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How to ‘kill’ a lawn

September 04, 2016


Yellow calendula & red petunia walkway
Yellow calendula & red petunia walkway

Severe water shortages over the last few months will, it is hoped, have encouraged at least some lawn lovers to give serious consideration to the sensibility of retaining what are, to put it bluntly, climatically unsuitable monsters — lawns.

With literally millions of people thirsty for water, wasting potable water on lawns really should be a criminal offence of the highest order.

Those using recycled black or grey water are exempted from criticism although, frankly speaking, if properly treated, these categories of water should be used for growing trees and food, not grass, unless there are grazing animals to be fed on it.

If you happen to be one of those gardeners who are pondering what to do about your lawn, then please do not despair. This month, along with all the other months of the year, is the perfect time to make a completely new start.

The very first step to take is surprisingly simple: take a deep breath, apologise in advance if you feel the need and then go out there and kill it!

Killing a lawn, without resorting to the use of toxic chemicals of course, takes a little more than withholding water. An unwatered lawn will, in hot weather, quickly dry up and look dead. But for quite a long time, its roots are still very much alive and all it takes is for a couple of showers or a week of heavy morning dew for new blades of grass to appear.

To kill a lawn, grassroots must be killed off and the most effective, organic way, is to suffocate them.

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. If you intend to replace the thirsty lawn with a well thought out and well executed xeriscape (drought tolerant landscape), one that utilises — as much as possible — indigenous, drought tolerant plants/trees/creepers with, perhaps, a groundcover of gravel/stone chips, river stones and larger rocks as contrasting, natural, focal points then think ahead about plant nourishment. Spread one inch deep layer of manure on top of the existing lawn area. Top this with one inch layer of reasonable soil and then cover the area with a sheet of heavy black — therefore light excluding — plastic, and weigh it down here and there to ensure that it stays firmly in place. Leave in place for about a month and the grass roots, deprived of light and air, should be well and truly dead. Then either dig or rotavate the area, thoroughly mixing the manure and new soil into the existing earth, level or contour as you wish and then lay out the gravel/stone chips, river stones and rocks as per design before, finally, putting in selected plants in predesignated locations.

  1. If you intend to replace the lawn with an artfully designed arrangement of gravel/stone/rock only — no plants at all — then cover the lawn area with weighted down black plastic sheeting, wait for a month or so, dig and level/contour and get straight to work with laying out your selected design.

Alternatively — if neither of the above xeriscaping suggestions strike a chord with you but killing your lawn does — go with option number one to the stage of removing the plastic and digging in/rotavating the manure and new soil and then lay out and plant an orchard of fruit trees with vegetable/herb gardens growing in their shade. Such an orchard/vegetable/herb garden, shady as it is, uses far less water — recycled water is fine — than a garden exposed to full summer sun. In winter, some fruit tree varieties will shed their leaves, thus allowing soft winter sunshine in. The fallen leaves fertilise the soil, act as mulch and are a soil conditioner too.

Surely one of the above is the perfect, tailored-to-personal-taste of course, replacement for a water guzzling lawn. What’s more, as lawns are no longer ‘trending’ in the global gardening world, you will be making an excellent green-fashion statement as well.

Go for it please!

  • If, in time, any tough grass does manage to come up, kill it, immediately, using an application of very strong, white vinegar. Rather than an environment-damaging poison which, no argument about this, seriously damages human health too. Repeat the vinegar treatment if and when needed and be assured that the aroma vanishes rapidly.

Now on with other gardening matters for this month:

For those of you growing a wonderful display of flowering plants to enjoy over the cooler months ahead, September is a busy month indeed as it is time to sow lots and lots of potentially gorgeous annuals. Some suggestions are:

Tall: Queen Anne’s Lace, hollyhocks, scabosia, giant antirrhinums, gypsophila, tall varieties of larkspur. Medium: Scabosia, antirrhinums, calendulas, godetia, ageratum, clarkia, poppies of all shades and habits with Shirley poppies and Ladybird poppies being highly recommended; cornflowers, linum, stocks, Sweet Williams, sweet sultan, larkspur, pinks, dahlias, bidens, salvia, cinerraria, phlox, geranium, nemophila. Small: Bellis, candytuft, alyssum, petunias, lobelia, pansies, violas and nasturtiums.

Bees love nemophila
Bees love nemophila

In the vegetable department it is time to sow the following: peas, beans, tomatoes, Swiss chard/leaf beet, radish — and do try the scrumptious, crunchy, very long, rose coloured ones — cabbage, cauliflower, calabresse, beetroot, carrots, turnips, celery, lettuce, onions, green onions, shallots, endive, mustard, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, spinach, Chinese greens and lettuce. And make a start on planting potatoes for good measure.

Herbs for sowing now: borage, thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, chives, garlic chives, savoury, aniseed, lovage, oregano, agastache, dill, parsley, mint, calendula, nasturtium and as many varieties of mint as you can get your hands on.

Additionally, and towards the end of the month, make a start on putting in ranunculous, calla lilies, rain lilies, early flowering iris and both Asiatic and Oriental lilies although you may have to wait a little while yet for imported bulbs to appear in the market as many varieties are not planted until next month and on through until the end of December.

Flower of the month: Antirrhinum — more commonly known as either snapdragons or dog flowers — is a short-lived perennial species, mostly grown as an annual in Pakistan. Available in a multitude of colours/bi-colours, single/double/frilled, etc, these ever-popular flowers are found in dwarf, medium, tall and very tall forms. They do well in full sun or lightly dappled shade over the winter months, on through spring and into early summer until intense heat burns them up. Easily grown from seed — sow it during September/October for best results — they are more often purchased as seedlings from nurseries all over the country. A mass of antirrhinums is a bee-attractant beauty to behold.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 4th, 2016