Rhododendron Blue Peter. Picture by ULF Eliasson
MOSS. Isn’t it just a pain in the grass?
It creeps up on you and, almost before you know it, you appear to have a moss lawn.
Richard Day wrote asking my advice about his lawn at Magdalen Crescent, Cowes, which is suffering from the green invader.
He had the lawn replaced four years ago, first noticed some moss on it around a year ago and then, this autumn, it had become half moss, half grass.
"Unfortunately, the lawn is overshadowed by a large leylandii hedge and is very wet in the winter," he told me.
"I have looked on the internet but there appears to be conflicting ideas on how to deal with the moss. One is to replace it with artificial turf!"
I am afraid moss is an inevitable consequence of shade and moisture — and the acidity from the leylandii hedge will give it a boost too.
If I was the sort of gardener who wanted a billiard table surface, I would consider myself plagued with the stuff because my lawn is probably more shaded than Richard’s, situated as it is beneath a canopy of oaks.
The most gloomy sections benefitted from re-seeding with a shade grass mixture, which needs less light to flourish, but the downside of it is that it is by no means as hardy as a rye-grass and is much more prone to damage — and bare patches do tend to encourage moss.
If there is nothing that can be done about light levels, there is a twin-track approach to keeping a healthy swathe.
Keep a close eye on the lawn. It is especially easy to miss the stealthy green invader, especially at this time of year when there has been little encouragement to go outside.
I am not a great lawn man. As long as it is green and is a cushioned area for my daughters’ beach towels, then I am not too bothered — unless it becomes a real problem and if it does take over completely it is a problem because it is not hard wearing.
One example of that was that I only really noticed just how much there was among the grass after our wedding reception.
Dancing feet, twisting the night away to the Mechanix in our marquee on the lawn, effectively ground away all the moss, leaving precious little else.
The healthier you can make the grass then the less likely it will be overwhelmed.
Regular feeding in spring and early summer is desirable. And, if you want to keep it organic and slow-release to boot, there are often offers at this time of year of chicken pellet manure.
A good scattering of that is great — and the smell soon goes away.
Aerating the lawn by spiking it to improve drainage is important too and sharp sand can be raked over the surface to fill the drainage holes and help with that.
Removal of the surface moss mat by manual means is my preference. A garden fork repeatedly dragged across the surface of the mat will do the job but a grass rake — one with the springy steel tines — is best.
The final solution is to apply a dichlorophen-based moss killer in autumn or, better still, a kill and feed solution in spring. That can be followed with a sprinkling of grass seed mixed with compost and sharp sand onto the bare, raked, surfaces after the dead moss mat has been removed.
There is one valuable preventive measure too — don’t cut the grass too short in summer and don’t leave it too long in winter.
Overly short grass can be weak and bare patches can form.
But, if it is long in autumn when conditions are damp, it can provide the ideal habitat for trailing mosses too.
Take heart — even the best of billiard table grass is suffering in the Great Flood. Repair work is required at the usually immaculate Ryde Marina Bowls Club.
Colourful gems found by Victorian plant hunters
WE HAVE much for which to thank Victorian plant hunters — and much to curse them for too.
On the minus side, think Japanese knotweed and that ugly specimen of a tree Cupressus macrocarpa — the Monterey Pine. Think Himalayan balsam too.
On the plus side, what about azaleas and rhododendrons they brought back from China, Japan, and the Himalayas.
One of my favourites, and I don’t quite know why, is the purple-flowered Himalayan variety, which is also the most successful, spreading itself across the UK weed-like.
Dwarf rhododendrons can be enjoyed in containers on a patio or balcony.
The Yakushimanum (otherwise known as Yak) hybrids grow slowly and, with the right feeding and watering, will put on glorious displays of flowers year after year without ever out-growing their space.
Container growing allows all the benefits of being able to get the acid soil conditions just right and you can relocate your plants as the fancy takes you. Handy if you are moving house.
If you have got more space, you can make them a bigger part of the garden.
Acid soil is generally a must, although the Royal Horticultural Society has been running long-term trials on lime-tolerant varieties and it may be worth asking after Inkharo hybrids (claimed to have a degree of lime tolerance) at your garden centre.
Combine larger plants, for example Beauty of Littleworth (fabulous white flowers in spring) with ferns, perhaps in the dappled shade of mature trees. Hostas make great partners too.
Try matching the sumptuous Rhododendron Blue Peter with hosta fortunei to get maximum value from the lilac flower heads of the rhododendron.
A worthwhile guideline to keep in mind is the more floriferous a variety is, the less suitable for naturalistic settings it tends to be.
For this reason, the really showy examples, such as Rhododendron Linda, with its vivid cerise flowers, are best nearer the house.
Bigger rhododendrons have the potential to provide useful screening against eyesores or for protection from a busy road.
Hardy hybrid or 'iron-clad’ evergreen rhododendrons are perfect for these situations.
Rhododendron Cynthia is one such and reaches a height and spread of six metres.
Equally, there are dwarf alpine varieties that are perfect in rock gardens, for example Dora Amateis, which bears lovely white flowers in spring and achieves a maximum height and spread of only 3ft or so.
Gardening Galore returns
WE CAN only hope that the last of the precipitation will have been squeezed out of the heavens well before Gardening Galore.
It is an important fundraiser for Rookley Village Association to keep facilities at the heart of the community at a price that can be afforded.
Gardening Galore takes place on May 4 and Gardening Galore Revisited on June 8.
For those few who haven’t been, this free event is a great opportunity to see and buy all manner of plants, tools, garden crafts and gardenalia all in one place on the village sports field.
l Sue Willis is now taking stall bookings on 721030.