Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lawn Care


For truly green turf

In the United States, lawns cover almost 40,000 square miles, an area the size of the great state of Kentucky, famed for bluegrass! Sad to say, a lot of those lawns are bad for the environment, because a hefty portion of the 100 million pounds of household pesticides and herbicides U.S. consumers buy every year goes straight to our lawns. But it doesn't all stay there. Some of these chemicals leach into the groundwater, pollute the air, and get onto the skin and into the mouths of our children, pets, and other creatures that come into contact with the treated grass. To make matters worse, tons of chemical fertilizers are added to the soil, and some of it runs off into our waterways. Those nutrients that turn your grass green can cause vast algae blooms that kill fish and other aquatic creatures.

Fortunately, with a little work upfront, there are many things you can do keep your lawn robust without using these toxic materials. A healthy lawn is like a healthy person. When it's strong, it can resist disease, withstand a bit of drying out, and go without chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Watch this video from and then read on to learn more.

Top Tips

At home

  • You can have your grass. But do you really need all of it? Consider downsizing. If you have kids, perhaps you can live with a narrower strip for running back and forth or a small area for tumbling and dining. If you can downscale, then you can fill in the rest of your yard with beautiful drought-resistant ground covers, native flowers, vegetable beds, fruit trees, and shrubs. Pass on the grass in spots that are rough and difficult to mow or water, places where grass won't grow readily without adding chemicals, or areas that are rarely seen.

  • Get at the roots. Soil quality is truly the root of all evil, or good. If your soil isn't in optimum condition, the lawn will suffer, and you'll dump more resources into its upkeep. Don't seed or buy sod until your soil is primed, and hopefully irrigated. Later it will save on everything--water, time, and money.
  • Nontoxic Lawn Care

  • Forget the buzz cuts. Mowing higher, up to three inches, gives the grass the opportunity to shade out young weeds naturally, and keeps the soil from drying out, cutting down your water needs. Never trim more than one third of the grass's height.

  • Timing is everything. If the soil is healthy, your lawn may not need any fertilizer. If you choose to fertilize, use organic fertilizers. They release their nutrients more slowly and are less prone to leaching into groundwater than quick-acting synthetic fertilizers.

  • Morning water. Water deeply early in the morning, so you lose the least moisture to sunlight and heat. The practice will also help you avoid mildew and root rot. Use a timer so you can start watering before sunrise.

  • Hire a natural lawn care company if you don't manage the lawn yourself. See "Getting Started" (below) for tips in doing so.

  • Please do walk on the grass. But do it in spiked shoes purchased expressly to aerate the soil. Or, for an upper body workout, jab a garden fork deep into the turf at close intervals. Aerated soil is primed to make the most of soil nutrients, so you need less fertilizer, and it provides the perfect breeding ground for strong, deep roots that will need less water.

When Shopping

  • Stay local. The best variety of grass for your region will help you cut down on water, pesticides, herbicides, and other resources. These days, more people are passing on conventional turf species and planting native grasses and grass-like plants. To find the ideal type, check with a local garden supplier that specializes in organic products and natural lawn care. They can answer all sorts of lawn, groundcover, and garden questions. Friends and neighbors with healthy grass and other plants are also a great resource-but be sure to ask about their maintenance practices. If their grass looks great thanks to loads of chemicals, water, and time, you may want to look elsewhere for advice.

  • Broaden your borders. Filling out more of your yard by planting drought-tolerant groundcover, flowers, and vegetables well-suited for your area will also save you time and resources. Besides, you can create some wonderful visual effects.

  • Lay the pipes. If you are starting from scratch, either with seed or sod, it's a perfect time to plan and install an underground irrigation system, which will prevent waste of water through evaporation.

  • Push for the planet. If you keep your turf to a minimum, you can get away with an energy-saving, workout-inducing push mower.

  • Go electric on the lawn too. Still can't stand the thought of a push mower? Consider getting the next best thing, an electric mower. They're cleaner, quieter and more efficient than gas.

  • Upgrade your gas mower. If you must use gas, get one of the new, less-polluting models that meet EPA standards. Some mowers emit as much pollution in an hour as an old car driving 100 miles.

