Preparing and creating a lawn
A wildlife-friendly lawn can start in the preparation! There are lots of things to consider as you start to think about your lawn and begin to build it in your garden.
Preparing for a lawn
Late summer and autumn (when the soil is warm) is the ideal time to seed or lay a lawn. It won't require watering then, so it will settle in and establish itself far quicker and more successfully.
Lawns laid or seeded in spring or summer often require watering to prevent the germinating seeds being burnt off or turfs shrinking. In winter, it can be difficult to rake the bed to a fine level tilth as the ground is often too wet.
Establish your lawn on a firm bed. Avoid digging or rotovating the area too deeply to prevent hollows from appearing. After raking the area to a fine level tilth, firm the soil with the back of a rake and roll the area twice at right angles to each other. This should find any soft spots, which can then be filled by raking and/or shovelling soil from adjacent high spots and re-firming.
Small lawn areas can be dug by hand, but it may be more efficient to hire a rotovator for larger areas. If you are starting from scratch, you can use it to cultivate the whole garden in one go. Those with gears are easier to handle and manoeuvre and it is easier to adjust the depth of cultivation.
You could consider spreading the hire cost with your neighbours and rotovating several gardens in one go.
Creating a lawn
Once the ground is prepared, you're ready to lay or seed your lawn.
- Start by marking out the shapes of the borders. Use pegs and string, or a trickle of sand to mark an outline. Gently curving or sinuous edges increase the available surface area between the lawn and adjacent border.
- If you are laying turf, calculate the approximate number of rolls per row required and place them evenly over the area. As you reach each row, your turfs will be ready to hand for laying. Use scaffold boards to run barrows where you require them.
- Lay the turf from the longest straight edge, working from scaffold boards. Lay them like bricks, so each subsequent row is staggered and joints do not overlap. Working from a board, use an edging iron to cut the border turfs to shape.
- If you are seeding, start by carefully seeding a 0.5m (18ins) edge to the lawn, following the contours of the marked border. You can then freely broadcast the seed across the rest of the lawn. Cover the lawn twice at right angles to each seeding. You can use a lawn seed spreader, but an effective job can also be done by hand from a bucket.
- If you have had to water your lawn to help it establish, you don't need to water it again once it is established – it doesn’t make sense to try to create a wildlife habitat in your garden at the expense of a wetland somewhere else! If your grass dries and goes brown, it will recover with the next rain.
Why patios can be a habitat for wildlife
At first it may seem that a patio is devoid of wildlife. But look again, you may be surprised at what you find.
If it is sunny, butterflies may be basking and few patios are ant-free. At night many insects will be drawn to lit windows, which in turn attract predators such as other insects and bats.
If you grow plants in pots and containers, insects and birds will visit for the flowers and seeds, and small creatures may be sheltering in the cool and damp underneath.
Make the most of your garden
- Plant plenty of pots with native species as these attract more wildlife. Many plants, bulbs and small shrubs will grow happily in a container if fed and watered regularly.
- Make a mini pond in a water-tight tub. You’ll see lots of interesting insects.
- Allow some plants to grow in the cracks. It will soften hard lines and will be good for creepy crawlies.
- Insects may hibernate in patio pots. Try not to tidy up dead stems and seed heads until spring.