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By Lyn Chimera

People haven’t always had beautifully manicured lawns. The acreage around homes used to be meadows where the livestock grazed. It wasn’t until the 1700s in Europe that the upper class began mowing and maintaining grass. It was a sign of wealth and status. Unfortunately, a green lawn is still somewhat of a status symbol today.

At a conference, Bruce Zaretsky of Zaretsky and Associates in Rochester said, “Lawn is nature under tolitarian rule!” After I finished laughing, I realized it’s sad but very true!

One of the best things you can do for your lawn and the environment is stop using chemicals including herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. Home gardeners use approximately 75% more chemicals per acre than commercial agriculture and most of the chemicals are used on lawns. It’s frightening to think what we’re doing to nature in the name of a green, weed-free lawn! It doesn’t have to be this way. You can actually have a healthier lawn without all the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The following are some ways to achieve this.

If you’re starting a new lawn or redoing an existing lawn, the first consideration is matching the type of grass to your growing conditions. Most grass needs at least four hours of direct sun each day, more if it is in a high traffic area. If you have a shadier area, you should consider some type of ground cover. A lot of time and money is wasted trying to grow grass where it doesn’t want to live!

Mowing at a height of at least three inches will do wonders for your lawn. Longer blades of grass promote deeper root growth, which helps with drought tolerance and weed resistance. The shorter the grass, the shorter the root system. Short roots dry out much faster which forces you to water more often.

Longer grass is also more able to compete with weed seeds and actually shades weed seeds preventing them from sprouting. Longer grass also helps cool the soil surface and reduce water evaporation. As if those weren’t enough reasons to mow higher it also reduces the need for fertilizing because there’s more grass to photosynthesize!

Before we leave the topic of mowing, LEAVE THOSE GRASS CLIPPINGS ON THE LAWN! Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings do NOT cause thatch. Clippings are actually a great natural mulch providing “food” for your lawn and help to prevent weeds from becoming established.

Another common practice to avoid is rolling to smooth out the lawn. This will compact the soil, which makes it more difficult for the roots to do their job.

Watering is a big issue. Most lawns in our area rarely need watering except for a few dry weeks in summer. I never water my lawn. If it turns brown in July, it’s just dormant and will come back with the rains.

If you do choose to water, a deep, long watering is much better than watering more often for shorter periods. The water needs to penetrate to the depth of the roots. This contributes to deep root growth, which means more drought tolerance and less watering.

Avoid watering while the sun is on the lawn. Most of the water is lost to evaporation and does absolutely no good for the grass. The EPA estimates 50% of the water we use on our lawns is wasted due to improper watering.

Contrary to what many of the lawn care companies would have you believe, spring is NOT the best time to use a nitrogen-based fertilizer. When you fertilize in the spring, it encourages lush green growth at the expense of healthy roots. Overfertilization is one of the worst things we do to our lawns. It creates a vicious circle of high maintenance. It’s also very expensive!

Cornell University recommends fall fertilization. A light spreading (1/4 to 1/2 in.) of good quality compost in the late fall, about two weeks after your last mowing, is ideal. All the good nutrients filter down over the winter and are there in the spring when the roots start growing.

If you have been experiencing problems with your lawn, determine what has caused the problem before taking any action. Checking the pH, and looking for signs of insect or disease are good places to start. Please, don’t automatically lime each year without checking the pH to see if it’s necessary. Appropriate pH for grass is between 6.0 – 7.0. You can do a lot of damage by applying a treatment before knowing what the problem is!

If you follow the suggestions above, your lawn will be healthier, more drought tolerant and have fewer weed problems. Will a few weeds sneak in? Probably, but do you really need a “perfect” lawn?

To contact me at Lessons from Nature, call 652-2432 or e-mail at lyn@lessonsfromnature.biz. I can e-mail or mail the gift certificates.