Lawn and Sports Turf Care
and Maintenance in Durban
This article has been written specifically for the management
of warm season
grasses in Durban,
The terms lawn and
turf apply to one and the same thing grass plants of various species
been cultured in a particular unnatural manner due to the misguided
order of modern man
which dates to no earlier than the
16th century and in its present form probably no longer than a hundred
Following the establishment of your lawn, the focus now changes to Turf
Management. Contrary to popular belief, Turf Management does not
be a daily chore, although the amount of work necessary depends on the
of lawn desired. For many only minor changes to existing Turf
practices is all that is required to have a top quality lawn.
Grass species best suited to
commonly planted and certainly the two most suitable lawn grasses that
found growing in Durban
are the two local indigenous grass species;
dactylon the dominant grass in Durban is a fine
grass which is the only
grass suitable for hard wearing sports turf and other high use areas.
Berea Grass Dactyloctenium
australe, is a very versatile grass that is well suited to both
well as amenity horticulture. Berea Grass grows best in full sun on
where it is found growing naturally in the coastal dune systems, it
do well in medium shade.
A high quality weed free Berea Dactyloctenium
australe Lawn that
has allowed to briefly go to flower.
It does not take a trained eye to see that this lawn is healthy and
Country Club Paspalum vaginatum This local
indigenous grass is a salt tolerant
specialist grass that has
been developed for golf greens and which is generally not suitable for
Cynodon Hybrids. There
are also specialist fine leafed hybrid
grasses requiring specialised care to perform well which have been
from Cynodon dactylon and Cynodon transvaalensis species for golf
are generally not suitable for any other use.
The following foreign grass
species are also
found growing in Durban
in small amounts. Please
avoid using these foreign invasive and destructive grass species
have very suitable local indigenous grasses.
Buffalo Grass Stenotaphrum
secundatum known elsewhere as St. Augustines Grass is an alien
grass from the Americas
which I do not recommend planting in Durban.
Kearsney or Carpet Grass Axonopus
compressus as it is known elsewhere is a tropical grass from the
which is also an alien invasive grass from the Americas which I do not
recommend planting in Durban.
clandestinum this is a highly
invasive very destructive foreign grass which does not like the hot
conditions at the coast but does grow well in the cooler inland suburbs
the most important task undertaken. Make sure the mower blades
sharp at all times as blunt blades will damage the grass leaves and
give a poor
quality unsightly cut. The commonly adopted approach to grass cutting
of scalping the lawn at periodic intervals, (i.e. setting the mower too
this causes serious damage to turf grasses, thus negatively affecting
quality of the lawn. This practice in conjunction with
inappropriate fertilizing is one of the main reasons why lawns become
and dominated by weeds. A mower with blunt blades, especially a rotary
mower that cuts lawn by impact does considerable physical damage to the
leaf which increases the grass plant's susceptibility to fungal and
attack, increases moisture loss and gives the lawn a ragged white look.
best mowers to use on fine turf are well set reel mowers that slice
through the grass leaf. Reel mowers give the finest cut and also roll
smooth and are used primarily on golf greens and fairways, sports
bowling greens and by the home gardener who demands a high quality
no circumstance whatever should a lawn ever be mowed with a edging
(weed eater) because the cutting action is by impacting the grass blade
blunt instrument the nylon cord which tears the grass leaf to shreds
very untidy ragged finish. The second reason for not using and edging
to cut lawn is that it is impossible to accurately control the correct
height the usual consequence is the lawn is cut far too short and very
the sensitive growing tips of the grass plants are totally destroyed
and avenue for the invasion of weeds which eventually completely take
replace the grass cover.
grass species has its own optimal mowing height for the use it is being
When mown regularly within the correct height range, a uniform dense
is encouraged which limits the opportunity for weeds to
Conversely, mowing too low or too high thins the turf, which allows
to develop, in time these areas become colonized by weeds. As a rule of
for home lawns a height between 25- 40 mm gives the best results. In
areas the lawn should be allowed to grow a little longer. Short lawns
neater however the grass plants have shorter roots systems, and suffer
environmental stress. This means that short lawns require very careful
management, in particular watering, fertilizing and mowing. Increasing
height of cut under stress conditions in particular during summer
periods is a good management practice, which helps to maintain a
The rule of
thumb is to remove no more than 25% of the grass plant leaf at any one
time. Scalping (removing all or most of the leaf and the growing
as well as parts of the stem) severely damages or kills the turf grass
thus allowing weed seeds the opportunity to germinate and to establish
themselves in the lawn, this bad management practice provides the
for weeds to better compete.
height and frequency will depend on:
specie variety of grass as well as the time of the year (for example,
growth is more vigorous in Autumn/Spring than in winter.
height and frequency is dependant on the use the lawn is to be put to
as well as personal preference.
