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Woolgro's winning way with wool

What do you get when you cross sheep dag wool with grass seeds? A woolly lawn, of course.

Lawn-growing has long dictated one of two choices: manual seed sowing or getting ready- lawn installed, but now there’s a third option for DIYers promising great germination with minimal irrigation.

Woolgro lawn mat - Geoff Luke

Landscape designer and DIY gardening guru Justin Newcombe has called Woolgro the most exciting landscaping product he’s seen in 20 years. There’s nothing else quite like it anywhere in the world, and after two years spent perfecting the concept, founder Geoff Luke’s efforts are paying off.

The patented Woolgro lawn mat consists of a quintessential Kiwi product – sheep dag wool – and other natural fibres with grass seeds embedded in them. The mats are made in Auckland, using locally sourced, sustainable and biodegradable materials. The nutrients found in dag wool reduce the need for fertiliser and retain moisture, preventing a lawn drying out in the critical first few months of life. The mat also acts as a weed suppressant and prevents birds getting at the seeds. And ultimately, it takes waste products and gives them a second useful lease of life.

Prior to the retail launch this year, Woolgro was a somewhat different proposition. Luke, whose background is in residential architecture, and his business partner (who’s in agriculture, but not of the wool variety) started out with a product that simply blended dag wool and recycled coffee sacks. They began installing this for customers themselves – he refers to this as their R&D phase.

“It worked beautifully – when conditions were right,” he says. But it was prone to drying out, and even after adding a temporary irrigation system into the mix, the results weren’t up to scratch. Another layer was incorporated into the mat, one of paper mulch made from waste newsprint.

“Now when the product gets laid and watered thoroughly, that mulch layer absorbs and holds the water around the seed for a much longer time than the original product was able to do. It’s a lot more robust and less likely to cause problems if the directions are not followed to the letter.”

While some buyers are savvy gardeners, other customers are complete newbies.

“You have to have a product that suits both of those extremes.”

Luke says he coaxed his engineer father Ian out of retirement to help with the mechanics of manufacturing. Their machine combines new technology with some much older gear – such as carding equipment that combs wool fibres so they’re all going in the same direction (he says one part that’s probably older than him is emblazoned with a phone number that’s only four digits long).

And sales are starting to pick up as word spreads. Woolgro is educating landscapers and DIY customers about its benefits and making more and more appearances at home shows and gardening expos.

“Talking one on one with customers is the ideal forum for us,” he says.

“We mention the nutrients in dag wool and they get it straight away when you can hold up the product and see the seed in it.”

Woolgro lawn mats are available at Central Landscape & Garden Supplies and NZ Landscape Supplies throughout Auckland and Hamilton, and Luke says there’s export potential, especially to countries where water supply is an issue – he has already been in talks with Asian and UK markets.