Marc Worner shares his top turf tips to creating and maintaining the perfect outdoor lawn space for your clients.
In a Japanese book about gardening in 1159 we find the earliest mention of turfing. In the 1200s, grassed areas were commonly used for the grazing of animals and maintained primarily by scythes. In the 15th century, we saw the emergence of turf lawns as private ornamental lawns of the very wealthy and in some public spaces in Europe. Lawns then began to be used as a playground rather than as a source of food.
Cricket was the first sport ever to be played on turf grass and by the year 1500, several sports were being played upon manicured turf lawns. These sports included croquet, tennis, and of course, golf.
Just before the turn of the 19th century, the mechanical lawnmower was invented and became an instant worldwide hit. However, at first only the wealthy could afford the labour it took to maintain a lawn, but once the push lawnmower was invented in 1870 most property owners with a home wanted a manicured lawn. After some lengthy trial-and-error approaches, the development of turfgrass became a valuable and functional asset for sports, recreational and ornamental uses. By the 1950s turf grasses began to be studied in a scientific manner.
Not only do we now have petrol and electric powered mowers, we have tools for aerating, dethatching, killing weeds and irrigation.
One of the most important things to consider when making a healthy lawn is to understand what the climate is. Will the lawn be in full sun, part sun or shade? How much rain will it get? What are the soil conditions, especially the pH value?
Water shortages caused by local restrictions or droughts can really take a toll on an otherwise healthy lawn and garden. There are many solutions one can use to maintain a beautiful lawn in low water situations. More importantly, creating a drought tolerant lawn in the first place, can simplify lawn care.
So, choose the best type of turf for the climate and its use. Because most of Australia’s population lives in a warm temperate zone, we would choose a so-called warm season grass.
The best time to lay any turf is in autumn because the soil temperature is moderate, the ambient temperature is moderate and root growth still occurs without stress on the plant from heat and higher evaporation rates. The next best time to lay turf is in spring.
Turf is available as seed and in rolls. Seeds may be suitable to repair areas of less than 2m, but the result may take a few months. Seeds should be broadcast in the spring for best results.
TIP: Mix the grass seeds with a generous volume of Sydney sand for less waste and a more even distribution of seed.
Rolls of turf are generally one square metre and approximately 600mm wide depending on the machine brand cutting it at the farm. To calculate how much turf you will need to purchase for a job, simply create a sketch, break it up into simple shapes, calculate the areas of each of these shapes and add them all together to find the total area.
TIP: Allow for some miscalculation and wastage.
Soil preparation is a must. Make sure no leafy green organic material of any type is present. In need, carry out a program of weed eradication for up to one month beforehand. Perhaps the use of a soil underlay is appropriate if there is little topsoil present on the site. Scarifying (scratching) the ground to a depth of approximately 75mm helps break it up to allow for easier penetration of air and water for root development.
TIP: Ensure the surface area has at least a 2% fall to allow for periodic inundation because no plants like their roots sitting in water.
Just before laying the turf some landscapers spread Superphosphate, which is a fertiliser rich in phosphorous that promotes healthy and vigourous root systems in all plants. If you decide to use Superphosphate, ensure the surface is already damp, broadcast it and rake in lightly. It should be spread evenly at the rate of about one handful (50g) per square metre.
Lay the rolls of turf across the slope rather than with the slope otherwise as water runoff occurs, it will create channels and wash away the soil in between the grass rolls and create ruts.
Next, walk the team all over the newly laid turf to ensure all roots are in contact with the ground. Then inundate the entire area with water and keep it moist (not saturated) for at least the first two weeks to ensure root establishment.
TIP: To check on take up of the roots, try lifting several random corners of the turf after two weeks. If there is resistance, you know you are well on the way to a successful project.
If you want a quintessential Buffalo grass born and bred in Australia, it’s difficult to go past Sir Walter Buffalo Turf (DNA Certified). Ticking all the right boxes of high-quality turf, resilient, certified, and genetically pure, buffalo is a fantastic choice for most Australian zones. It has soft leaves that give it a lush look and texture. It tolerates full sun to intense drought conditions – all year long. It is resistant to weeds making it a good choice for commercial projects where presentation is essential.
Zoysia japonica is a warm to tropical grass that is native to Southeast Asia. It is a thick, hardy grass that chokes out weeds, requires less mowing, watering, and fertilising once it has been established. It can also heal itself quite effectively from pedestrian traffic. It grows almost anywhere: in soil types ranging from sandy to clay profiles and alkaline to acidic situations. Although Zoysia generally thrives in full sun, it also does tolerate shade. The most common problem encountered with Zoysia is thatch, which are layers of decomposed roots. This brown, spongy material can be found just above the soil surface and should be removed with a rake or power de-thatcher in spring. This is a good reason to mow this type of grass short.
Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum) is a warm season, coarse, textured grass, which is best suited to sub-tropical regions. It produces both rhizomes and stolons, which means its commonly called a running grass. Like all grasses, it prefers fertile soil and adequate moisture. However, it will withstand drought conditions, dying off and coming back with watering. It’s the choice for sports fields because of its fast growth habit and toughness.
Couch (Cynondon dactylon) is a warm season fine leaf grass that is suited mostly to tropical, humid climates. It grows prolifically in the Northern Territory on any high traffic areas such as road verges, backyards, school grounds, golf fairways and sporting ovals. Couch can be mown short and has excellent drought and wear tolerance. Because couch produces both rhizomes and stolons it can stabilise soil but may be somewhat invasive if not controlled (like Kikuyu). It’s often used in parks, golf course fairways and feature lawns.
Whatever turf you choose and for whatever purpose it will have, remember that you are creating a living space that will require a yearly budget allocation for its ongoing maintenance. Perhaps you might like to consider offering such a plan to your client for at least the first four seasons of its life.