: £11.50; Child 5-16: £5.75, Under 5s: Free; Family: £29. Groups (10+): £9.50 Gardens: 01423 565418. Shop and Plant Centre: 01423 724666. Bettys Café Tea Rooms 01423 505604.

RHS Membership

Join the RHS at Harlow Carr and you’ll receive many exclusive benefits including: a monthly copy of ‘The Garden’ magazine; free entry (with a family guest) to RHS Gardens: Harlow Carr, Wisley, Rosemoor and Hyde Hall; free access to over 130 RHS recommended gardens throughout the UK at selected periods; free gardening advice; privileged tickets to world famous flower shows and much more. Call for more information.