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How to slow down some very fast growing grass.

(76 Posts)
Ipsos Fri 29-Jan-16 18:50:55


I wondered if I might ask a bit of a tricky question about lawn care? I'm an academic botanist, but an amateur horticulturalist so you can confidently hit me with all the complicated terminology, but any practical ideas will be very much appreciated.

A few years ago I was on a mission to try to get my lawn to be really good. However, I have accidentally overshot a bit and unleashed a monster lawn. I wondered if anybody could possibly give me any advice on how to reign it in a bit?

Here's what happened:

I live in East Anglia and my garden is baking hot and bone dry.

A few years ago in our new (old) house we had a very sad looking, dry, compacted yellow lawn. I tried to perk it up a tiny bit by spreading new seed on top, without altering the ground at all. I also bought a mulching robot mower and mowed twice a week.

Unfortunately the new lawn became incredibly over-vigorous, growing an inch every two days, and causing very problematic hayfever for the family. The hayfever was caused by the smell of the grass, which was very very strong and sweet. The lawn was never allowed to flower or seed so pollen was not a problem.

To solve the hayfever problem, we dug the lawn up and tried to get rid of the new varieties that we had sowed, but that has proved very difficult as they keep resprouting. The seed seller assures me that the grass was normal lawn grass and no fast growing varieties.

After about three years of constantly removing all grass and leaving the ground bare or growing only vegetables, I'm wondering if I could now try letting the lawn grow again to see if I might have eradicated the new varieties. I thought I might also try some strategies to weaken the grown of the grass and slow it down if the new varieties are still present.

I'm really wondering if anyone might be able to suggest strategies to severely weaken the grass? I thought perhaps it might help if I repeatedly leave the grass to grow long and then cut it hard back to ground level as was done with the previous grass. I could also remove and compost the top growth to avoid adding nutrients back to the soil. I thought that might take the wind out of its sails a bit. I wondered if the folks here would have any other ideas about to create really difficult conditions for a lawn, so as to hinder its growth?

The garden is hot and dry, and the soil was previously baked hard, but is now quite soft from being dug over.

This is the grass mix that I sowed. The rapid growth started immediately on sowing so was not caused by nitrogen fixation by the clover plants.

50% - 2.500 - ESQUIRE amenity ryegrass
15% - 0.750 - BROOKLAWN smooth meadowgrass
15% - 0.750 - LIBANO slender fescue
10% - 0.500 - GREENFIELD chewing fescue
05% - 0.250 - HIGHLAND bentgrass
05% - 0.250 - CRUSADER small white clover

I have no idea what the original lawn was.

Thanks so much for reading. It would really be great if I could restore my garden to some kind of functional lawn again.

ABetaDad1 Fri 29-Jan-16 18:58:53

You need to have it stripped, levelled and returfed by a professional firm.

I did this early last spring (early March is good). The turf grows quickly at first because it is packed with fertiliser and needs careful tending through summer watering every evening in hot weather and light frequent mowing on highest mower setting.

You will never get rid of the grass they way you are doing it without blitzing with Roundup several times. Even then you will need to returf.

shovetheholly Sat 30-Jan-16 12:32:15

I'm not an expert on lawn care at all, but I couldn't pass this thread by without adding a 'GOOD LORD!' at the rate of growth you've experienced!!

Also - and this is a very amateur point - there is some stuff you can get that you put onto lawns to make them more 'easy care': basically, it greens it up and I think adds something like growth regulators to slow down the growth. I can't remember for the life of me what it's called (I'm away and will check when I get home) but it's an after cut product you can buy in ordinary garden centres. I think there are more professional products used by those who care for things like sports turf.

My gut (not my head, I don't have knowledge grin) says that mowing slightly less frequently might slow it down - as would removing the top layer, avoiding feed, etc.

Ipsos Sat 30-Jan-16 15:29:09

Thanks, that's useful to know. Yes the growth really was ridiculous. The lawn was very thick and green and lush too. I was beautiful, but just too too much.

