I have to admit it, I really do like my lawn. The “in” thing right now is eliminating lawns by replacing them with gardens. That’s great idea that I fully support but it just isn’t feasible when you have a large yard. The other option is letting areas become meadows which I think is pretty cool too (and for one section of my yard I’m working on a wildflower path garden) but the vast majority of our yard will be grass for some time. Certainly there are advantages to eliminating lawn areas but I believe you can keep a lawn in good shape and still be environmentally friendly.
Those who support eliminating lawns tell us that fertilizers poison our waters, the increased pollution from mower emissions threatens the environment, and lawns can be water hogs which reduces available water in areas where water is in short supply. The lawn eliminators are correct but only if you treat your lawn with the traditional chemical laden and irresponsibly maintained methods.
Here’s what to do (and what I do) instead:
- Mow the grass high. Mowing high encourages the roots to grow deep underneath the soil and prevents many weed seeds from germinating because they haven’t seen the light! When the roots grow deep they are better able to gather water from deeper layers of soil which is ideal for dry weather.
- Mow less frequently. If it hasn’t rained in two weeks why in the world would you want to mow!? I’m persistently perplexed by this notion that “it’s time” for that weekly mowing. Grass doesn’t keep on a schedule it follows the weather. If the temperatures and moisture levels are good for the grass it will grow. Otherwise it will slow down or stop growing altogether and go dormant.
- I don’t water unless I just planted seed. Even then I try to plant the seed just before rain is in the weather forecast. Running around with sprinklers isn’t my idea of fun…although it might be on a hot summer day! When people water they stimulate the grass to grow which means they have to cut it again. Then they water, then they mow, then they water, then they mow, then they get their water bill… It’s a cycle that isn’t good for the grass, the environment or your pocketbook. Just learn what type of grass you have cool season or warm season and know it will go dormant at some point. Fescue which is a cool season grass goes dormant in the summertime but reemerges in the fall and looks awesome in the spring. Bermuda grass which is a common warm season grass around here stays brown until the temperatures warm up.
- Use organic fertilizers. I have done very little to my lawn as far as fertilization to keep it nice. Organic fertilizers like bloodmeal (12-13 % nitrogen) and corn gluten (9-10% nitrogen) can help to provide the nitrogen your lawn needs and enrich the soil rather than add unhealthy salts from synthetic fertilizers. Sifted compost is another good way to improve the lawn. When you spread compost across the ground it helps to condition the soil for your grass to get nutrients more efficiently. Using a mulching blade on your mower also helps to fertilize your lawn as the decomposing clippings may return 4% nitrogen to the soil!
- Avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides. Chemical pesticides aren’t the most friendly chemicals in the lawn. Many of them are non-selective and kill the good and bag bugs. If you let the good bugs live they’ll eat some of the bad bugs. Invite nature to your yard through bird feeders and houses as the birds love to munch on juicy little bugs. I remember once I was digging an area for a garden and the bluebirds perched on a electric wire nearby watching. As I found grubs I tossed them out and the bluebirds had a feast. Typically I remove weeds in the lawn the manual way and the only one that really bothers me know is an occasional thistle. The ragweed is mostly gone in the lawn, the dandelions are limited, and I let the clover go – to me it’s not a weed! The clover adds nitrogen to the soil, feeds the bunnies which keeps them off my plants, and feeds the bees. I suspect that the overuse of pesticides and herbicides has helped to contribute to colony collapse disorder among our bee populations. I don’t have evidence but I give the bees a safe haven in my lawn. To spot remove other weeds I’ve used boiling water and vinegar in spots. but the shovel is pretty efficient. When combined with mowing high the manual weed pulling works well..
- Overseed the lawn in the fall for cool season lawns. I overseed our lawn every fall which makes for a nice thick turf when the temperatures return in the spring. If you want a really nice green lawn even when the warm season grasses aren’t looking so happy try rye grass. My dad seeded his lawn in the fall with rye and it’s never looked better! The annual rye grass will die back when the Bermuda grass begins to return.
- And while this doesn’t have much to do with a healthy lawn collecting grass clippings and using them in your raised beds is a fantastic way to get great soil! Every new raised bed I start begins with grass clippings among other organic materials. I also use them as a mulch for new garden areas before I put something more attractive down. Grass clippings are a great soil conditioner. I love my bagging mower!
I seem to write this post every year but I figure that not everyone has figured it out yet! When everyone has it right let me know and I won’t have to write this again next year!