Top tips for a beautiful lawn - get expert advice from NCFC Head Groundsman Gary Kemp
A beautiful lawn is wonderful to see but, even if you’ve got the greenest of fingers, grass seems to have a mind of its own sometimes. That’s why we’ve asked Gary Kemp, Head Groundsman at Norwich City Football Club (NCFC) to share his secrets with us.
Gary’s been looking after the pitch at NCFC for over 26 years: it’s a Desso GrassMaster pitch. Tiny, thin, dark-green artificial grass fibres were injected 20 centimetres deep into a sand-based area, so they cover about 3% of the pitch’s total ground surface. Then, as natural grass grows (a mixture of creeping red fescue and rye grass at Carrow Road), the roots intertwine with the artificial fibres. This means it’s a very solid, even structure with excellent drainage – and plenty of air in it, too.
Almost every day of the week, 365 days a year, the grass at Carrow Road gets Gary’s full attention, which is his top tip for gardeners who have less than green fingers, too.
“Grass really needs looking after, you have to care about it all year round. It can take as little as 5 to 6 weeks to force a lawn from seed, but a really strong and vibrant area of grass needs your care and attention for a lot longer than that.” So, if you’re thinking about spending time in the garden this Summer, then now is a very good time to start looking after your lawn.
Here are Gary’s top tips for a perfect picnic-patch:
Weed or feed your lawn – not both
Start by having a plan to get rid of the weeds (or broad-leaved growth) first, and then concentrate on helping the grass to flourish. Gary says, “There are a lot of garden products out there that say they’ll nourish your lawn while they’re killing off the unwanted weeds. Personally, I think you’re better off doing one thing at a time – properly.” If you have a mossy lawn, Gary’s advice is simple: “Don’t be tempted to keep raking out green moss. You’ll just spread the moss spores further and further round your garden. It may be unsightly for a week or so but it’s much better to treat the moss, let it die off over a few days, and then rake up the yellowish dead leaves all in one go.”
Feed your lawn with nitrogen
Gary likes organic products, but definitely recognises the value of using fertilizers as long as they’re not too strong. Treat your lawn with a good granular fertilizer but don’t be tempted to use ‘super-power’ fertilizers, even if they’re on promotion at the DIY store or garden centre. Ideally, you’re looking for a fertilizer that has around 12 to 14% nitrogen in it. Many are much higher (up to 25 or 27%), but that’s an un-natural level of chemicals for the soil, and unsustainable in the long term.
At Carrow Road, Gary spreads a 12 to 14% nitrogen fertilizer once every 10 days or so, and then tops up in the interim with an organic, seaweed-based liquid fertilizer – just to keep things ticking over. He also recommends going gently with granular fertilizers, “Many companies suggest as much as 25 grammes for each square yard – but in my experience, 10 to 15 grammes is plenty if you want natural, strong growth.”
Aerate your soil
Aeration involves making small holes in the ground surface to let air, water and nutrients get to the grass roots. If your soil is too compact, then heavy organic debris can also starve the roots from these essential elements – but by ‘pronging’ the surface once every three weeks or so, you’ll get better growth and a stronger, more vigorous lawn. These days, you can buy a good quality manual lawn aerator for around £20. However, if you’d rather save a few pounds, there’s also nothing wrong with using a garden fork – working your way backwards and forwards across the grassy area.
Top tip: If it’s wet, stay off the grass. Let the ground recover.
Let the light in
It’s worth bearing in mind how important light is, for a lawn. Gary says, “Many people don’t realise this, but if part of your lawn’s next to a tall fence or maybe under a tree with wide-spreading canopies, the grass – genuinely – may not grow so well.”
At Carrow Road, lighting rigs are used to promote even growth: the stadium’s high walls keep a lot of natural sunlight off the pitch. “We have lights on 24-hours a day in some parts of the football season. It’s not something I’d suggest for home gardens, but for us the results are worth it,” says Gary. Trees and shrubs benefit from some firm pruning at the right time of the year; your lawn could benefit too.
Mow all year round
Lots of people stop mowing their gardens in the Winter. But for strong, even ground cover you should be mowing all year round – even if it’s only once every couple of weeks in the colder months. Certainly in the late Spring and early Summer, you could be getting the mower out a couple of times a week. Gary also recommends investing in a good mower. “It’s true, blades of grass bounce back, it’s much stronger than people think it is. But a cheap mower can flatten grass, rather than cut it neatly. Invest in a good machine, and you should see the benefits over the long term – as long as you keep mowing all year round, that is.”