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We have started a nursery school in our garden in northern England, it has a large lawn but after the first winter there are bad bare patches on heavy-use areas. Clearly we need to be more actively maintaining it because a dozen kids running around all day 48 weeks a year is fairly high-impact.

My go-to place for lawn-care doesn't really cater to this, I wondered what types of grass are most appropriate? I did a little research and found places supplying for sports fields were recommending a mix of perennial and annual grass seed. I never knew annual grasses existed!

Is this a case where we need to be over-seeding throughout the year as wear occurs or is it a case of do the repairs and hope they stand up for a year?

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    Annual grasses certainly exist, and they are often classified as "weeds" because they are very hard to control. However they do need enough "undisturbed" time between mowings to produce seed - though one of the most common in the UK (Poa annua) can germinate, grow, and produce seed in just 10 days in ideal conditions, hence the difficulty of getting rid of it where it isn't wanted! They are also often very low-growing, and therefore not touched by the mower blades set at the height typically used on a sports field. – alephzero Mar 1 at 19:29
  • Interesting @alephzero. I've seen people recommend ryegrass mixes. – Mr. Boy Mar 1 at 19:43
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You need to buy sports grade grass seed - this is the most hardwearing mix of seeds. Where there are large bare areas, you will need to cordon those off to keep the children out until it's grown - smaller areas will just have to take their chances.

The problem with growing from seed is that,technically, it will not be able to withstand normal use (especially children and animals running around) for up to 3 months,so you will likely need to just keep applying seed on bare patches very frequently when they are quite small in an attempt to keep the lawn going. If the children were only running around over it during late spring, summer and very early autumn, it would have more chance of remaining in reasonable condition, but 48 weeks of the year means it doesn't get a break. This year, if you have large bald areas by late summer/early autumn, cordon those off and seed them in early September.

The fact is, though, with that kind of wear, artificial turf would be best. Alternatively, if the grassed area is large enough, consider whether you can cordon off half of it, then switch over when one side gets worn out and reseed that, so that only one side at a time is out of use.

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    just realised I had a photo I could share... the whole point of our site is outdoors and nature, so fake grass wouldn't really work in this setting. Cordoning/rotating the worst areas seems best - or possibly using bark/gravel on areas that can't be rotated – Mr. Boy Mar 1 at 14:09
  • Seems like a good plan... – Bamboo Mar 1 at 23:20
  • Just realised the query on perennial-only or perennial-annual max is still pertinent e.g. the bottom two options here, how would one decide which is best? grassseedonline.co.uk/3/Grass-Seed-for-Sports – Mr. Boy Mar 10 at 21:34
  • The multi purpose option is what I'd choose, first one on the top line, which has mixed grasses – Bamboo Mar 11 at 19:27
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Your grass is under threat from at least 3 sources: the people that use it directly, people who do not use it directly but nevertheless have power to make your life more difficult, and the weather.

The weather/climate will make the grass too wet, too dry, too shady, too bright, too hot, too cold and so on. So the best kind of grass is a mix of grasses and other plants which bring deep and shallow roots, drought and wet tolerance, which support shade and enjoy bright. Unless you have a detailed knowledge of the soil profile in various parts of the grass area just go with a mix which covers all the bases as best as a broadcast approach can. Then when you mow the grass mow high; close cropped grass leads to shallow rooting and bare patches.

Farmers have found over centuries of practice that rotating the cows from one pasture to another and giving areas a rest to recuperate works well. In a school setting this means being able to section off areas and allow them to recover. Siting structures such as play apparatus so that it can be approached from many sides, allows you to run a temporary fence strictly around it giving access from one or more sides only. Arrange your assets accordingly.

Other people may want to tell you what you can grow as grass. Take clovers for example which are good hard wearing surfaces since they have deep tap roots, can manufacture their own nitrogen and support drought well nevertheless attract bees and cause parents to launch into unnecessary hysteria since you are bound to go out there one day and find all the children stung to death, which can be bad for business. In addition there are bureaucrats who want to specify the surface you are allowed to have near climbing structures and swings so that when a child falls they bounce harmlessly. There is an obligation to be aware of regulations, so you need a plan that can be produced for the benefit of parents, staff, and the local authorities so that they can sign off on it.

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The tree in the centre of the photo looks suspiciously like a beech to me. Here's a quote from the Woodland Trust you may want to ponder:

Beech woodland is shady and characterised by a dense carpet of fallen leaves and mast husks which prevent most woodland plants from growing. Only specialist shade-tolerant plants can survive beneath a beech canopy.

You can try reseeding with wear/shade resistant grasses and see how that goes. You can also try raising the height of cut of your mower (should be one inch minimum), or not mowing the shady areas so frequently. Otherwise, you might just have to accept that with those beautiful trees you aren't going to get a lush green lawn. Maybe mentally relabel your lawn as a woodland glade rather than a lawn :-)

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  • Yeah it is indeed. Directly underneath IS pretty bare but doesn't get walked on too much. The photo possibly misleadingly suggests the muddy patches are under the canopy, in fact they are just the routes the kids take most. It never gets super muddy under the canopy, possibly as the beech nut shells give it a bit of texture?! And yes we describe it as woodland, but too much wear will risk a swamp experience :) – Mr. Boy Mar 1 at 18:56
  • @Mr.Boy The foot traffic will also compact the soil around the beech which is not good for the health of that tree. Could you put a temporary fence around it? – kevinsky Mar 1 at 19:48
  • Which way is north in the photo? If the tree is to the north of the bare patch, it's not part of the problem (or at least its shade isn't) but if if the tree blocks the sunlight, that's another matter. I have oaks to the south which means shade except for the hottest summer sun, when my lawn bakes – Chris H Mar 2 at 15:56

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