This photo shows the lawn as it was before we dug it up.

Ipsos Sat 30-Jan-16 15:32:00

Part of the problem is that our garden is very productive anyway. I think it was farmland before the house was built in the 1920s and if we get sun and rain at the same time then even our old sad lawn would grow from 2" to full height and full flower within a fortnight.

I'm kind of wondering if I should use my imagination and change the garden over to alpines or something else that would normally be really hard to grow. It seems as if my very productive ground may be a good opportunity to tackle some really demanding species, that might then grow at a moderate pace and be nice to live with.

funnyperson Sun 31-Jan-16 05:50:41

That lawn seems a bit odd with very broad grass leaves and white bits hanging which look like some sort of sead head

It seems a shame to put down weedkiller and ruin the soil for ever

It isnt clear whether you want a lawn or not

In your place I would sow a camomile lawn

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 06:58:31

Hi, Yes the leaves were very broad, which did seem odd to me.

I've been spot weeding the bare soil for two years now and when I stop and let the grass grow I still get odd looking grass plants with very broad leaves. The previous lawn had only very narrow leaves. That was what made me assume that I'd been sold odd species of grass, but the man says they are all normal lawn grass. I'm a bit confused about it all.

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 06:59:01

I don't think a camomile lawn would suit us as it would also be scented and it's the scent that causes the hayfever.

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 08:28:50

I just found a pdf online saying that the clover variety is exceptionally high yield and suitable for pasture, so that at least partly explains the problem. At least the clover is easy to spot and remove when it comes through. I haven't found anything specific about the grasses. If I could figure out which species are causing the trouble and how to identify them then I might be able to eradicate them.

ABetaDad1 Sun 31-Jan-16 11:27:41

If you go the new turf route the supplier will tell you what mix it is. The turf we have is a fine turf designed for gardens and has a particular mix. The tougher hard wearing turf typically used on sport fields and municipal parks is a totally different mix. I would avoid clover in the mix.

I was going to suggest and now you have confirmed it your soil in East Anglia will likely be rich black silt - especially well suited to growing cereals. Its where the richest wheat and barley farms are and grass is a cereal. Also be aware the hay fever may be nothing to do with your grass but the high intensity cereal farming around you. Oil seed rape is another farm crop (bushy plant with yellow flowers) that is especially bad for hay fever sufferers.

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 13:25:25

Thanks for that. Just to be clear about the cause of the problem here is the evidence that the hayfever was definitely caused by the grass:

- It started after we sowed the grass.
- it went away when we were in the paved front garden or in the street.
- It was bad in the park
- it was really bad in the grassy garden.
- My son suffered particularly badly after mowing when the smell was at its strongest.
- The clincher was when I took advice from the glorious internet and lightly toasted my whole lawn with a roofer's flame gun. The grass smell vanished in 20 minutes and the hayfever symptoms were gone in half an hour.

We don't get hayfever in the park anymore, which is good. I'm not sure why that went away tbh.

So anyway, definitely grass is the problem. I still get hayfever symptoms in my neighbours' grassy gardens but nowhere near as badly as with this crazy lawn. I might occasionally get a slight headache with the neighbours' gardens but I got severe visual distortion and balance problems with the bad lawn. My son's nose would swell up internally so that he couldn't breathe through it at all, which made sleeping very difficult.

I'm interested by your re-turfing idea. How are you suggesting that I get rid of the old grass? Are you thinking that I should remove the top 5cm or 10cm of the soil and hope that all the root fragments go with it? I have already tried lifting one spit of soil and composting in a deep pile for a year. I then put the soil back and most of the grass was gone, but I still get resprouts.

I also covered an area with double thickness black weed-supressing membrane for about 2 years and the grass still resprouted after that.

