How many times were you shouted at as a kid to keep off the grass? I was a few too many if I'm honest, paying attention wasn't always my strong point and now my mother is laughing as I have the same struggle with my child!
Wide open spaces perfect for rugga practice, riding your bike around on, taking the short route to your friends house or sweet shop, why should I walk round?
It's all about the soil underfoot. Grass is a shallow rooted plant hence why it can be transported as a roll of turf. That small amount of soil is enough to keep it alive but for a great lawn, the roots needed to get deeper.
All plant roots prefer soil that has an open crumbly structure they can easily grow through and when we move over it our body weight concentrated down on to our feet compresses the soil with every step.
Not only does this make life difficult for the roots, it also squishes the soil particles together making it harder for air and water to pass through. And it doesn't have to be a large amount of weight.
Ways to help the grass:
1. Keeping to paths
I'm not a great fan of standing in cold water and neither are plants, compacted soil prevents water passing through and roots very quickly rot away causing the plant to die off.
In lawns you end up with muddy tracks across, I've one client whose lawn develops a path every year from the dogs running a particular route. Popular visitor gardens often end up roping off grass areas and putting out those keep off signs during wet spells to try and stem the damage being done.
Keeping paths clear makes it more likely people won't step off them.
2. Leaf clearing
It's also important to carry on collecting leaves off the lawn, the above photo is of a lawn I visit every week, after just 7 days you can see the grass underneath is already a different colour. Unlike summer camping, grass hasn't got the vigour to bounce back at this time of year. A damp clump of leaves smothers the grass and attracts worms. Worms attract moles!
On dry days use the mower on its highest setting to collect them. The longer length will also help wick up water from the soil as it evaporates through the leaf and can provide some protection to roots closest to the surface from winter frosts.
For smaller or damp areas it might be better to use a rake, it's also a great workout and if like me you've got a daft dog who likes chasing leaves, highly entertaining.
3. Avoiding frosted lawns
Frosted grass is beautiful to look at and as a child I always wanted to be the first one to leave my footprints. Now I feel so guilty when I have to take even a few steps (being a responsible dog owner) to clear up.
The water within the leaves is frozen so when we stand on them they snap rather than bend. We don't see the difference to begin with but 24 hours later the leaves have blackened as they die off.
Grass will grow whenever the night time temperature is above 5°C which this autumn has been quite a lot. Unfortunately at this time of year the weeds grow faster filling these spaces and out performing the grass.
Now the hard part… trying to keep off snow covered grass! A layer of snow is actually a good thing for lawns as it provides a protection from cold drying winds and as it melts provides moisture slowly. The downside is like on frosty days, frozen, snow covered grass can be crushed and broken leaving brown and dead areas in the spring.
Now I'm a gardener I fast find myself becoming a female version of Victor Meldrew and have to stop myself getting all worked up when I see vans and cars being driven over grass areas. It's only because I know how much hard work it will be to get rid of the weeds and aerate the soil in spring. I'll always forgive the kids building snowmen though, especially as I'll be one of them.