Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lazy about Lawns

There was a great article in last Sunday's Boston Globe business section (5/13/12) titled 'Lawn Care for the Lazy' that really summed up my position on lawn care.  The original source is the May 2012 edition of Consumer Reports.  Since I can't give you a free link to the article, let me summarize.

1. Let your yard go brown during long, summer dry spells.  This is a natural event of your lawn coping with the weather conditions.  It will green up again when the weather turns cooler and wetter.  Forcing it to stay green will use a whole lot of water.  Also when watering, a weekly slow soaking is better than daily spritzes.  When the soil is moist several inches down, the roots will follow.  Deep roots can tap into a much larger reservoir of moisture.  Eventually lawn watering will be the exception rather than the rule.  I do not water the established parts of my lawn anymore and digging recently the roots of the grass were about 6-8" deep.

2. Fertilize less frequently.  I used to fertilize several times a year, then I realized that meant I had to cut it much more often.  Fertilizers with high amount of water soluble nitrogen will green up a lawn quickly, but not do so much for the rest of the plant.  Also that fast growing green lawn will want more water.  An overfed lawn will also encourage more lawn eating pests.  They are just going after the feast that has been provided for them.  Also consider that runoff from an overfed lawn contains a lot of excess nutrients that are a major source of water pollution.  So if you follow the x-step approach you may be overfeeding the lawn, which requires more labor and watering.  Also to combat the insects feeding on the excess, you apply pesticides.  Many of these lawn chemicals then run off and contribute to water pollution.

The Consumer Reports article recommends only 1 or 2 fertilizer application using slow-release (water insoluble) nitrogen for long slow feeding of the lawn.  In past posts I have talked about using mown-in leaves as the fall fertilizer and have personally gone to zero applications of lawn fertilizer each year.

3.  Mulch your grass clippings.  By using a mulching mower and putting the cut grass back where it came from you can cut down on fertilization as well.  The green grass clippings are a good source of nitrogen for the lawn. As they break down they feed the lawn.  Also, using a mulching mower saves on the time spent collecting the grass and transporting to somewhere else for disposal or composting.  I would again add, mulch in your leaves in the fall!

4.  Let the grass grow longer.  Taller grass shades the soil better, cutting down on evaporation and making it harder for weeds to get established.  The CR article says that you can cut grass by 50% or more without damaging the plant.  The common rule is that you should cut no more than a third of the blade at a time.

5.  Live with certain weeds and pests.  Some common weeds are innocuous or even beneficial to your lawn.  Clover was once a standard component of lawns.  It has the added benefit of fixing nitrogen into the soil.  But clover is not compatible with the broad-leaf herbicides used in many fertilizer formulations.  So now it is considered a weed.  Dandelions can improve soil aeration.  Crabgrass is a problem, however, and is best combated by a preemergent herbicide, or better, by overseeding bare spots to create a thicker turf.  Note that a preemergent herbicide works by inhibiting the development of seedlings.  So if you use one of these products, do not count on any grass seed to grow.

A patch of  Ecolawn(TM) fine fescues
to repair a hole in the lawn
6.  Give low-maintenance grasses a try. There are several low maintenance grasses available.  Most of these are blends of fine fescues.  These grasses have lower fertility and moisture needs than Blue and Rye grasses.  Also these fescues tend to be slower growing, so there is a longer period between mowings.  They do not take traffic as well as standard turf grasses, however tall fescue is a coarse-textured, low maintenance grass for high use areas.  

I tried out a sample of EcoLawn™ on a portion of my lawn where I had a plumbing line replaced last fall.  I planted it into a mixture of the churned up sub-soil with about an inch of compost mixed into the top.  It did take over a week to germinate and it grew to about 2-3 inches by the end of fall.  Now is is a dense deep green mass of fine textured blades.  As seen here it does stand out from the original mixed turf grasses.

It makes a more subtle contribution in places where it has been over seeded into bare spots.  Here between the street and sidewalk I've overseeded to see if I can suppress the annual attack of crabgrass.

Fine fescue was overseeded into the sparse turf of the 'Hell Strip.'
Following these six tips is an easy way to save time and money on lawn care and to reduce water usage and environmental pollution.

1 comment:

Paul Dranow said...

A great article that really confirms my views. Having not used fertilizer and mulched the grass for over 30 years I haven't noticed a discernible difference from our neighbors and we are not polluting our well water. I think it shows that great minds think alike.
Paul Dranow