We all know that large expanses of lawn are considered to be water guzzlers, and in order to be more “water-wise” we should reduce the amount of lawn we plant, but many of us do not know how eco-friendly grasses can be. They absorb pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, and the oxygen generated by a small patch is well worth the effort and water required to grow it. Dust and smoke particles from the atmosphere are also trapped by turf grass thatch, and the thatch acts as a barrier, deterring harmful chemicals from entering the soil profile.
One of the best advantages for gardeners is that evergreen turf grass works like an air conditioner in the garden, cooling down the temperatures at ground level, and thereby cooling the rest of the garden too – most welcome in our hot summer climate. Another advantage is that they grow in tufts and will not creep into your garden beds.
Often, our small modern gardens are in townhouse complexes, and may be surrounded by high garden walls or other taller buildings, blocking out a lot of sunlight. Traditional grasses such as Kikuyu are not suitable for these conditions because they cannot tolerate low light intensities and will die back in shady areas. Also, who needs a lawn continually running into your garden beds and dying down in winter?
Another problem faced by owners of small gardens is that the area where lawn is required often receives patches of full sun and semi-shade to shade. That’s where evergreen lawns are the answer, as there are mixes available to handle both sun and shade. Select one which is most suitable for your growing region and sun requirements.
One of the most beautiful and well-researched lawn mixtures available is ‘All Seasons Evergreen’, a Sakata Seed proprietary mixture developed specifically for the Southern African region, and designed to grow in full sun and semi-shade conditions. This grass mixture will thrive in a wide variety of growing conditions, and will stay green throughout the year no matter how cold it gets! It is also available in instant lawn sods. All Seasons Evergreen is compatible with another Sakata lawn seed for full and semi shade, known as ‘Shade-Over’. These two products cover the complete spectrum from shade to full sun, while maintaining a uniform appearance.
All Seasons Evergreen can tolerate high traffic levels and is even used on rugby stadiums! It is, therefore, great to accommodate children and pets, but remember that there is a limit to how much abuse one small patch can take, and pathways will be flattened out if traffic is continually funnelled through one area. Laying pavers or sleepers to accommodate these natural pathways, and simply mowing right over the top, will solve this problem.
All Seasons Evergreen is a permanent grass that will only need inter-seeding if the grass is damaged. One on the main reasons for die-off in evergreen lawn mixes is cutting the lawn too short (read the instructions on your box of seed carefully). This may be the single biggest disadvantage of evergreen lawns, and may pose a problem in townhouse complexes where all mowing is carried out by a garden service company. In this case, it would be wise to cut your own lawn.
Dog urine can sometimes cause the blades to scorch, resulting in dead, brown patches. This is more common with spayed bitches and is aggravated by very hot weather. If a brown patch develops, pull the dead grass out, loosen the soil a bit, and sprinkle on some seeds. Cover with some soil, tap it down, and water daily until the new grass is established. Small top up packs of lawn seeds are available at most garden centres.
Evergreen lawns do not require more water than traditional lawns, but cannot withstand drought, requiring year-round watering to look at their best. Therefore, installing an irrigation system would be beneficial and time saving, but not essential.
Growing and maintaining your evergreen lawn
Generally, the best times to sow evergreen lawn seeds are spring and autumn. Avoid very hot or very cold seasons. These are also the best seasons to lay instant lawn sods, although this can be done at any time.
Lawns need good rich soil to thrive and preparing your beds is the most important task. The soil needs to drain well, but it also needs to retain enough water to sustain growth. Drainage problems should be rectified before sowing, because puddles of standing water can kill your grass.
It is important to kill all weeds and existing grasses before establishing a new lawn. If grasses such as Kikuyu were growing there before, it is important to get rid of them properly before sowing. Because the underground runners of creeping grasses can be very persistent and hard to simply dig out, many gardeners resort to using selective lawn and weed killers for this. If you do use these sprays, ensure that you follow the instructions on the product exactly.
If the soil is dry, water the area thoroughly a day or two before you begin soil preparation. Before you start tilling the soil, broadcast a good starter fertiliser like superphosphate, 5:1:5 or 3:1:5 at a rate of 50 grams per m² (50g is approximately one medium sized handful). To create a fine seedbed, thoroughly dig the bed over to a depth of about 15 to 20cm, breaking down clods of soil and removing all stones etc. Now add compost if necessary and till the soil again, going in the opposite direction.
Rake the bed level and compact the soil lightly to ensure that it is perfectly level. For large beds it may be necessary to roll the area lightly to achieve this. If you don’t have a roller, use something like a plank or a drum turned on its side. Water the bed well to see if any hollows remain, and top up with a little extra soil if necessary.
