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Gradual lawn improvement

Hi everyone,

Forum newbie here but I'm keen to learn and have just been dumped in at the deep end by buying a new house with a large (about 0.75 acre), mature garden.

Being planted in the 70's there are a lot of mature conifers casting shade and sucking up water (though oddly there are other areas which don't seem to dry very quickly).  This has resulted in a good 70% of the lawn area being moss (which the rabbit love to dig up because it's so soft) and smaller areas being bare soil (under pine trees).

Now rather than kill it and leave the whole thing looking appalling for a long while (as well as testing my newbie gardening skills to the maximum) I wondered if I could lay the foundations for gradual improvement by leaving the moss for now but encouraging stronger grass growth this year.  So something like:
  • aerate/spike
  • cut high/long
  • top sow (including the shady areas with an appropriate seed)
  • feed (but not kill moss)
I guess I'm asking is taking it slowly a sensible approach for the first year while we get to grips with the whole garden, see what's planted where and what colours we get but keep the lawn looking green rather than rushing in and killing all the moss right now.

Thanks for your help.  I'm bound to be on here a lot of the coming months and years.



  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 28,841
    Definitely spiking is a good idea and then brush sharp sand into the resulting holes to keep them open and maintain drainage and aeration.  This should weaken the moss so, in April, apply a lawn weed and feed product following the instructions for dosages.  This will kill the weakened moss and other weeds.   

    You then need to rake off all the dross.  Good idea at this point to buy or hire a scarifier to do the job thoroughly and quickly.   Scarify and sand again if it's still boggy in places.   You can then sow fresh grass seed, choosing a variety suited to your conditions.  The other good time for sowing grass is September, should you miss the boat in April.

    As for the rest of the garden, for the first year in a  new garden it is often best to watch and wait and see what comes up.  Remove obvious weeds before they can take hold but otherwise just note what grows, take pictures to remind yourself, decide and note what you like, what you loathe and what you can live with for now.  make a note of plants doing well in neighbouring gardens and that you like.    Note where the sun shines and where there is deep shade as this will help you decide on any major changes in features and planting.  Think also about how you want to use your garden - play, relaxation, pottering, veggies, fruit, entertaining and so on.

    Don't do anything radical in its first summer.    Autumn is the best time for new planting, moving established plants and mulching soils for next season.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 33,750
    yup, what Obs says. Wise words, as ever.
    Welcome to the Forum and feel free to post some photos. We all love and " before and after" project.
  • UpNorthUpNorth Posts: 376
    edited March 2018
    ".......just been dumped in at the deep end by buying a new house with a large (about 0.75 acre), mature garden."

    Mike, I feel your pain!  We did similar four+ years ago and have learned a lot in this time, but feels there's another 40 years learning to do.  however we've really started to enjoy gardening!   maybe you will!

    you've probably found 'lawnsmith' website....

    i had a great deal of moss...i thought it was pretty much just moss, didn't really look like any grass was there and the fear of a brown patch loomed.  However, don't agonise i'd say.   I would definitely use a moss killer (a combined moss killer, feed, weed) because you're doing all the hard graft anyway, i don't see a need to delay killing the moss.  if you scarify you're going to pull the moss up anyway.  Which is good, but you'll be pulling up live moss, you'd be best save yourself some back pain and pull up black and dead moss, it occupies a slightly smaller space in the mountain you're about to generate.  

     i stress...the grass is almost certainly there and will come back thick and lush long before the moss ( which will have another go next winter)   the below pics are about eight weeks apart.  look how thin the grass is.  that was just a cheap box of 3in1 from wilkinsons and a £80 scarifier from screwfix.    I've done this over the years on about five lawn areas which is something like 10 tennis courts i think.


    just moving away from advice would be also start to get upto speed with shrubs and pruning.  we found the last owner had neglected most of the garden for a number of years meaning lots of shrubs were quite overgrown, albeit we didn't really know that when we first saw the house, we just saw the nice greenery and thought loverly!  

    Good luck!

    p.s. i don't seem to have a handle on the new forum....i can't seem to get outside of this 'quote' i'm going to just post and see what happens...

