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We have had some heavenly weekend weather for gardening, the best I remember. Some of the coincidences have been wonderful, crocuses still out with the spring flowering cherries and primroses among the hellebores, as good as I have ever seen them. The weeding is more up to speed than usual and there is time, now, to attack related problems.
After such a wet winter, we all have too much moss in the lawn. So what, you may be thinking, as you enjoy walking on its fresh green sponge? If we have a dry summer, you will soon change your mind. A mossy lawn turns a wretched scruffy brown and the hot weather will stop you doing anything about it. Some of the moss may be related to underlying problems like shade and drainage which are too fundamental to be corrected. Most of it is due to the months of winter rain and can be eliminated now as a once-only intrusion.
Apostles of “green” garden-management have yet to drive moss killers off the market. There are three main options. In a smallish space I would use an antidote which can be diluted and watered directly on to the grass from a watering can.
Evergreen’s Moss Killer is one of the best, with the advantage that it is not at risk in a dry spell of weather. Obviously, it is best applied when the sky is dull, so it will not evaporate. Do not put it down when rain is around, as a wet day will dilute it even more. Let it soak in for a day before you walk on the lawn, as you do not want to transfer the solution on your shoes. It usually works with only one application.
For bigger lawns, a sand or a mixed feed-and-weed pack are the more workable options. I have given up trying to estimate by eye the correct dosage per sq metre and then trying to stick to it. The essential investment is an adjustable metal spreader on wheels; Evergreen is selling a good example for only £25. It can be calibrated to spread the granules at the correct density before you start pushing it over the grass. It transforms the job and speeds it up.
I like to do two jobs in one. Scotts offers a combined Lawn Food and Moss Control mix at £35 per 12kg which attacks moss and feeds the grass in one and the same application. “Attack” is the right word for all these dry products. Timing and weather are all-important for the best results. Do not use them in bright sunny weather, nor in rainy weather, nor when frosts are still likely at night. The ideal is a dull dry day before Easter with plenty of high cloud. Use this combined feed-and-weed about three days after mowing the lawn and do not mow it again for at least another four. If you mow your own at weekends, you may need to take a Tuesday off. In all but the direst weather the lawn will be fed for the next eight weeks and in the makers’ cautious wording, “moss will usually die within two weeks”.
The alternative option is to spread a traditional lawn sand. Evergreen offers a classic lawn sand in big bags at £17 per 25kg, which goes easily through the spreader. Again, this dry mixture is best applied in cloudy but dry weather. After you have spread it, you must not walk on the lawn until there has been a good rain to wash in the sand. Otherwise you will imprint black footsteps all over it. If you rely on a particular rat-run to get you across the garden, the obvious answer is to leave a sand-free margin and walk only on that route. Lawn sand works extremely well and is the practical answer for bigger lawns. (Further details can be tracked at the suppliers’ website, lovethegarden.com, or via their helpline on 0845 190 1887.)
When the moss has been killed, it will go brown and ideally ought to be raked out. Then you can resow bare patches. For the bigger patches, use one of the newish pre-sown mats. Last year, I transformed a bare patch under a spreading tree by laying down Miracle-Gro Patch Magic (£6 for enough to treat 16 sq metres) and watering it according to the instructions. The “magic” is a mix of fertiliser, grass seed and coir fibre, into which the seed has been fixed. The coir has to be soaked when first cut and laid but then it holds enough damp for the seed to germinate freely without weeds. I had my doubts, but the patch answered them by germinating thickly without any attention from me until it was fit to be mown. The patch now seems seamless and I am a believer. Patch products have transformed a fiddly job.
I can now combine two beliefs in one. When planting shrubs, I have taken to following many of the big growers and using “mycorrhizal” products in the hole below and around the roots. They encourage a much thicker and wider root ball to develop in the first year, greatly enhancing the new shrub’s stability and speed of growth. Supreme Green is now a brand which uses mycorrhizals in a grass-seed mixture for patching lawns. It has the RHS stamp of approval. My one warning is that mycorrhizals are organisms which are not long-lived away from soil or leaf mould. A patch-pack of Supreme Green should be used promptly and not held over until autumn.
Will wildlife root up a pre-sown patch? My foxes had one trial scuffle and gave up. Maybe Bayer’s new Cat-a-Pult will be the answer. For £4.50, a pack will cover 16 sq metres and, unlike lawn sand, is effective if applied only in dry weather. The makers are coyly addressing the problem of “fouling” of lawns by animals up to the size of foxes. But their crapping is not really the problem, because hardened gardeners can simply pick up the debris. The real menace is scuffling. The other problems are size and area.
Sixteen sq metres is a sort of budget-sized non-event. It is not going to protect a biggish country garden. I have tried it to see what happens. I put Cat-a-Pult down on the first square of lawn that my resident wildlife encounters on coming out for a twilight snarl. The conditions have been perfect; dry, sunny and just what the makers order. On the very first night, the Cat-a-pulted area attracted contemptuous interest. Two lumps of grass were clawed out, as if to be sniffed. Then the next patch of unprotected grass was given a thorough working over, as if to release suppressed rage. The result was more mess than ever.
Bayer’s instructions refer only to animals as big as foxes. They do not discuss my stripy-pawed digger, Mr Brock himself. Cat-a-Pult is even less effective against badgers than a government-sponsored shoot. Worse, they seem to know it and redouble their mischief nearby. Until somebody invents Badger-Budger, we will have to continue to negotiate our terms of coexistence.
Meanwhile, it is a joy to be in garden centres where so much is on offer in flower at high-pitched prices. The magnolias are looking wonderful. In a very big pot, impatient gardeners can celebrate spring with a Magnolia stellata in full white flower. It must have a lime-free soil, but it will last for years. It will not, however, flower for very much longer after it has seduced you in its spring glory. Buy one, but reckon on a boring summer season. It is, I promise, badger-proof.