How to get a Green lawn

I’d like to think it’s easy to get a Green lawn. That’s because I’ve been creating them for close to 20 years, and well I’d like to think I’ve got a few things pretty well mastered.

how to get a green lawn
This customer asked me for help when another company said nothing could be done. Here was the finished result just 4 weeks after renovating

In a nutshell, the best things you can do each year are to:

  • Scarify the lawn
  • Aerate the lawn
  • Overseed the lawn
  • Topdress the lawn

Then the best things to do to help the lawn regularly are to:

  • Mow every 4 to 7 days (but no more)
  • Mow higher than normal
  • Never cut off more than one-third of the grass blade
  • Always use a sharp mower blade
  • Fertilize your lawn a few times a year
  • Water your lawn
  • Apply products for pests/ants and so on
  • Apply fungicides where needed
  • Apply wetting agents if on sandy soils during summer

Sure I don’t ever proclaim to be the best person ever in the whole wide world at lawn care, but I do know how to make a nice lawn.. and that is what I am going to talk to you about today, so if you’ve got a few minutes please read on. I promise it’ll be worth your time.

What’s lurking down there under the ground?

A lawn is only as good as the bed it lays upon

Yes to a degree this is true. It is still possible to achieve a nice lawn on average soil. In fact, I’ve given people an “ok” lawn even when I realized there was literally about half an inch of soil under it.

It’s all about making do with what you have and making the most out of it.

So when aiming for a nice Green lawn one thing you should try to achieve is a soil depth of at least 3 inches.

  • At this depth, grass roots are able to push down into the soil and become stronger stress-tolerant lawns.
  • With half an inch of soil, you get shallow roots and a very poor turf.

Determine what type of soil you have – clay or sandy

Overall it doesn’t matter too much, but there are definite pros and cons of each type of soil. Use a spade or trowel to dig a small square of the lawn up, cut it neatly then you can slot it back into place when you’ve finished having a look.

  • With sandy soils, the soil will be powdery and crumbly.
  • With clay soils, you can squeeze the soil and it holds the squeezed shape.

So why does it matter? Why do I need to know?

Well, you need to know so you can understand what’s happening in Summer and Winter and why things happen. Then you can fix issues as they arise.

Clay soils

Clay soil is hard to firm and very slow at letting water drain down through it. A lawn sitting on clay can quickly get very boggy in any sort of rain.

If a lawn sits in rain for too long it will begin to thin and die and become patchy. A lawn on clay is also very prone to moss problems, especially more so if it is affected by shade.

The one benefit to a clay lawn is that during Summer, providing it is watered a couple of times a week will retain excellent colour.

Sandy soils

Sandy soils generally do better in shaded areas, corners and alongside fences. They let water drain through, and in Winter this is a good thing.

Sandy soils suffer most in Summer. The sandy nature means that any water or rainfall quickly drains through the root profile and down further away from the grass.

This means a lot is wasted and the grass doesn’t have a lot of time to make use of the available water.

You will often find that sandy soil based lawns dry out first. Especially so if they are facing the sun all day long. Several customers of mine have Green rear lawns with occasional sun and front lawns that struggle in the heat.

Personally, if I had to choose a soil type it would be somewhere in between the two, but with more of a sandy type.

How do we get a Green lawn with sandy or clay soils?

My personal method of dealing with sandy soils is to fertilize regularly, cut regular (and not too short), and apply a wetting agent to the lawn during Summer to help retain some moisture where it is needed.

With clay lawns, you don’t always need a wetting agent so regular mowing (not cut too short) and fertilizing is usually enough.

What about scarifying and all those other things?

Woah, hold on there one minute. So just to recap. There are a few components to a successful lawn. One is the below-ground conditions. We have just looked at what your ground is made up of and explained the best way to handle them for full effect going forward. So now…..

How to handle above-ground lawn conditions

So now we come to the “above ground” conditions. These need to be tackled as well as the below-ground conditions.

Thatch – what is it?

Thatch is Brown stuff down in your lawn in and among the blades of Grass. if your lawn looks Brown it may be moss or it may be thatch.

There are two types of thatch – surface thatch and sub-surface thatch. Above and below ground level thatch!

Picture 2 scenarios. One is a bathroom sponge and one is a thatched roof on a cottage.

The thatched roof is designed to keep water out of the property. Simple.. it’s a roof made of interwoven pieces of straw or other kinds of vegetation.

Now imagine that layer of thatch sitting on the soil surface, but intertwined in and amongst all the blades of grass.

Each time you try to water the lawn the water simply does not go into the ground, or it takes a very long time to soak through. Because of this, the grass becomes very thirsty and soon falls foul to the heat and turns Brown.

You can also liken this example with a bathroom sponge. If you want to water a lawn you add water directly to the lawn with a hosepipe and sprinkler. You wouldn’t apply it to a sponge sitting on the soil surface. It would take longer to soak through and some of it may evaporate with any heat.

So thatch is really not a good idea. Although a small amount of thatch is perfectly fine, too much is an issue. This is where a lawn scarifier comes into play.

What is scarification?

what is scarification
This lawn had already been scarified by the gardener but hadn’t been done enough. I scarified twice more with my own and it was amazing that we took a further 20 bin bags of thatch out of the lawn.

Scarification is the process of “raking” the lawn to try and reduce the amount of surface thatch in the lawn. You can rake the lawn by hand using a springbok rake like this Bulldog one on Amazon that I also own and use.

Be warned though that it is very hard work!

By far, the easiest and quickest way to scarify a lawn is by using a lawn scarifier machine. You may also hear it called a lawn raker or even a power rake.

Basic models use small pieces of metal like steel rods that gently tease and pull out the thatch as they spin round on a cylinder. They actually do a good job but aren’t able to dig deep into the that and pull it all out in one go, so the result is you usually have to scarify the lawn at least twice. However, for the money, they are often a fraction of the cost of professional lawn scarifiers. You can pick good lawn rakers/scarifiers up for way under £100 (Black and Decker do a good one at around the £75 price (it would cost you this much to hire one, so might as well get your own.

More powerful machines use blades that spin round to dig deep down to soil level and rake out all the thatch in one single pass. Expect to pay anywhere from £500 to several thousand pounds.

What is aeration?

Aeration is a procedure that helps get more air molecules into the ground.

There are a few different kinds such as hollow tine aeration, solid tine aeration and fracture tine aeration.

In it’s simplest form, you can aerate the lawn by wearing sandals with spikes on the bottom, or by using a sorrel roller.

These push holes in the ground just like when you push a garden fork into the ground.

This is a form of solid tine aeration (you can also use a professional machine with solid tines to do this quickly).

Solid tine aeration punches or pushes a hole into the ground. This is good in that it lets water in and down, same for air, but longer-term you are pushing soil further down, and ultimately increasing compaction.

Hollow tine aeration is the machine of choice that I use 99.9% of the time. The aerator punches holes in the ground and removes the core of soil that was in the hole.

This allows air rain and nutrients to get down to the root zone far easier. The holes gradually close from the surrounding pressure of the soil around the holes. This relieves compaction and increases air pockets, creating a ground that is better draining and allows the roots to push deeper.

Fracture tine aeration is simply a set of long blades on a machine that pushes them deep into the soil. This is a simple way to perk up already well-maintained lawns by helping air get deeper, and this also encourages the roots to increase their density and mass by filling the spaces.

Overseeding the lawn

Most lawns will lose some of the grass plants each year.  This can be by wear and tear (using the lawn, playing on it, dog burns) or through pest problems such as Grubs, ants, foxes or voles.  You can also find some lawns can die off if left in direct sun for days on end with no watering.

So because of this, it pays to regularly overseed the lawn.

The best time to overseed is immediately after scarification and/or aeration has been carried out.  You have opened up the soil profile and this provides places where good “seed to soil contact” can be achieved.