  • UpNorthUpNorth Posts: 376

    I feel your pain, we bought into a mature garden four  years ago and quickly had to learn.  particularly de-mossing the lawns.

    you're worried there's 99% moss, 1% lawn?    

    don't be.  

    you seem to be on the right track, but i'd definitely use a moss killer soon as the temperatures are up beyond say 12 degrees at least and grass is growing.

    -cut grass, not too short.
    -use 3-1 moss killer, weed, feed
    -when sufficient moss is black, time to scarify and aerate (maybe a week?)
    -don't be scared by the soil that replaces the green.  it's only eight weeks or so in spring and you'll be very happy with the result.
    -find somewhere to put your moss mountain.
    -make sure you have lots of time for it, you scarify a few square feet and you have a trug full of rake/collect/dispose. 
    -make a mountain of moss....2-3 years later you will use it as compost/mulch/soil improver.  it takes at least that long but in 3 years you'll really appreciate it!

    the pics below actually are all separate lawns, but same treatment to about five areas ( circa 10 tennis courts worth) and they all responded the same.

    i find the trickiest thing is distributing the moss killer evenly.  

  • _MH__MH_ Posts: 16
    Thanks everyone for your insight.  So it seems the general concensus is that I should bite the bullet and just try to get rid of the moss and re-sow the grass instead of tip-toeing around the issue.  I guess I was just being hesitant for a few reasons - there seems to be 10000 things to do in the garden in the coming months (and I know how to do about 2 of them!) plus I was concerned I would spend all this time, effort and money only for it to reoccur because the trees will still cast their shade.  Too nervous to start chopping down lots of 60ft trees until I've lived with the garden a little bit.

    Many thanks for the photos UpNorth - seeing your results make me feel a LOT better about reducing my lawn to near-soil for a period of time.  Will show them to the missus and she if she's happy to let me go ahead this year.

    Will definitely post some photos when it all kicks off.
  • UpNorthUpNorth Posts: 376
    Good to get permission!   Whilst it is recommended to 'overseed' I have done this before, but find pigeons etc just take the seeds.  if anything, stand/stomp on the seed to push them into the soil, so maybe some are hidden from birds.  I doubt much if any actually seeded for me.  a few weeks later ( maybe three) you want to start cutting your grass again as it won't all be looking so bare, perhaps like mine, closest to hedge/fence/deep shade.  

    the fact is, it will be 1000% better than when you started and will have a massive impact on your whole garden by June/mid year ish.  

    Look forward to seeing the before and after when you're ready!
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 82,777
    If you're using an all in one mosskiller/weed & feed just check the pack to be sure not to sow grass seed too soon ... some of the weedkillers incorporated in the mix will prevent germination of any seeds for a little while. 

    I've been there, done it, ended up with a bare lawn just like Upnorth's and a few weeks later we had a lush green front garden.  Just make sure you have enough space to put the raked moss ... and don't put it into the compost heap if you use the Three In One as of course the weedkiller will stay in the compost and kill any plants you use the compost for. 

    Don't panic when it all goes black ... blame us and show us some photos just to put your OH's mind at rest. :)

    Let us know how you get on.
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • Dave HumbyDave Humby Posts: 1,142
    The mature conifers you refer to will continue to be a problem so you need to give some thought to these areas. I think you'll likely be wasting a lot of effort to get a half-decent lawn in areas directly impacted by them. 
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 82,777
    edited March 2018
    Good point about the shade Dave ... oversowing with a shade-tolerant variety of grass seed would be good. 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053
    And please, please, please, BEFORE you start applying a moss killer, read the instructions thoroughly. And weigh out the dosage for 1 square metre on the kitchen scales. Use a plastic cup or similar and mark a line on the cup. Then use garden canes to mark out a square metre so you know the area that dose covers. 
    Or, you can get someone to come in and spray and later scarify. There are lots of companies that do that here - you can get a once off (kill and scarify) or sign up for 4 yearly visits to do all the treatments on the grass. And it is not too expensive. 
    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
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