In both areas I have been spot treating with glyphosate since then and I am now letting the areas sprout to see what grows. I keep hoping that it might just be the original lawn as the new lawn was never allowed to seed. I do get small numbers of obvious clover plants, but just about 5 plants in the last year (-ish)

My neighbour tells me that she also get hayfever. It does really make me wonder whether we should just switch to a grass-free garden if I could figure out how to do it nicely and not just pave the whole area.

Thanks so much for the ideas. I really do appreciate your thoughts.

ABetaDad1 Sun 31-Jan-16 15:40:07

Typically a turfing company will use a scalping machine to remove the grass and a thin layer of soil plus roots then then level and prepare the ground with a little topsoil and rake it flat then roll out the turf.on top.

Try to get a company that actually grows the turf, not just a landscaper that buys it in. The turfing company we used cut our turf at 5 am, brought it and layed it at 9am. They really knows their stuff. They have a 500 acre farm that grows nothing but turf and a team that lays it. I really could not be happier

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 15:41:50

That's very clever. I wish I'd known that before I dug my lawn up and incorporated the root fragments 8" deep.

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 15:43:44

I actually asked a gardening contractor to come and lift the top layer and take it away, as I'd read that that machine existed, but they refused. I think they thought it would be too much hard work. In the end I took the top spit of soil off by hand with a spade myself.

ABetaDad1 Sun 31-Jan-16 16:00:33

If you buried the grass I am not surprised it regrew.

Digging it off by hand must have been HARD work. How big a lawn are we talking about?

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 16:22:20

The other thing I've noticed is that I do have some other monster plants in the garden.

- My rhubarb grew to about 1m tall and 1.5m wide after two seasons.

- My raspberries got so vigorous that I had to dig them up as they were becoming very invasive after two seasons, and several people said they'd never seen raspberries looks so overgrown.

- My pear tree drops 6 wheelbarrow loads of fruit every summer.

I think maybe I need to grow really non-vigorous plants. smile

Ipsos Sun 31-Jan-16 22:02:43

Sorry, I missed that question. :-)

The whole lawn is about 10m by 25m but I only lifted about a third by hand. The rest I put under plastic membrane. The grass was causing big problems for my son who was very young at the time, and I didn't dare to use glyphosate as he'd have been all over it. It never rains here, so it would never have been washed clean.

It was quite hard work lifting the soil as it it was very dry and compacted from years of being a family lawn, but I managed it about a half a metre squared at a time, and finally it was done.

Lifting that bit of soil meant that the whole garden didn't need to be under plastic, which would have made it look like a car park.

shovetheholly Mon 01-Feb-16 08:47:41

My father has a garden in Suffolk, and his lawn looks very much like that - broader leaved grasses with flower heads quite low down. He has a fast rate of growth, too, though not quite the inch a day you have experienced. And he is on quite poor soil - on a narrow belt of quite sandy, very free-draining land.

I don't think it's just the richness of the soil that's the issue, if you see what I mean. I don't think it's the fixation properties of the clover either (I know it's not the official dogma with lawncare, but I really love the flowers on clover in a lawn, and so do the bees). I get hayfever much worse there than I do where I currently live, in Sheffield. To be honest, I get it around grasslands anyway, though - so it's basically a feature of being outdoors in East Anglia grin I've always put it as the downside of the absolutely fantastic weather and proper summers you get down there! (I'd swap the inconvenience of antihistamines for the rain in Sheffield any day).

Perhaps if the hayfever is crippling, it would be a good idea to relandscape. I wouldn't do alpines - they like poor, rocky soil and yours is obviously very fertile. It seems like wasted labour to impoverish really rich soil - you're working against nature instead of with it. And many people would kill for soil that good! Your grass growing that well suggests that a shrub/perennial border would thrive, as might prairie planting with less allergenic grasses and hot weather species. Alternatively, you could lay low-maintenance, slow-growing turf - though my fear would be that a fine fescue would just get out-competed by other grasses.