  • Make a home for insect eaters. Plant a diversity of plants to attract birds and insects. In a healthy yard, birds and beneficial insects help keep the bad bugs in check naturally.


  • Pesticides and herbicides. Look for natural and organic solutions with organic bug and weed suppressants. And try some of the nifty weed-extracting devices offered in catalogs. Or get a workout yanking out weeds by hand. Or use child-energy, which (like wind energy) is a green, low-cost source of power! For a comprehensive look at nontoxic options, check with the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns.

  • Fertilizers from the lab. You can apply compost on the spot by "grasscycling." It's as simple as leaving grass clippings on the lawn where they'll provide a chemical-free fertilizer. (If the cut grass clumps, rake it around.) Use only organic fertilizers.

Other Considerations

  • Starting with seeds is cheaper, but requires patience. If you try it, remember that it's best to sow seed in the spring or fall, as grass prefers a temperature of 50° to 60°F to germinate. The soil should be moist, but not soupy.

  • Sod is costly, but quick. If you go this route, remember that the most important ingredient is good soil for it to grow in.

Benefits... you
A lawn grown without using synthetic poisons is safer for everyone. You and your family will be spared the risk, and the rivers and the lakes nearby will remain pristine. your wallet
Maintaining healthy soil and grass and getting rid of weeds without poisons often costs less than expensive remedies.

Americans spend about $30 billion a year on lawn maintenance. Reducing the size of your lawn can keep more money in your pocket. Replacing some of your lawn with a vegetable garden or fruit trees may reduce your grocery bills. the Earth
Avoiding chemical pesticides and fertilizers means that less of this stuff gets into the air and washes onto land and into streams, where it can do environmental damage. Reducing the use of gas-powered mowers keeps greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Common Mistakes

  • Trying to resuscitate a sickly lawn. If your lawn is unhealthy or filled with weeds, dumping weed killers and fertilizers probably won't cure it if you have bad soil. To find out if you need to start over, just dig down six inches or so to see what it looks like and feels. If it's not crumbly and dark, but hard, rocky, or yellowish and clumpy, you may need to add some quality topsoil, good compost or other organic amendments. If the ground is in really bad shape, you may even need to churn it up, at least in the worst spots, and add compost or topsoil. You can amend a sickly lawn more slowly by aerating it frequently and adding compost and organic fertilizer.

  • Trying to outshine your neighbor. Most people overwater their lawn. But doing so won't make your lawn grow faster and greener. In fact, too much water invites disease.

  • Riding the range. Unless you have a 10,000-square-foot lawn or a disability that prevents you from operating a regular mower, you probably don't need a riding mower.

Getting Started

If you are starting from scratch with seed or sod, lay the foundation for a great lawn:

  • For that great soil you are aiming for, plan on 4 inches of good, rich topsoil.

  • You'll need to churn up and loosen the soil, breaking up clods and removing rocks. If you plan on installing a sprinkler system, now is the time to do it rather than after your lawn is established.

  • Grade your lawn so that it slopes away from buildings. If you live in an area where a lot of water collects and lawns tend to get swampy, you should also consider adding an underground drainage system.

  • Grass doesn't like soil that is too acid or too alkaline, and the wrong pH (the measure of these characteristics) can encourage weeds. Dandelions, for example, thrive in an alkaline soil. Grass likes a pH of around 6.5. Use a soil-testing kit or have the soil tested by your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, and amend your soil if necessary. If the pH is too low, the soil is acid, and can be amended by applying lime. If it's too alkaline, it can be improved with rock sulfur, peat moss, or small wood chips.

If you plan to hire a landscape or lawn care service, look for a company that:

  • Offers a natural lawn care service that uses few or no synthetic chemicals.

  • Tests your soil quality and applies organic amendments only where and when needed.

  • Uses mulch and compost to improve soil health.

  • Composts plant debris.

  • Grasscycles.

  • Recommends native and climate-appropriate grasses and other plants.

  • Promotes water-conserving plant species and high-efficiency irrigation systems.

  • Uses manual tools as much as possible, and electric or biodiesel mowers rather than the more polluting gas mowers.

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