- Mow a
little less frequently and raising the height of the cut during hot
will reduce moisture loss.
- The more frequently the
lawn is mowed the better the quality of the lawn
wish to improve the appearance of the lawn for a special event, the
will be achieved through an increase in mowing frequency not a lowering
height. This may involve mowing up to three times per week.
increase in frequency should begin at a minimum two weeks before the event. Spraying the lawn with ferrous
sulphate will give it a rich green colour in a matter of days
clippings can be left on the lawn after cutting, rather than removing
applies in particular to domestic lawns on sandy soils. The clippings
quickly, returning nutrients to the soil within weeks of mowing. The
elements contained within the clippings comprise of nitrogen,
potassium at ratios of 5:2:3, respectively. Trace minerals are also
The amount of nitrogen returned to the soil is as much as 88 kg/ha.
nitrogen is the most expensive component of all lawn fertilizers, it
Clippings also enhance the habitat for
beneficial soil micro-organisms.
Earthworms ingest the clippings at night, further increasing the
fertility of the soil, and maintaining a base that allows the lawn to
springy when walked on. If the grass clippings are removed, worms will
to other more favourable habitats this will negatively influence soil
Whether to return or remove the clippings or to return them to the soil
I personally believe that it is a good environmental
practice to allow the
grass clippings to remain onsite.
There are good reasons in favour of both options.
Where clippings are returned to the soil the
- Mowing is (generally)
cheaper in particular where contractors are employed
- Nutrients are recycled to
- It is a good
environmental practice to do so
The lawn will not
require to be fertilized as often.
The disadvantages of clipping return include:
finish may not be as good
- Disease could under
certain circumstances be enhanced
- On weedy lawns, weed seed
is returned to the soil
- Where clippings are too
thick, the turf can become smothered allowing weeds
- A possible Increase in
thatch build-up. (Thatch is an accumulation of dead
leaf and stems and shoot mass encountered on well used lawns that
amounts of traffic, thatch reduces or prevents the penetration of water
the soil and a reduced gas exchange to the root zone). Thatch is seldom
encountered on home lawns.
- Leaf cuttings could be
blown into swimming pools
plants, which make lawns as with all living organisms, require
grow and to be healthy. Regular applications of fertilizer supply the
nutrients thus ensuring vigorous healthy grass plants and a top quality
The nutrients essential for growth within the soil are nitrogen (N),
(P), potassium (K) and iron (Fe). As a result of lawn culture certain
plant nutrients are lost to the system, due to the removal of grass
leaching of nutrients out of the root zone as well as losses of
nitrogen to the
atmosphere. Nitrogen deficient grass is yellow-green, and lacks vigour.
Nitrogen produces deep green leaves, rapidly growing leaves and shorter
Phosphorus facilitates metabolic functions plus energy storage and use.
Potassium is used to create cell components, and it helps regulate
and transpiration. It helps the plant grow, withstand environmental
resist disease. Fertilizers should contain N, P and K. where possible
balanced fertilizer that contains a mixture of slow and fast release N.
allows the lawn to green up with 2-3 days and stay green for several
Iron can be used to control moss and some broad-leaved weeds. Iron
grass, making it appear greener without stimulating growth. In Durban
with it´s high average rainfall and generally sandy berea red soils
leaching of plant growth
nutrients is generally very high so frequent preferably monthly low
rates of fertilizer are recommended. This does not only benefit the
producing far better growth but the annual use of fertilizer is reduced
Always use a balanced lawn fertilizer.
To give the
lawn a good green colour without boosting the growth rate water or
spray with a
ferrous sulphate solution at the rate of 50 to 150 grams per 100 square
of lawn. This will have a superb greening effect on the lawn, only
apply when there
is plenty of moisture available for active growth. Ferrous sulphate at
concentrations can be applied at any time of year as long as good soil
is available and the temperatures are not excessive.
the concentration to 150 to 200 grams and not only will it have a good
effect but it will also harden the turf making it more resistant to
fungal attack. This is a very common practice on sports turf in late
winter in Europe but seldom if ever encountered here in South Africa.
The general rule is that
frequency should be such that turf density and colour is
Obviously the exact programme will be influenced by many factors, such
- soil type, i.e. sandy
soils will require lighter more frequent dressings than
- whether clipped are moved
- amount of wear received
(high traffic areas require more regular dressings)
lawn begins to turn yellow then it may need fertilizer for chlorophyll
synthesis to occur.
However, as with most things, over fertilizing may result in problems
and ultimately an unhealthy and difficult to maintain lawn. Over
with high nitrogen fertilizers of Kearsney Grass Axonopus compressus
to yellowing and the eventual death of the grass.
