The lawn-seed market has been transformed in recent times by the introduction of "patch" products, which have created a new category in the sector.
Scotts launched Patch Magic in 2010 and has seen a host of similar products join it since. More than a dozen Patch Magic-inspired products are available now, including Patch Fix, Aftercut Patch Fix and Patch Perfect.
Patch Magic now has the top-five GfK rankings in the lawn seed product category, with its 2012 product Patch Magic Dog Spot Repair fifth. Patch Magic has 27 per cent of the £15m category market — around £4m sales a year.
Sales are worth around £4m a year to Scotts and the company is now hoping that the battering lawns took from the weather in 2012-13 will mean good sales into the summer as gardeners seek to mend their swards. Scotts has 43 per cent of the market for grass seed in the USA and also has a high-profile "LawnService" domestic maintenance brand, an idea that could be one for the future in the UK.
Mr Fothergill's retail marketing manager Ian Cross says with 2012 being the second-wettest year on record and February and March 2013 recording well below average temperatures, this means a slow start to the sales season because gardeners are not gardening — or visiting garden centres.
The company launched a new mix in 2012 and tried to be clearer on what its mixes offer gardeners. "People lack understanding of what a good grass seed is compared to a cheaper one," says Cross. "We've tried to keep straightforward, with no fancy coatings and odd mixes." He points out that sales were flat last year for grass seed because "most lawns were underwater".
Cross says the usual pattern is that following a scorching year, people replace their lawns the following year. He adds that there are "some poor mixes" available. "Lawn seed is difficult because you can't see what you're getting until you've bought it. There's a huge gap in knowledge. Names such as tall fescue, rye grass, agricultural mix — it's difficult to get that information over."
Westland's Aftercut range now has a reusable Even-Flo Spreader that helps gardeners to apply Aftercut All in One, Patch Fix and 3 Day Green more evenly. The detachable handle fits on Aftercut refill packs for a more even spread.
Westland launched the Even-Flo lawn seed spreader at Glee in September 2012. The company says it is a result of research into lawn care and it has developed the "ultimate answer to lawn spreaders". It adds that there are 20 million lawns in the UK and the lawn is the centrepiece of the garden.
The Even-Flo lawn spreader features a "ball design spreading technology", which creates an even spread of granules across the lawn.
Brand manager Adam Long says: "We have created the new Aftercut Even-Flo lawn spreader with the consumer entirely in mind. The design was developed to make using lawn spreaders easier for gardeners, delivering exactly what they need to create a fabulous looking lawn. There is no confusion involved, no changes to the flow setting or the danger of distribution of too much product in one area. The new 'Even-Flo' spreader does it all automatically — just click on the removable handle and each product is ready to use."
The launch is supported with a £1m TV campaign this spring, featuring the Aftercut All in One variant. The product combines a lawn feed that greens in seven days and a weed and moss killer.
Lots of choice
Lawn Solutions managing director David Hedges-Gower says the seed you buy is less important than how you look after your lawn. Seed is "incredibly cheap" and offers lots of choice compared to turfing your lawn, he adds.
Seeded lawns will need more help to establish than turfed lawns, which just need a sprinkler, he points out. He advises using a phosphate fertiliser, and says "patch" products are particularly useful because they offer this food as well as water-retention agents in the bag.
He also advises that gardeners should not bury seed — usually done because of fear of pigeons eating it — because it needs sun to germinate. For shade, he says fescue mixes will germinate fastest but might not last better than any other mix.
"Whatever you use, one ingredient will swamp another after a year or two. Fescue might swamp rye, or vice versa, as nature evolves the lawn." He advocates aeration this spring to revive wet lawns and a rye-heavy mix to bring back colour.