Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Lawns 101 (page 2 of 3)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Practical, Eco-Friendly Lawn Maintenance

If you've decided on a lawn, even though your climate is ill-suited to supporting it naturally, there are four steps you can take to reduce its high-maintenance requirements and all but eliminate any negative environmental impact.

Instead of bagging the lawn clippings, let them compost in place, right on the lawn. Research has shown that leaving the clippings on the lawn actually benefits the soil and the lawn. As the clippings decompose, they improve the structure of the soil and return nitrogen to the lawn.

The shorter the clippings, the more easily they fall to the soil (as opposed to lying on top of the grass), and the more quickly they decompose. Optimally, you should never cut more than one-third off the total height of the grass. This means you may need to mow your lawn on a slightly more frequent schedule, but it's a small price to pay for improving the health of your lawn while eliminating the effort involved in bagging and hauling clippings around the yard.

Second, never apply too much fertilizer at once, and use only slow- or controlled-release fertilizers. Look for a high percentage of "WIN" nitrogen on the bag (that stands for "water-insoluble nitrogen"), or chose fertilizers from natural sources, such as manure. Other forms of nitrogen may provide a quick green-up, but they are so highly soluble that much of the nitrogen leaches through to the soil without the grass ever having a chance to use it. These soluble forms of nitrogen, such as ammonium sulfate, have caused problems by polluting groundwater and nearby streams and lakes.

Relax your standards somewhat regarding what you consider to be weeds. No less than the great American horticulturist, Liberty Hyde Bailey, wrote in 1898: "The man who worries morning and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions. Each blossom is worth more than a gold coin, as it shimmers in exuberant sunlight of the growing spring, and attracts the bees to its bosom. Little children love the dandelions: why not we? Love the things nearest at hand; and love intensely."

Instead of trying to achieve that nearly impossible perfect grass lawn, completely free of dandelions, crabgrass, clover, and whatnot, why not leave the herbicides on the shelf and simply enjoy what you've got? A lawn with a few weeds in it is not going to stop anyone from having a grand time playing touch football, badminton, or hide-and-seek. Leave perfection to the greenskeepers and their putting greens.

Finally, if insect pests become a serious problem in your lawn, opt for a natural control. Great strides have been made in the science of organic pesticides. Today there is an effective, natural control product available for every lawn pest. These products make sense not only from an environmental point of view, but from a personal one. All you have to do is imagine the number of times kids fall facedown in the grass during an active game of volleyball or football, or just how close babies or toddlers are to the lawn as they crawl or wobble across the grass, and the choice of insect remedies becomes clear-cut.

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