Spalding Guardian Gardening 26 January 2012
Last Sunday I indulged myself in my favourite horticultural pastime Ė mowing.
We have no lawn at home (grass and dogs donít really mix), but at the Patch there is a great deal of grass. There are paths between the trees in the arboretum, and these are always kept short, to provide a contrast between them and the longer, wildflower patches beneath the trees. There are wide paths through the wooded area to encourage people to walk through and enjoy the maturing forest trees, and there is a wide, grassy headland all the way round the field to provide access for maintenance machinery. There is even long, shaggy grass in the wood, but this is left to its own devices now as the trees are starting to take over.
The two latter areas are vast, and are kept cut by John and his trusty Kubota, but the smaller, narrower paths through the ornamental trees and shrubs, although they are wide enough to take the tractor, I prefer to mow with my cheap-and-cheerful, not self-propelled rotary mower. This exercise has several functions. It takes about one and a half hours of constant effort, which is good for me (I say) and helps to keep me fit. It is also easier to make sure nothing is cut other than what should be cut (remember the incident last summer with the Kubota and the rhus ĎTiger Eyesí? ). Finally, it gives me the opportunity to check the trees as I mow, and make sure they are well and nothing untoward is happening to them (yesterday I found muntjac deer damage, so I must replace the guards that I removed two years ago, thinking the trees could look after themselves).
These paths have never stopped growing all winter, and it was difficult to distinguish them from the longer grass. The strong wind had dried the ground up, and I considered that, as no severely cold weather was forecast, topping them would do no harm. All right, they arenít bowling green turf, but when a winter has been unusually mild, as this one has, a light mowing does no harm to the average lawn; in fact, reducing the length of the grass can actually help to cut down moss growth, as moss prefers badly lit conditions (as at the base of long grass) to form.
Mowing early in the season needs perfect conditions to avoid damage to the turf. The blades should be high, the grass dry, the soil well-drained and there should be no frost forecast for at least a week. Old leaves, worm casts and other debris should be swept or raked up first. Ideally, the clippings should be removed, though I left mine on as the turf is far from perfect and itís only a wild area, after all. After this cut, my paths should not need mowing again for several weeks.
So if your lawn is beginning to look scruffy and everything is right for a light cut, itís worth the risk. Your neighbours may look at you as though youíve lost your marbles, as it is only January, but the first cut of the year is not etched in tablets of stone as the first week in April, as it used to be when I first started gardening. As with other gardening matters, itís all about common sense.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian