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Green Grass of Home

Manicured lawns are highly prized by many homeowners and can add value to a property through aesthetic appeal and ease of maintenance – but there’s more to grass than meets the eye, as Roger Morgan explains

It has been an interesting period since the Covid lockdowns, with mixed messages from those who know regarding the economy, housing and business confidence.

One thing has become clear, however – anything in the construction, home improvement and landscape sector has seen a significant boost, which has been particularly pleasing to everyone in that space. So, let’s talk lawns!

A common question in our shop is: ‘what is the best grass?’. Our answer is always: ‘it depends’. And it does depend on a raft of factors that are handy to know about.

Grass Varieties

Not all grasses are created equal and there are a number of options depending on the use and environment.

The traditional fine fescues and browntop blends are still popular around the country, especially in the south, in dryer and alpine environments.

Their very nature mean they’ll last donkey’s years and, with a bit of care, can look magnificent. They still form a significant part of domestic and golf course turf surfaces

The new rye cultivars being developed right here in NZ get better and better every year with improved drought and wear resistance.

If you pick the right type, it will even contain an endophyte to keep the grubs and birds away. Rye grasses for domestic application are normally blended with a fine fescue.

Ryes tend to run out of vigour after a few years and having a blend can ensure a robust lawn that lasts. There are

a number of sports rye applications from a lighter green, winter active blend to dark green, slower growing cultivars.

NO.1 For Dogs...

Tall fescue is popular up north and increasingly so in the South Island. It seems to handle dog pee better than the other grasses and has a strong root system. It hangs in there in the dry and likes a longer mow, 30-40mm. It’s a dark green that clients like and handles a range of herbicides to keep it free of broadleafs and stray grasses

The cynadons/warm season grasses are common in the north. There are a few emerging in the South Island and they’re

becoming more accepted, with the winter dormancy period the only disadvantage. If a client can be convinced that a brown lawn in winter is OK, the summer performance will offer dividends in reduced water and nutrient need compared to cool season grasses. Winter dormancy also gives a good opportunity of controlling weeds, both broadleaf and grass.

Often a turf choice is made based on the problems likely to be encountered. Local authorities are trying to reduce turf inputs (water/fertiliser) which means tall fescues and cynadon grasses are becoming more popular, as the inputs can be reduced.

Weed issues are another determining factor. Using pure fine fescue means the client can be guaranteed a weed-free lawn with the use of selective turf broadleaf sprays and ignite for stray grasses.

Pure rye blends can be kept fairly clean of other grasses with the likes of Nortron, but ryes tend to need a bit of renovation work and oversowing to keep them dense and strong longer term.

Any lawn installation, whether seed, hydroseed or turf, requires good soil preparation to ensure success. Most of the lawn failures and other major issues we see are soil related.

Compaction, hydrophobic conditions, poor nutrients or lack of water are the main reasons for initial lawn failures. Good cultivation, or soil importation ideally to 75-100mm, quality levelling, and even consolidation are the critical steps to a successful lawn. Once the soil is prepared, the final choice of grassing then doesn’t matter.

Lay of the Lawn

Hydroseeding is the most popular form of lawn installation and, with good soil prep, it’s easy – but there are plenty of ways to get it wrong.

Hydroseeding prices vary widely and I tell clients the only way to save money with hydroseed is less mulch and seed!!

Grass seeding is still an option and, for bigger lifestyle or commercial applications, can be done cheaply and quickly with the right gear. It surprises me to see huge areas hydroseeded when a decent seed drill could do it much cheaper for ultimately the same result. Quality watering is vital for establishment.

Turfing is the dearest option, but what you are buying here is time. If the job needs to be finished, then turf is a great option. Prices have remained static for years and the good growers economies of scale have allowed prices to be held. Turf is often available in multiple blends developed locally for local environments.

Lawns are still a vital part of New Zealand life and a nice lawn is a real asset to any property. The scene is changing, however. Our artificial turf division is growing fast and the bread and butter jobs are 5 to 50m2 at smaller, compact homes. More on that topic another day!

Roger Morgan is managing director of Readylawn Industries in Christchurch, which provides turf, landscape contracting services, synthetic and sportsfield construction, and maintenance services. The Readylawn system is franchised with farms around New Zealand.

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