As a general rule two main applications of a good balanced lawn
a higher potassium (K) content in the spring and autumn and if needs be
two light applications of a balanced fertilizer with a higher nitrogen
content during the Summer months will produce a high quality lawn,
careful too much nitrogen applied in summer may stimulate lush growth
Apply fertilizer uniformly to
avoid variations in growth and the risk of killing the grass due to
doses. Never apply fertilizer by hand always use a mechanical
spreader, i.e. a rotating disc spreader, which can be purchased from
hardware and garden shops. For even application when applying the
fertilizer divide the fertilizer into two batches, and apply half in
direction and the rest at right angles to it. If using a spinning disc
broadcast spreader, set the machine to half the application rate and
adjacent runs at half the distance apart of the machine's spread.
- Always apply a known
weight of fertilizer to a known area at the recommended
rate, to avoid fertilizer toxicity.
- Avoid applying fertilizer in the heat of the
- Never apply fertilizer to a lawn that is under
- Always irrigate after applying fertilizer
- To prevent corrosion to
metal parts of the applicator, wash the applicators
with water after use.
The use of irrigation is primarily to supplement deficiencies in
good automatic system can be used to maintain the lawn in top condition
the summer. However, care is required, as poor irrigation
particular over watering can create problems.
Watering during establishment
As a general guide irrigate early morning again for a
short period at
mid-day and again in the early evening
There are cost effective water timers and sprinklers available from
completely wet the root zone rather than just wetting the
avoid wastage, water should be applied at a rate so that ponding is
avoided. This may require several short bursts of watering rather
single irrigation cycle.
Watering after establishment
Turf grass is a relatively
high user of water. Enough water to completely wet the root zone must
applied at each watering. The frequency of watering will be determined
atmospheric conditions and the water retention properties of the soil.
before the first signs of wilting to avoid damage to the lawn. A
thumb for top quality irrigated lawns is to apply 25 mm per week during
Weeds are all unwanted plants that will colonize your lawn if you
engage in bad
management practices, for instance, incorrect mowing height and
insufficient or inappropriate watering, the lack of regular
applications of or
too much fertilizer, or to a much lesser extent insect or disease
When the turf looses its density and uniformity an open sward develops
leaves it wide open to colonization by unwanted weeds. Weeds in turf
be very effectively controlled with the use of herbicides and by
good turf management program.
To correctly apply herbicides is a skilled job that requires a good
understanding of their application and mode of action as well as the
identification of the particular weed to be eradicated. There are
herbicides that can successfully remove weeds, both broad leaf and weed
from lawns, however if you are not experienced in turf care, consult an
When applying herbicides always:
- Read the
instructions on the label
- Follow all safety and
- Wear safety
equipment as required
The most frequent
insect pests in Durban are;
Army worm and lawn crickets that require specific insecticides to
As with weed control, there is a large range of insecticides on the
When applying insecticides always:
- Read the manufacturer's instructions on the label well
- Follow all safety and application instructions to the
- Wear safety equipment as required
neighbours and the environment
- Always use the less toxic option
- When in doubt always
Ecoman Sports Turf and Lawn Expert
experience with establishing and managing both warm season as well as
season grasses which has been gained in Durban,
and Auckland, New Zealand.
Sports Turf Construction
sports turf construction
experience includes the construction of many sports fields for
hockey and cricket, golf course greens, bowling greens, turf wickets in
over a period of more than 25 years
mostly while working for the Durban Parks Department, which were all
warm season grasses in particular Cynodon dactylon varieties. I also
constructed and renovated a number of football fields and rugby fields
in New Zealand.
of my amenity turf
construction experience comes from over 28 years constructing and
parks and gardens for the Durban Parks Department, I also gained
experience as a private contractor constructing parks and establishing
season grasses mostly for the North Shore City Council in Auckland New Zealand.
Sports Turf and Amenity
Turf Maintenance Experience
of my sports turf and
amenity turf maintenance experience comes from the maintenance of a
number of parks, sports fields, road verges etc that were under
care as a horticulturist then later as a horticultural manager during
years that I was employed by the Durban Parks Department
Establishment and Maintenance Experience
establishment and maintenance experience has been gained on warm season
in Durban and on cool season grasses in
and Auckland, New Zealand. My first
with domestic lawn care was gained as a young child helping my father
annual spring treatment of our own domestic lawn up until today where I
do all my own lawn care including the cutting of my own lawn. I have
for lawn for commercial clients in South
and New Zealand
over a period of over 40 years.
a number of years I
over seeded portions of my own domestic lawn in Durban in winter with cool season
maintain a lush green lawn in areas that Cynodon dactylon had been
Certificate in Turf Grass Management
Best Student Turf
by Michael Hickman on 28 November 2013