Lawns: spring and summer care
At this time of year, the lawn is actively growing and how you look after it depends on what you want to achieve. To encourage wildflowers for pollinating insects, it's time to stop mowing and enjoy the visits to the flowers that appear. To create a short, green sward, however, you'll need carry out of range of tasks we explain below.
Timing: Early spring until late summer
No longer are all lawns green and striped. Over the last few decades, many gardeners have come to love the joys of seeing and supporting the insects and wildlife that visits long grass.
If you'd like to convert your lawn into a wildflower meadow, or even just a small section to help wildlife, we've got lots of information to help you:
- How to grow a mini wildflower meadow
- Wildflower meadow: establishment (includes converting a lawn)
- Wildflower meadow: maintenance
- Walk on the wild side: 5 wildflower combinations for your garden
However, if your preference is still to go for a short lawn of mainly grass (perhaps because you have incorporated many other plants of wildlife benefit in your garden such as those listed in RHS Plants for Pollinators), you'll have a range of tasks to do in spring and summer.
All lawns need feeding in order to maintain vigour. When feeding, look out for signs of pest or disease and deal with moss if required. These can often be controlled with cultural methods such as raking. Regular maintenance is the best way to approach a lawn, and may avoid the need for renovation later on.
Over winter, the lawn does not grow much, but once the weather warms up in early spring, you can start mowing, and this is also a good time to over-seed any areas damaged over winter.
Below are some of the tasks to undertake over spring and summer if you are trying to grow a short, green sward – a traditional lawn (for details of growing a rich wildlife habitat, such as a mini meadow, see Wildflower Meadow: Maintenance).
Mowing regularly keeps the lawn in good health, detering weeds and encouraging thick grass. See our advice on lawns: mowing for more on the different cutting heights and mowing frequencies recommended in spring and summer.
Moss is a problem in damp, poorly drained lawns. Spring is a good time to remedy moss problems. There are several options for dealing with moss in lawns, see our advice on moss in lawns for further detail.
In mid-spring (often late March to April), use a proprietary spring or summer lawn fertiliser at the manufacturer’s recommended rates. Feeding the lawn will increase vigour and help prevent weeds and moss from establishing. Apply fertilisers when the soil is moist, or when rain is expected. However, it's important to know that fertilisers use a lot of energy to make, so using the minimum required to keep your lawn in shape is best for the environment.
If grass loses its vigour and freshness between late spring and late summer (often May to August), repeat the application of spring or summer lawn fertiliser or apply 15g per sq m (½oz per sq. yd) sulphate of ammonia mixed with four times its weight dry soil. Mixing with soil ensures even distribution and avoids scorching the grass. Apply this mixture in cool, moist conditions and lightly water it in. As an organic alternative, use chicken manure pellets. Repeat fertiliser application a third time if needed six to eight weeks later.
Do not apply spring or summer lawn fertilisers, chicken manure pellets or sulphate of ammonia after August. They contain too much nitrogen for autumn use, encouraging green leafy growth at the wrong time of year, when it could be damaged by winter cold or pests and disease.
After moss or weeds have been removed, or where grass is growing sparsely, over-seeding may be necessary. Early autumn is the best time for this job, but mid-spring is also suitable.
- Break up the surface with a fork and rake it to make a reasonably fine surface
- Sow grass seed at half the recommended rate or, where there are no recommendations, at 10-15g per sq m (½oz per sq yd)
- Lightly rake to incorporate the seed into the surface
- Where birds are a problem, net the area
- If the weather remains dry for two or three days water gently with a sprinkler
- Grass should sprout seven to 10 days after sowing
In heavily used areas, choose a hardwearing utility mix containing ryegrass. Most lawn grasses do not thrive in shade, so for these areas choose a shade-tolerant mix.
Even if lawns turn brown and dry over summer, they usually recover well when rains return. Watering is usually not necessary over summer. See our advice on lawns: care during drought for more on limiting damage and conserving water in the lawn.
If you do have to water the lawn and maintain a green sward, water when the soil becomes dry, but before the grass turns yellow or brown. If the ground is very hard, aerate it by spiking with a garden fork before watering, to aid water penetration.
Watering once a week to every 10 days is normally sufficient. Ensure that the water reaches a depth of 10cm (4in) after each watering. In the middle of summer 1 sq m (1 sq yd) needs about 20-litres (5 gallons) every seven days.
Looking after new lawns
Lawns from turf should be left completely un-used for their first week. Lawns from seed should be left un-used until their first mowing. Avoid using new lawns heavily in their first season.
Newly laid lawns can be fed like established lawns. They need watering, but should not be over watered, as this may result in shallow rooting and poor establishment.
For advice on aftercare of newly sown lawns, see our advice on lawns from seed.
When over-seeding the lawn, it can be difficult to match the colour of a new seed mix with your existing lawn. In such circumstances it may be necessary to over-seed the whole lawn to achieve uniformity of colour and texture.
Areas of dry shade, such as under trees, become sparse very quickly despite adequate care. Consider over-seeding on an annual basis to maintain a dense sward.
Spring is a good time to repair damage to lawns caused by pests, diseases or mechanical damage.
What about 'No Mow May'?
For more tips, see our Wildlife Gardening section.
For more informaiton on the No Mow May from the campaign organiser, see the wildflower charity Plant Life.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.