Ipsos Mon 01-Feb-16 11:04:05

Shovetheholly I think you're absolutely spot on with that. I've actually just contacted a garden designer to ask if they could restructure the garden so I could get rid of the grass and just grow things that will grow slowly in our climate and on my fertile soil. I reckon I could really grow some amazing and unusual things. I just need to do some serious thinking to work out what.

Last night I was googling to see what crops are most profitable, wondering if I could grow something to sell. I found ginseng but that seems to want a wet forest, so that's out.

I also wondered about asparagus, and I know they farm strawberries around here. I wonder what other amazing things I could grow? Do you have any ideas?

shovetheholly Mon 01-Feb-16 12:04:31

Yes, you'll be able to grow amazing things in soil like that, both flowers and veg. To be honest, I suspect most of us are spitting with envy - your conditions are precisely what we'd love to have! The gardening world is your oyster, really. It really is a question of you working out what you want - what kind of garden you'd love to have, the look you want, and the time you have to fit it around other lifestyle commitments (veg can be quite considerably more work than flower gardening, for example). The only things that won't do so well are bog plants, shade plants (unless you have a really dank corner for dry shade stuff) and things that actually enjoy poor soil (and even then, you can have those in containers).

Some botanists really enjoy quite conceptual gardens - arranged around a particular collection of plants, an evolutionary relationship, or even a place.

What about having a look at some of the big gardens around you to get some inspiration? Place like Beth Chatto's (I mean the main borders, not the damp or the dry gardens, which won't necessarily play to your strengths) will have conditions not far removed from yours, I would have thought (A Place For Plants is just up the road too). There's Bressingham, too, Wyken Hall, and Anglesea Abbey and all kinds of college gardens at Cambridge. Not to mention RHS Hyde Hall near Chelmsford.

VertigoNun Mon 01-Feb-16 12:14:16

What about raised beds and paving around them? Grown plants you are not allergic to. Line the bottom of the beds to be safe.

Ipsos Mon 01-Feb-16 12:38:25

Shovetheholly I know what you mean, and it's kind of you to say it. I do have the conditions that I have always wanted, and the surprise is realising just how much I am unprepared for dealing with them.

The invasive plants are a real surprise. I had to dug up and dispose of my raspberries as they were totally out of control after only two summers

Many plants that would have grown quite happily in Scotland won't grow here at all (e.g. geranium Rozanne, or even just a rose bush) unless I tip litres of water on them for years, to help the roots establish. I don't like to use the tap water that way, so I'm trying to learn to choose tougher plants.

I'm finding that plants from south africa and south america will establish and flourish without any help (passion flowers, osteospermum).

I do quietly wonder whether I could try a cactus. :-)

I've got a pelargonium in the ground outside that's been there through the last 3 winters and still hasn't been frosted, which seems quite weird.

The funniest thing is when I take a notion to grow a heather, or a lupin, or recently a tree fern and find that I am really up against it. My tree fern has to live under a piece of wood so it doesn't cook. The heather fried completely and lupin won't go beyond cotyledons. It's very weird.

I grew up in the west of Scotland so am used to very different (also wonderful) gardening conditions. It's nice to experience new challanges but really surprising to realise how complex it all is.

Ipsos Mon 01-Feb-16 12:57:00

Vertigo I can't have raised beds here because they don't retain enough water to support plants. The hilarious thing that works beautifully is lowered beds. Vegetables especially grow really well if I lift one spade's depth of soil off and plant the vegetables into the new lowered soil level. That gets them about 8" closer to the water table and means they can manage without watering. Not quite as stylish, but interesting.

Ipsos Mon 01-Feb-16 13:33:34

I did wonder if I could put in a lowered patio in place of the middle bit of the lawn. We could have steps down to it and somewhere to sit and maybe a tree for shade or something. That might be nice.

Or not. hum.

Ipsos Mon 01-Feb-16 13:45:00

The garden designer guy wrote back to say that he's snowed under and can't come to look. Clearly not just me then.

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