Once you have a nice level and compacted seed bed prepared you can begin sowing, but ensure that the bed is completely dry, and follow the sowing instructions for your preferred variety. For large beds a rotary spreader is best to broadcast the seed evenly.
To achieve an even spread when broadcasting the seed, split the amount of seed in two and sow, making two passes over the entire area, in opposite directions.
Next, rake the soil with a steel rake to broadcast the seed to a depth of no more than 1cm. Rake the bed twice, in opposite directions, to ensure an even distribution. It is essential to compact the area lightly once again after sowing, this brings the seeds into direct contact with the moist soil and also helps to prevent the soil from washing away easily. If you don’t have a roller or plank, simply trample the bed lightly under foot. A few seeds may still be visible on the surface but this is not serious. You can cover these exposed seeds lightly with soil, but do not cover the entire bed with a layer of compost, as compost dries out too easily and may adversely affect germination.
Using a fine spray, water the bed lightly to the depth of the seeds, and keep the beds uniformly moist, but never soggy, until germination occurs. Depending on your climate and rainfall, you may have to water lightly once, or even twice a day. Germination times vary but seeds should germinate within 7 to 10 days. When you begin to see your seedlings popping up, gradually reduce the frequency, but increase the amount of water applied. This allows sufficient water to reach the roots of your new lawn, while at the same time encouraging the root system to reach deeper for moisture. Within 6 to 8 weeks after sowing, your lawn should be reasonably established.
Deeply rooted lawns require less watering, and once established, your watering routine will depend largely on your climate etc. but remember that evergreen lawns will require moderate watering throughout the year to keep them looking at their best. In winter, the cooler temperatures will allow you to water less frequently. In the heat of summer you may have to irrigate two or three times a week to a depth of about 6cm. Irrigating daily, but too lightly, usually results in too much moisture at the surface and not enough at the root zone. The best time to irrigate is in the morning so that the blades of grass can dry before nightfall. The worst time to irrigate is in the evening because this extends the ‘dew period’ and keeps the leaves wet for too long. This can cause problems with fungal diseases. However, if the evening is the only available time, then it is better to water then than not at all!
Allow the lawn to establish itself well before mowing, and rotary mowers are recommended to mow this type of grass, because Reel type mowers can’t be set high enough. For your lawns first cut, set the lawnmower blades at their highest, (no less than 6cm). Thereafter, cut regularly, but ensure that sun mixes are never cut shorter than 4 or 5cm, and those growing in the shade, no shorter than 5 to 7cm, or the grass will die off. A general rule is to never remove no more than one third of the leaf blades at one time. In summer your evergreen lawn will need mowing about once a week and in winter once every three weeks should suffice.
Keep the beds free of weeds until the grass is growing strongly. If you have sown the correct quantity of seed for your area, your lawn will quickly bulk up and grow thickly enough to form a dense canopy that does not allow light through to the soil surface, supressing weed germination. It is best to remove any weeds which do appear by hand as evergreen mixes may be sensitive to certain herbicides. If you do need to use an herbicide, seek advice from a specialist at your local garden centre first.
Never top dress an evergreen lawn by smothering it with compost or lawn dressing, as this will cause the death of your lawn. It is fine, however to spike the lawn occasionally, and this is especially recommended to avoid compaction of the soil in high traffic areas. Soil compaction prevents water, fertiliser and air penetration, resulting in poor growth. Spiking can be done with a garden fork by pushing the fork into the soil about 20cm deep and wiggling it a bit to lift and loosen the soil slightly. Repeat this process at regular intervals over the entire area.
To keep them looking at their best all year round, evergreen lawns also need regular feeding. Slow release formulations are recommended, as lawns do best when fertilised little and often. Slow release formulations and liquid fertilisers are also less likely to burn. Organic feeders are the best for the environment but any lawn fertilisers can be used. Granular fertilisers like 5:1:5 or 3:1:5 can be applied at a rate of 50 grams (approximate one handful) per m². Feed your evergreen lawn four times a year, in January, April, July, and then again in October. Don’t forget the April application as this will help to avoid brown leaf tips in winter.
If healthy and well cared for, an evergreen lawn should not suffer from any serious pests or diseases. If you do notice spots on the leaves, take a sample to your garden centre for advice on what to spray, as this may be an indication of a fungal disease. Watering in the morning and ensure a good air flow in the garden, which reduces humidity, helping to avoid fungal diseases. Also, don’t over water or underwater, as both will cause stress to grasses.
Planting a small patch of evergreen lawn will not break the bank, and the advantages of having a living ground cover far outweighs its disadvantages. Putting the finishing touches to your outdoor room with a beautifully manicured lawn is well worth the time and effort, and you will see and feel the difference!
Sign up as a member today to read many useful gardening articles like this one - it's affordable for everyone!