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For many of us, installing a lawn involves commissioning landscaper to dig up the grounds, rake and plant a grass type we will have recommended or one they suggest for us. Thereafter the serious business of lawn tending starts and ends with lawn mowing and occasional watering.

But there is more to raising a trouble free lawn than just planting and mowing. And as the home ower or end user, you are well advised to take keen interest in how your lawn will be done.


Kikuyu grass lawn

Choosing the right grass

The first step in raising a great lawn is to grow the right grass. What are the conditions like at your site? Full sun or partial sun? Will you be entertaining a lot therefore heavy foot traffic? Or will it be light use? If you know the conditions or end use, you will opt for a suitable grass. Locally the common grass types grown are;

  1. Kikuyu grass
  2. Cape royal
  3. Arabicum
  4. Maadi river.
  5. Pemba grass
  6. Zimbabwe grass
  7. Paspalum

Generally the first three types in the list above thrive in direct sun, in shade it’s anunending struggle. The last three are amenable to growing in shade but still do well infull sun. However, Zimbabwe grass will give the best result for shaded areas. Maadi river is your best bet if your lawn will be heavily used, and you need a resilient lawn that survives drought.

Sound Drainage

Whatever grass you grow ensure the grounds drain well. Ideal drainage can be achieved through a combination of a slope and percolation. The easier option is to have a gentle slope draining the water away from the lawn aided by a free draining, fairly porous soil through which water seeps into the lower soil layers.

If it happens that there is no way water can be drained out of the lawn into the main drainages, drainage by percolation will be the only option left. This calls for a thorough conditioning of the soil by digging deeply and mixing the soil with ample compost or manure. Ensure the ground has a true level so that water doesn’t collect in one place, but rather seeps slowly into the soil. Where the soil is really bad, say cotton soil, underlie the lower layer with hardcore stones and top up with red soil to aid in drainage.

It needs no gainsaying that with lawns, initial ground preparation holds the key to a successful lawn.

Maintaining your Lawn Organically

Having planted your lawn successfully, you need to manage it so that it serves you well and remains aesthetically appealing. Countless times we have been called in to help rescue a lawn which once upon a time was the envy of the neighbourhood.Yet upon inspection, we find the culprit is not lack of attention, but poor management practices.

If you desire a trouble free lawn, go the organic way.

You will get a thick green carpet of grass for a lesser effort and less money spent. You only need to keenly observe or change your management style. For instance, cut the grass at a higher setting preferably 4’’-6’’inches. A taller grass develops deeper roots, which enables it out compete or smoother the weeds and withstand drought better. Besides tall grass always appears thicker to the eye.

The desire for a smart turf can sometimes blind us to the need to feed our lawn by leaving the grass clippings behind after mowing. More often we would rather sweep the clippings off the grass—to get that “look”. However the best practice is to let the clippings decompose into the lawn, offering nitrogen to the grass and a feast to the microorganisms in the soil. These are the ones that improve drainage by their burrowing activities in the soil.

Feed your lawn sparingly. Grass, like all living things, needs nourishment for it to be at its best. If you over feed your lawn, the grass becomes more succulent which encourages pests.Our in house style is to feed the grass only twice a year using slow release organic fertilizers, given that we don't bag or sweep off grass clippings.

Finally water your grass infrequently, unless you are confronted with an extended dry spell. If you mow your grass high and the leave the grass clippings behind, your established lawn will hardly need watering. However when you do water, go for a deep soaking but done infrequently. This encourages deeper root growth.


In our next article we look at common lawn problems and how to solve them organically -with no chemical in sight.


Hanging Gardens

Want to create a garden out of thin air?

Then consider having hanging gardens.

Since time immemorial people have raised hanging gardens –in whatever form they could. Indeed among the Seven Wonders of the World are king Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens which grew in Babylon around 2500 BC. The gardens- a gift to his Persian wife – weren’t suspended like your typical hanging basket but rather spilled out from containers on a terraced hill.

The practice of hanging gardens was well established in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Urban folks desiring to savour  and grow things up close  tended plants in raised pots and trailed them along walls and trellises.For both amateur and professional gardeners, the hanging basket presents an appealing prospect; to raise plants  at low cost  with minimal time input, and yet  still be able to  enjoy the glories of a lovely border  as the basket  spills forth  its treasures .

Though installing a basket may seem a simple, straight forward a fair to most people for the discerning gardener this is hardly the case.  Before hanging out any thing, you need to know the the purpose each basket is to serve and the space available.One question that should exercise your mind is, what design effect do you wish to create? Do you want a splash of colour to add some excitement to a dull spot? Are you out to screen out unsightly utilities like piping with colourful foliage or flowers? Or perhaps you want to soften the rugged finishing of the house?

Based on your specific need, move to assemble the desired materials. Galvanized steel baskets are the most common containers. However, any creative gardener will find a world of choices at his or her feet- cleaned paints cans, copper buckets and the ubiquitous plastic cans-as long as he/she can drill holes.

What do you need?

Once you have your container, you will need to get the plants, potting soil, lining for the baskets and hooks upon which you will hang the baskets eventually. In Nairobi,  the practice nowadays to use wire baskets that have been lined with reed and then painted or varnished.

