August 22, 2014

Ten Tips for a Healthy, Eco-friendly Lawn

We welcomed another new columnist George James.   

George, a  former Old Lyme Citizen of the Year and veteran environmentalist, pictured left, presents his inaugural Conservation Corner column about how to maintain a eco-friendly lawn.

Healthy lawns have been around long before the chemical industry convinced people that heavy doses of chemical fertilizer, weed killer, and insecticides were absolutely essential in order to have a decent looking lawn.  The end product is often sterile soil contaminated with herbicides and pesticides that may be harmful to birds, pets, and especially children.  Follow these 10 steps and have a healthy lawn and a better environment!

1. Save yourself time, work, and money by testing your soil’s pH – for forms and sampling kits, contact www.canr.uconn.edu/plsci/stlab.htm

2. Choose the right seed for reseeding the lawn in the spring and fall.  There are numerous varieties to suit your special lawn conditions- direct sun, partial shade, dense shade, sandy or moist soil.  Reduce the size of your lawn with plantings of perennials and shrubs.  Lawn mowers are notorious polluters.  The less time they are used the better for the environment.

3. Rake out the thatch in the spring and save it for soil building organic matter in a composting bin.  Very heavy thatch may indicate an unhealthy lack of active microbes in the soil.

4. Based on the soil test, add organic fertilizer and soil additives such as rock dust or lime but do so sparingly.  More is not better!  An insoluble organic fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous is appropriate.  Avoid high nitrogen chemical fertilizers.

5. Add a thin layer of organic compost, available at most garden centers, if you haven’t made your own from thatch, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, wood ashes, vegetable wastes, etc.

6. Mow the grass when it is three to four inches high and keep the cutting blade sharp.  Short cut grass requires much more water and is subject to more disease and drought.  Cut the grass short only in the late fall.  Grass clippings can be left on the lawn and will supply about half of the required nitrogen for the lawn at no cost to you.  Clippings do not cause thatch.

7. A dense healthy lawn is the best herbicide.  There is no such thing as a weed free lawn.  Clover is not a weed.  It is one of the few plants that restores nitrogen to the soil.  Wood ashes encourage the growth of clover, and clover doesn’t need as many cuttings.  It also self-seeds.

8. Use corn gluten products to control weeds before they emerge, but apply the corn gluten only on established lawns.  Weed patches can be covered with black plastic in the fall and reseeded after the weeds die.  Vinegar is a good spot weed killer.

9. August sun and heat cause the lawn to undergo a natural die back or rest each summer, especially if the lawn is cut very short.  Leaving grass clippings on the lawn helps to prevent excessive drying at this time.  Water deeply (two inches – one full tuna can) if you must water at this time.

10. Use beneficial nematodes and milky spore powder for effective grub control.  Plant shrubs that encourage birds to frequent your yard.