Monty Don has stirred the pot on lawn cutting

How low should you go? Monty Don has stirred the pot on lawn cutting. It’s risky but he’s right

  • Monty Don is the long-running host of BBC TV’s Gardening World
  • Said lockdown has made us recognise the need to change how things are done
  • British gardening expert Nigel Colborn, shares his lawngrooming advice 

First, the stench of herbicides killing weeds in the grass. Then, the weekend chorus of petrol-driven mowers. It’s mid-March and the lawngrooming season has begun.

But wait. Who dares challenge the Englishman’s lawncare orthodoxy? It’s Monty Don, long-running host of BBC TV’s Gardeners’ World.

Monty questions the need to give lawns such a close shave. He also suggests that banishing weeds from the groomed grass is ‘a male obsession, linked to controlling rather than embracing’.

He points out that lockdown has made people more aware of climate change, so more of us are recognising the need to change the way we do things.

I have been recommending a more relaxed, nature-friendly approach to lawns for years.

Sustainable: A lawn should look good but also be rich in life above and below ground

Conventional lawncare can cause significant environmental damage. Chemical fertilisers and weedkillers soak through topsoil to pollute the water table. Banishing lawn weeds also reduces wildlife diversity.

The daftest practice of all is to collect the grass clippings, as cut grass has all the nutrients the growing grass needs. It simply has to rot down and return those nutrients to the soil.

RELAXED APPROACH 

Britain’s native grasses are silky-soft, vivid green carpets. As well as flooring open spaces, grass makes a soft, attractive surface for paths and is pleasant to walk on or for children to play on. Well-maintained lawns are remarkably durable.

Native grasses can grow at lower temperatures than any other plants, which allows them to self-mend even when it’s too cold for other plants to grow.

But fast growth calls for frequent mowing. If the cut grass is collected every time, that will impoverish the lawn and its underlying soil. As a result, grass vigour reduces. Weeds adapted to harsh growing conditions will then appear, competing with the grass.

The current ‘cure’ for such problems is to spread artificial fertiliser. Speedy uptake of nitrogen and other nutrients results in a dramatic recovery. But weeds will bounce back. To kill those, hormone weedkillers are applied. They destroy broadleaved plants, leaving the grasses unharmed. So the problem is cured until the cycle repeats itself.

FERTILISER FREE 

The biggest change is to abandon fertilisers and lawn herbicides. That’s a sacrifice but it also saves money. Neither is desirable, especially with climate change and nature in crisis.

As well as looking good, a lawn should be sustainable and rich in life above and below ground.

So leave your mower’s grass box in the shed. Raise the blades a notch. A slightly longer sward will still be smooth enough to look beautiful and be pleasant to walk on.

If your lawn is healthy, don’t feed it. If it’s exceptionally hungry, a final feed might help. But thereafter, you, the earthworms and other soil life will be recycling the nutrients.

Mow weekly, preferably when the grass is dry. The ‘mowings’ will shrivel rapidly and disappear in a day or two. If they are damp, break up any clots of mown grass with a rake.

Weeds may appear but if the grass is healthy they won’t ruin the sward. I welcome daises, speedwells and even white clover in my grass. So do the bees and butterflies.

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