So at this stage scatter the seeds (approximately 12 seeds per square inches).

In layman’s terms, it is putting enough seed down without putting too many seeds down.  Each seed is an individual grass plant and if you have too many close together you get overcrowding and the seeds compete with one another.

For years I had always scattered seed by hand, but on a job recently that was a fair size (300 square metres), I decided to go and buy a simple cheap drop spreader to try.

It was really good and saved me a tonne of time.

overseeding your lawn
This inexpensive spreader has been a lifesaver for overseeding

So if you decide you might want to buy one of these spreaders (available here on Amazon), what I did was try it out on a low setting at first to see how well the seed coverage was.  In the end, I set the opening size to maximum… and then I went over the same area twice.

This worked for me on one lawn.  I’m yet to try it on a different lawn, so coverage may be different.  So you might want to trial a lower setting at first.

Topdressing your lawn

Topdressing your lawn can mean a couple of things.  It can be a case of bringing in sandy soil to help level our any minor dips in the lawn, and if done after aeration it can alter the soil structure a bit too.

It can also mean (as is in the case when I topdress) topdressing the lawn with compost.

I use compost during a lawn renovation.  Not for levelling the lawn, but for helping the seeds to germinate.  Compost in itself is a wonderful source of nutrients  – just look at your plants thrive when you dig in some compost around them.

Grass is also a plant and so the organic goodness is a wonderful way to get goodness in and to aid seed germination.

So here’s how.

Once you have scarified.. then aerated… then applied seed then it’s time to topdress.

You can certainly use topsoil just fine, and the seeds will come through great.  But, I prefer compost. Multipurpose compost to be precise.

You want it nice and dry and small pieces.  B&Q’s own brand  “Goodhome” is ok.  Verve multipurpose compost is fine.  I’ve also recently started using a Westland multipurpose compost from Home bargains.

What you want to do is create a thin layer right across the lawn.  I use a professional spreader but it can be done just as fine by creating a number of small piles across the lawn.  Then use the back of a garden rake (the long flat bit) to drag it out across – and work it back and forth.

Keep working it back and forth so that the seed and composts are worked down through the grass to soil level.

If you’ve got to this stage then well done!

The final stage is one of the most important.  Seed to soil contact.

To achieve this I used a roller.  I take no chances.  Any roller will do.  If you have a mower with a roller on the back that will do.  If you are looking to buy a roller they vary in price.  This one on Amazon is somewhere in the middle price-wise. 

Push or pull the roller over the whole lawn once or twice.  You can usually see where you’ve been as the rolled bit is flat while the rest is not.

Once you have achieved this then the next stage is to apply a fertilizer.

Companies tout the notion of using a starter fertilizer, but I can categorically state that I have never used a starter fertilizer in almost 20 years.

I have always used a polymer-coated “slow-release” fertilizer, however in the last 2 years, I have now switched to using organic fertilizer.  The organic fertilizer is the same fertilizer that I also apply during spring Summer and Autumn.

It’s based on Chicken manure and works a treat!

The stuff I use is a commercial product but there is an almost identical product I have found below (available on Amazon):



Once all of this has been done you need to engage in a specific watering schedule.  As long as you are seeding between May and October this schedule will work great.

Week 1 and week 2:  Water the lawn 3 to 5 times a day (using a light mist setting on your hosepipe).  At the end of week 2, you should start to see a few new seedlings starting to come through.  often this is patchy at first.

Weeks 3 and 4.  Water twice a day (morning and evening).  During these 2 weeks, your lawn will begin filling in where the patches were.

Weeks 5 onwards.  Water the lawn4 times per week deeply.  if you use a sprinkler aim to have the sprinkler on for 5 minutes on each section that it covers.

I promise you that the above steps work “brilliantly”.  The only other difference I use is to use a wetting agent sprayed onto the lawn right after using the roller.. and then water that in.

If you use these steps please comment below and let me know how you got on.



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