In filling hanging baskets, soilless potting compost like coconut fibre, fir bark, sphagnum moss or organic compost is preferred. Charcoal is mostly used for orchids. These are preferred over ordinary garden soil because they are clean, light and easier to use. Besides they retain moisture and provide good aeration. Their main drawback is that unlike soil, they do not provide minerals. So regular feeding is necessary.

Line your container with perforated plastic sheeting to retain moisture and heat. Backfill halfway with compost. Insert the plants, adjusting where necessary to ensure that the whole basket appears well filled out and balanced. Backfill with more compost .Water the basket thoroughly. Let the plants settle in and hang the next day and then wait to enjoy the exubereance of a garden swirling from a chain

What to grow?

As with gardening enthusiasts, disagreements abounds as to which plants are the best and how many should be used per basket.  While three to six are considered reasonable, some people will use even ten plants, space allowing.  Of note is that the design principles of balance and unity used in ordinary landscaping still apply here. In addition place plants with similar requirements ( e.g. watering and light ) in same baskets.

The genera rule is to mix annuals and perennials in your basket. Annuals have bold flowers and they flower longer. However they fizzle out and this could leave you with a bare basket. Perennials will come in handy, with foliage filling out the gaps left by annuals, and coming into flower at their own appointed time-much to your surprise and delight.

How long should a basket last? Forever. Generally baskets are dynamic with stuff dying as new ones come up. Uproot any dead plants, and cut back those that overgrow.  Feed regularly with a balanced all purpose fertilizer every two weeks besides regularly adding more compost.

You can switch over your baskets to create a completely different look without acquiring new plants.


It is the hope of every gardener to get his or her garden soil as close to the ideal soil as possible. However for many, this may seem well impossible particularly where time and money are constraints. The good news is that whatever small improvements you do; the results will certainly be noticed. Take the case of a bag of compost for one who has a lawn and a few shrubs.  While a bag may not be enough for the entire garden, if applied to the shrubs only, a noticeable improvement will be seen!

One way in which garden soil is improved is by use of soil dressings. These are solid or liquid materials added to the soil in order to enhance its physical quality, or improve the plants grown therein, or achieve the both   simultaneously.

Soil is one of  nature’s wonders and among one of her most complex products. It is a matter that is constantly undergoing change. Growing plant roots draw nutrients from the soil while rain leaches out nutrients into the deeper layers. As such at some point nutrients will become deficient in the soil. When this happens, it is time to dress your soil so as to add desired factors to the soil.

Soil dressing is as ancient as gardening itself. However no single dressing will provide the desired results with regard to soil improvement. It is therefore vital to use the three basic soil dressings groups namely;


These are materials that contain, in concentrated form, one or more plant foods. Their addition to the soil is to feed the plants with major elements like Nitrogen, Potassium and  Phosphorous or minor elements like  calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and sulphur. Since fertilizers are added in small quantities, they can hardly influence soil texture or raise bacterial activity in the soil like humus does. Fertilizers therefore work best in combination with humus.


One way to improve your soil is by improving its texture. To achieve this you need to add organic materials to the soil. These materials attract bacteria which help in their breakdown and eventual decomposition. As the bacteria break down the green matter and burrow it into the soil, they help improve its structure by creating air spaces and mixing the soil with decayed matter. It is known however that the plant food content in humus is slow acting, not adequately balanced and largely insufficient for plants. It is only animal manure generously applied that does supply adequate plant food. Therefore humus works best when used together with fertilizers.

Various types of humus makers are used in the garden. The ‘raw’  humus includes  non decomposed  organic material that contains  starch and sugar. Examples of these include straw, grass clippings and dug in weeds. ‘Matured’ humus  includes decomposed organic material like garden compost, peat, manure, and Hop manure.

It is important to note that soil without humus is nothing more than finely ground rock

Lime (Calcium carbonate)

Lime is applied to soil to remove acidity (sourness) and improve crumb structure. Lime adds calcium to the soil which lowers  the soil pH.  PH(potential hydrogen) refers to  the levels of hydrogen ions available in the root zone. When they bind together with other nutrients in the soil, they can render certain nutrients unavailable to the plants.

A much higher pH may hinder certain elements from being taken up by plant roots. Indeed few garden plants thrive under acidic soil. In addition acidic soils are hostile to earthworks and beneficial bacteria –the ones that break down organic matter and help improve soil structure. The common types of liming materials are dolomitic lime, agricultural limestone, wood ashes, and gypsum and hydrate lime.

How Dressings Are Used in the Garden

Now that you have your soil dressing material, how do you apply it?

Base dressing

This is dressing applied to the soil before or at the time of planting. It is used to provide a consistent but gradual supply of plant food or humus to the soil for the months to come. Humus and slow release fertilizers are used as base dressing.

Top Dressing

Top dressing involves applying extra nutrients to the soil surface so that they are taken up by plants that are already established. Naturally, it is fertilizers that are quick release or fast acting are used here. For lawn, top dressing includes application of a mixture of sand, top soil and compost upon the loan. The lawn benefits from this by the evening out of irregular surfaces and faster uptake of nutrients by the grass. The velvety green lawns you see around are products of sustained top dressing


This is organic material placed around the plant. It smoothers the weeds and keeps the soils moist by retaining   moisture. It also adds to soil fertility. As the mulch decomposes, it fertilizes the soil.  You will not need to dig and water often during the warm seasons if you place mulch around your trees and shrubs.






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