Update your lawn care
Given the national surge of interest in healthy living and sustainability, it's no wonder people are re-thinking their lawns. Lawns consume enormous quantities of time, money, water and synthetic chemicals. Every week during the growing season, Americans have been mowing, watering, fertilizing and raking the equivalent of Wisconsin! What's a suburban homeowner to do? Here are some ideas to consider.
Reduce the size of your lawn
The first question worth pondering is, how large of a lawn do you need? Many people are surprised when then realize how much of their lawn is decorative and an expensive decoration at that. You might prefer to replace some turf grass with beds of native shrubs or a pair of perennial gardens. After making the initial investment, you'll save time and money on lawn care while supporting clean water, rich soil and resilient ecosystems.
Cut back on four-step chemicals
Is the guy in the radio ad making you feel obligated to apply chemicals to your lawn every few weeks? Four-step weed and feed programs are actually expensive, short-lived approaches to lawn care, and present health concerns for children and pets. One easy step everyone can take is to simply reduce treatments to once or twice a year. Or cut your application rate by half. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Mow and water for healthy grass
Raise your mower to three inches and you'll grow healthier grass with stronger roots. It will better survive droughts and shade out many weeds, too. Leave your clippings on the lawn where they can break down and return nutrients to the soil. A sharp mower blade delivers a cleaner cut, which creates healthier grass. And when the peak of summer arrives, it's easier on your lawn to let it rest rather than repeatedly force it to break dormancy with occasional waterings. Lastly, if you do water, do it in the morning – not evening – to prevent fungus issues.
Aerate – and spread a thin layer of compost
A more holistic approach to lawn care is to create a lawn that's able to deliver its own nutrients and pest control. It's not hard – the answer lies in healthy soil. Aerate your lawn intensely in summer with a core aerator. Then spread a quarter-inch layer of compost. Beneficial micro-organisms will return and within several years they will flourish in what was formerly dead soil. Also, your grass will be able to grow stronger roots in the formerly hard and compacted soil. Note: grass is not a long-lived plant – if it's been 10 or more years since you've added grass seed, this is a good time to do that, too.
Treat problem areas not the entire lawn
If you use chemicals, it's less expensive, more effective and healthier all around to treat a specific weed rather than the whole lawn. But check out this chart from the Pesticide Action Network before reaching for the bottle of Round-Up because chemicals aren't always the best solution. Also, dandelion tools have come a long way since we were all kids. Find some tool suggestions in our Products and Services.
Switch to natural products
Corn gluten does a good job as both a crab-grass preventer and fertilizer – and it's free of synthetic chemicals. Learn more about corn gluten. Sources of corn gluten and other natural fertilizers and pesticides can be found in our Products and Services.
Consider low-mow grass
Would you prefer to mow once a month rather than once a week? You'll save both time and money. If renovation or construction requires you to seed a new area altogether – and you've decided lawn is a better solution for this particular spot than beds of low-maintenance native plants – then consider low-mow grass. Several varieties of low-mow grass are available and they look great.
Another option is to simply embrace a lawn that is a collection of myriad short green plants that includes grass as well as uninvited species. Mow high and call it a day. (If you take this approach, please consider an occasional aeration to keep your soil from becoming compacted. Compaction leads to dense, lifeless soil that does not easily absorb rainwater.)