Putting the work into a lawn can add thousands of dollars of value to your house
You can tell a lot about a home and the people who live in it from their lawns.
Think about it. Compare that house with the parked-up broken-down cars and weeds growing up around the wheels with the house that has a luscious green, sharp-edged lawn with a number one cut and every uniform blade in place.
What house would you want to buy? Which neighbours would you trust?
Creating the perfect patch
How to mow less
Lawn fixing secrets
A beautifully grown and groomed lawn doesn't come easily. When you see one, you are seeing the end result of work and commitment from the people who live there and their sense of pride.
Tony French, of Christchurch's Dr Lawncare, says he is regularly asked to improve the lawns of houses about to go on the market because the lawn can make such a difference to buyers' perceptions. He quotes real estate appraiser claims that a great lawn can lift a home's value by 15 per cent.
French has worked with grass and turf for more than 35 years and is a former Clearwater Golf Club head greenkeeper. We meet at his Hei Hei home and it's easy to tell which is his house on the street without even looking at the letterbox number.
The short cropped, flawless, green lawn calls out for you to walk on it and feel the difference. It is amazing. French laughs and says it has to look good because it's his shop window.
The biggest surprise is the grass is often-maligned meadow grass, which in French's hands presents beautifully. His back lawn features finer fescue grass.
He has dogs, but they stay in a dog run. That's one tip. You can't really have dogs roaming around on a lawn and hope to keep it in top condition. The urine alone, especially from bitches, burns off grass, leaving brown spots.
French says once you get a lawn to a good condition with a nice close canopy, it tends to look after itself a bit. Weeds find it harder to penetrate tightly packed healthy grass and strong deep roots can handle dry conditions better. But it still needs regular maintenance and preventive spraying to keep fungus and bugs at bay.
Watering is most important, especially in Canterbury with its nor'westers that French says can strip 25mls of moisture from the top layer in a couple of hours.
How much depends on conditions, but as a rough guide aim to water a lawn three to four times a week for 20-30 minutes at a time over September to March. Early morning watering is best to help prevent fungus problems on grass left wet for too long.
Regular feeding is the a key aspect. Fast-release products are best for just after the winter break, but thereafter slow-release fertilisers are usually best.
Regular mowing at the right height is important. French says reel mowers will always give the best look. "Rotary mowers chop the grass, reel mowers cut it," he says. He cuts at about 19mm with a reel mower, but says rotary mowers are better set to between 30 and 40mm cut height. His own lawn gets a pass over it three times a week. But that's no ordinary lawn.
A common Kiwi mistake is to cut the lawn super short with a rotary mower to mow less often. This damages the grass and browns it off. French says mulching mowers are bad for lawns because pushing clippings back into the grass makes it matted.
Spraying for pests and fungus is important. The main pest threats are grass grub and the porina caterpillar. Blackbirds on your lawn are probably hunting worms, but starlings will be there for grass grubs and you need to take action.
These pests eat off the roots and "scalp" the grass.
"We go to lawns where you can pick the turf up and pull it back" – French demonstrates peeling it back like a floor mat. Spraying needs to be timed around pests breeding cycles.
De-thatching is another necessary treatment ironically needed if you have looked after a lawn well. Fed and watered lawns eventually get too thick and matted with extra growth and become spongy. Water and food starts missing getting to the roots. A motorised rake thins the canopy and opens it up.
Anthony Duncraft of Cyclone Cycles and Mowers in Sydenham is another Christchurch expert with 35-plus years in the lawn business.
He's an expert on mowers and agrees that reel mowers do the job best. However sales of these are declining because they cost significantly more and their maintenance costs are higher.
What we are flocking to buy are lithium ion battery powered electric rotary mowers.
"People are glad to get rid of the cord," he says. "Lithium ion batteries last a lot longer and go for a lot longer, People don't have to worry about two strokes or four strokes, and fuel. You just charge them up push them on to the lawn and mow."
Good reel mowers cost over $2000, good steel rotary mowers are $500 plus and aluminum body versions can be $650 to $1100 which will get you one that is self-drive and has an electric start. Good electric mowers can be got from about $630.
Duncraft says rotary mowers have closed the gap in cutting quality on reel mowers through improved chassis design and blades systems that help them cut and catch better.
"But you are still going to get that person who is very particular in their lawn finish and cut, and they are still a reel mower person."