Outdoors

Monty Don’s tips on getting the perfect lawn – and the mistakes you're making

Growing a beautifully lush lawn is easier than you think, thanks to this advice from the celebrity gardening expert

Monty Don's advice on getting the perfect lawn
(Image credit: Future / Annaick Guitteny)

With spring just around the corner, your lawn will already be coming back to life, so now is the ideal time to improve its condition for the seasons ahead. To get the best from your grass this year, heed the advice of celebrity gardening expert Monty Don.

See: Best lawn mowers – invest now for a gorgeous garden

In the new edition of his book, The Complete Gardener, Don revealed that at his own garden at Longmeadow, Herefordshire, he doesn't strive for a pristine lawn – just 'an even-ish area of green dominated by grass'. He is not troubled by a few weeds or even a bit of moss.

Don firmly believes that if the grass is healthy then everything else will look after itself.

‘To get a “good” lawn you have to think positively,’ he revealed in a recent blog post. ‘Put your efforts into healthy grass rather than fighting perceived “problems” like daisies, moss, ants, worm-casts, moles, plantains, dandelions and fairy rings.’

However, he stressed that the most common problem for lawns is lack of drainage – and for the best grass your soil does need to be well drained.

See: Take a tour around Monty Don's beautiful Longmeadow garden in Herefordshire

Magnolia tree spring garden lawn

(Image credit: Abigail Rex)

‘Moss, for example, is always a symptom of poor drainage, made worse by shade,’ he says. ‘Unfortunately even the best prepared soil becomes compacted by matted roots, rain and, especially, normal family use.’

Don explained that to solve the issue it’s important to work on the soil at least once a year. He does this by ‘sticking a fork in the ground and wiggling it about’, repeating the process every 6 inches or so.

To get the right mix for your soil, Don advises that you should combine equal portions of sieved topsoil, sharp sand and sieved leaf mould or compost. ‘Spread it across the area you have pricked and brush it in with a stiff broom, filling the holes with the mixture,’ he says. ‘This will help drainage and feed the grass.’

See: Monty Don reveals the 5 plants you should be pruning now

Don also suggests running a wire rake over the lawn to get rid of excess thatch and moss, and to allow light and water to get to the roots in the soil. However, you should not be cutting back the leaves of spring bulbs at this stage – they need to be allowed to die back naturally as they absorb their energy for next year’s flowers through their leaves.

Finally, you should finish by mowing the lawn. ‘Do not cut it too short,’ he says. ‘Just give it a light trim for the rest of this month and the grass will be a lot healthier – and better able to resist summer drought – as a result.’

More tips for the perfect lawn

Lush green lawn country garden

(Image credit: Clive Nicholls)

To make your lawn as lush as possible, follow the old adage of little and often when it comes to mowing. ‘Cutting the grass very short actually stimulates its rate of growth. This puts a real strain on each of the individual grass plants, as they need to take up extra water and nutrients to enable this to occur,’ says Mick Lavelle, gardening expert and senior lecturer in horticulture at Writtle University College.

Lavelle agrees with Don’s advice that cutting the grass too short will make the lawn prone to drought come summer, and mean it requires more watering. This will only be exacerbated by leaving it to get too long and before giving it a good cut. 

‘Lawns subjected to such treatment almost invariably turn yellow and often only recommence growth once autumn is well underway,’ says Lavelle. So make sure to raise the cutting height of your mower, and don’t leave too long between trims.

It’s also important that your mower blade is sharp, as a dull blade can tear and shed the blades of grass, drying out the grass and allowing diseases to take hold more easily. 

Mow when the grass is dry where possible, but if it’s getting too long then it is better to cut it when damp rather than just leave it.

Grass consists of up to 90 per cent water, so when the weather is dry for long periods you will need to water it to keep it lush – but where possible use harvested rainwater rather than overusing sprinklers. 

‘Even well-kept lawns tend to go brown in hot summers,’ says Lavelle. ‘If this does occur, fear not; your lawn is just resting and will green up once autumn rains arrive.’

Melanie Griffiths
Melanie Griffiths

As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, I love the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. I am passionate about characterful interiors and heritage-inspired designs, but I am equally fascinated by a house's architectural elements – if I spot an elegant original sash window or intricate stained-glass front door, it fills my heart with joy. It's so important to me that original features are maintained and preserved for future generations to enjoy. My other passion is my garden, and I am slowly building up my planting knowledge, and becoming more confident at experimenting with growing my own. As well as editing Period Living, I am also co-editing the Country Channel of Homes & Gardens. In my previous roles, I have worked on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, wiriting about modern design and architecture, so my experience is broad – but my heart belongs to period homes.