The onset of winter is many a gardener’s nightmare. For most of us, it means that the lush green lawns of summer turn all too quickly into either a muddy mess or a sad, threadbare turf.
To keep a lawn looking good, it is no secret that grass needs to be regularly maintained – lawn must be cut, fertilised and watered. To keep your lawn looking its best, there are a few changes that you can make in winter months that can alleviate the gardening problems that come with the cold.
Winter in South Africa
South African winter can be very broadly separated into two climates – cold and wet, and cold and dry. The Western Cape has a wet and not-too-cold winter, while the interior plateau gets dry, crisp and cold weather. Coastal regions do not get as icy cold as interior regions, and generally have a more regular rainfall.
Types of Grass for your Lawn
There are many varieties of grass and South African gardeners tend to use one of five varieties – Kikuyu, Buffalo, LM Berea, Bermuda and Gulf Green. There are, of course, other kinds of lawn that are used, but these are the most common. Different types of grass suit different types of residential lawns, so make sure that you know your lawn’s priorities before you decide on which lawn to use.
Keep in mind that all of these lawn types suit gardens that receive full sun, but some tolerate shade much better than others.
Kikuyu (Pennisetum Clandestinum)
Most South African residential lawns use Kikuyu, for several reasons. It is far more affordable than other grass types, mainly because it grows so quickly. Kikuyu is originally from Kenya, which means that it doesn’t handle cool climates well at all. It requires frequent watering and almost full sun, which means that it often dies out completely in Winter. On the plus side, it grows incredibly quickly, has a short recovery time and is ideal for lawns that have a lot of traffic (most sports fields are a mixture of Kikuyu and Bermuda).
Buffalo (Stenotaphrum Secundatum)
Buffalo grass is much better at adapting to shade than Kikuyu. Although it is quite a lot more expensive than Kikuyu, it is the best option for gardens that are shaded. It is slow-growing, which means it needs to be mowed less frequently. Buffalo does not have the self-reviving properties that Kikuyu has, which means that it can’t be neglected – regular watering is key. A darker green than Kikuyu, buffalo grass has a broader leaf, and is less soft to the touch than other varieties.
This lawn type has an excellent shade tolerance, and is the most popular choice of lawn in Kwa-Zulu Natal and areas with a similar climate. People love its soft texture, but it does not respond well to high traffic. LM Berea should not be mowed too short.
Bermuda (Cynodon Dactylon) and Blackjack
Bermuda lawn needs full sun but not as much water as other lawn types. It is often used to combat soil erosion, as its roots sit very deep in the soil. This lawn can be mowed short and it tolerates high traffic well. It is generally a very good long-term lawn solution in South Africa, except in the Western Cape, where it can get over-hydrated in Winter.
Blackjack is a genetically modified Bermuda lawn – it offers a beautiful texture and colour without needing a lot of water.
Gulf Green (Cynodan Transvaalensis)
Sometimes referred to as ‘Golf Green’, Gulf Green is an indigenous species ideal for manicured areas of lawn. It is a favourite choice in the wet Western Cape Winter, as it keeps its colour and soft texture throughout the cold months. This lawn loves water, responds well to traffic and grows quickly. Gulf Green does not thrive in the dryer interior regions in the Winter, as it hates frost.
Questions to consider
- Does your area receive a high rainfall, or are there watering restrictions in your neighbourhood?
- How often are you able (and willing) to mow the lawn?
- Do you need a lawn that is tolerant to traffic (children and pets).
- How much sun does the garden receive?
- Are some areas in shade?
Common Winter Lawn Problems
Wintergrass (Poa Annua)
Wintergrass is a common lawn pest during Winter. It is a bright, light green, finely leafed grass that spreads and can cause damage if left unattended. It is such an effective invader because it has a web-like root system that chokes the root system of a lawn. This root system degrades slowly, which means that Wintergrass is never a short-lived problem. Some lawns are rife with Wintergrass, and it is the bane of many a gardener’s life.
In dry areas, Winter means that the lawn dies a miserable death each year. Frost can be very dangerous to lawns, so if your area experiences regular frost, make sure that your lawn is able to tolerate it.
On the other side of the spectrum, lawn can easily become over-hydrated in Winter.
It is a good idea to change the fertiliser that you use as the seasons change. In Winter, use a fertiliser high in phosphate (a 2:3:2 fertiliser), which encourages root development over leaf development. The opposite holds true for warmer months – in spring, a nitrogen-rich fertiliser is best, as it encourages leaf development. Always remember to water your lawn thoroughly after fertilising!
It is important that your garden is well-irrigated, especially if you live in an area with a high Winter rainfall. Cold water sitting around the roots will cause them to rot and your lawn can die.
If there is a place in your garden that consistently suffers in winter, consider replacing the lawn there with something else. An extension of a flower bed, or even a paved path could work wonders.
Artificial lawn or fake grass is becoming more popular, especially in urban areas. Homes with small gardens that are badly irrigated and with nutrient deficient soil can really optimise on some of the fake lawn on offer.
Click for a directory of gardening and outdoor products and services in South Africa.Tags: Gardening & Outdoors, House exteriors, How-To