Design the Perfect Lawn

When we think about low-maintenance garden design, we usually seek to get rid of the lawn. After all, once-weekly mowing and edging, keeping it watered through the summer and feeding it at least twice a year does sound like a lot of work. And then there's scarifying and top dressing and repairing the bare patches the dog leaves behind. It is true to say that incorporating a lawn into your design doesn't make for an entirely low-maintenance design but before you discount including a lawn, think about what it adds to your design.

A lawn, in garden design, acts like a carpet in a room. It brings all the other design elements together. It gives you year-round colour and it's essential if you have children or if you intend to market your house in the future to families. So, if you must have a lawn, you can design it so that your maintenance is reduced. By carefully planning your lawn, you can save time in the future and cut down on all the tasks involved in its upkeep.


Poor drainage in a lawn encourages moss and, if you have moss, you will need to apply moss killer and scarify at least once a year. This is a time-consuming and thankless task since the moss will almost definitely return the following year. The best way to cut out this job is to reduce the possibility of moss taking hold in the first place and, if the drainage is poor, you should install a lawn drainage system before you lay your lawn. It may seem like heavy work but it will be worth it in the end. For full instructions on how to lay a lawn drainage system, see our article How to lay lawn drainage.


The shape of your lawn determines how easy it will be to mow. In general, you should avoid sharp corners and awkward curves that mean you will have to try and negotiate your mower in and out of small spaces. Of course, the easiest lawn to mow is probably the plain old rectangular one but this is boring in terms of garden design. Introduce long sweeping curves or try a circular lawn for an easy maintenance but more dynamic design. You can experiment with the shape of your lawn by drawing it on paper first. Measure your garden, draw a scaled drawing and then try out as many shapes as you like without wasting time and money on the real thing. For more information on how to measure your garden, see our article Measuring your garden.
The image on the left illustrates a lawn design that will be difficult to mow. You can see that there are two awkward corners (circled in red) which will make turning the mower very difficult.

In the image on the right, these corners have been smoothed out to make it easier.

If possible, you should avoid obstacles on the lawn such as trees, island beds and furniture. All these things will make the task of mowing all more difficult. If you must have furniture or children's toys on the lawn, then you should try to move these around from time to time to give the grass underneath time to recover.


So, you've just spent an hour mowing the lawn and now you have to get the edging iron out to edge it - yet another hour out of your hard-earned leisure time. You can avoid edging every week by installing a mowing strip around your lawn. This can be a path or a run of mono blocks or bricks set into the ground at just below the height of the lawn and wide enough for you to place the wheels of your lawnmower onto it. You will still have to edge every four weeks or so but you can use a strimmer for this without fear of damaging surrounding plants. You can even run mowing strips along fence lines to protect the fence wood from strimmer damage and, if you plan to have a deck sitting at the edge of a lawn, a mowing strip will protect the softwood decking from damage and rot. The image on the right shows a mono block mowing strip protecting the deck.

All paths and patios that border the lawn should be set below the height of the lawn so you can get the mower right up to them and avoid edging every time. Island beds and borders without edging mean more time and trouble but, if you must have a border without a hard-scaped edge, make sure the soil level is lower than the lawn so that you can get your edger right into the edge without damaging the blades by catching the soil. If you're going to use gravel beside your lawn, hard-scaped edge of some description is an absolute must if you don't want gravel flying up in your face every time you strim.

Lawn Types

The type of turf you choose for your new lawn will determine how much maintenance time you need to put in. High quality ornamental lawns contain turf varieties that are designed to be close mown. Generally, this is a finer lawn and you have to cut it little and often to keep it looking good. This means at least once a week and with sharp lawnmower blades every time. Fine lawn mixes tend to be less drought tolerant and will have to be watered in dry weather. A general purpose turf is more hardy. It will contain grass varieties that will put up with a little neglect from time to time. With a general purpose lawn, you can stretch out the mowing frequency to fortnightly if you have to. Turf varieties in general purpose lawns will also have better recovery from damage. If you have children that want to use the lawn as a football pitch, then choose a utility lawn. This will contain a higher percentage of perennial ryegrass which can put up with more abuse than the other types.

Feeding and Watering

You shouldn't avoid this task. No matter how well you design your lawn, there's no getting away from the fact that lawns are hungry. They need water in dry weather to keep them looking green and a feed twice a year will help it to compete with both moss and weeds. A sprinkler (if you live in an area where you're allowed to do this) is ideal for watering since the only work you have to do is move it around every half hour or so. You can buy wheeled lawn feeders to make the job of feeding easier too. Feed with a spring fertiliser in the spring and an autumn fertiliser in the autumn and don't make the mistake of using the same feed at different times. Spring fertiliser is designed to encourage new, fresh green growth. The autumn types are designed to encourage good root growth when the lawn is getting ready to hibernate. If you force it to increase green growth at this time, you risk damaging the new growth when the frost arrives.

Now that you know the elements that make up a good low-maintenance lawn design, you can get to work drawing your plan. Gardenzine's free online home garden design course will help you with this.

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