2009-07-09 / News

Lawns and their care

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

This week we’ll take a look at lawns. You know, it’s that great green swath that separates your house from your hedge. It has been said that a boat is a hole in the sea into which you pour money. Well, a lawn is the largest part of your yard into which you pour money. According to many experts, lawn care is the highest and most time consuming part of maintaining a yard.

Landscapingguide.com estimates that the average cost of cutting a lawn on a plot sized lot is $30 per week or $120 to $150 per month. The Wall Street Journal suggests that additional “treatments” – that is fertilizing, weed control and edging adds about $500 per year. The U.S. National Wildlife foundation says that 30 percent of the water used on the east coast goes to watering lawns and that figure increases to 50 percent on the west coast.

Incidentally, I was driving down for coffee last week on a rainy morning and saw lawn sprinklers running with water running down the street! Talk about wasting Jamestown’s limited water supply! The Wildlife Foundation also says that the average home lawn receives 10 times the pesticide use than farmland does and where pesticides are used, worms are killed, requiring more fertilizer and more pesticide use to keep the lawn looking green.

That’s not all. Lawn mowers emit more CO2 than cars; leaf blowers make more noise and emit almost double the CO2 of a lawn mower. Around 70 million tons of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are applied to home lawns annually. Lawn runoff in Chesapeake Bay, for example, is said to be responsible for huge algae blooms that have killed large numbers of fish.

What can you do about the acreage of lawn around your home? First, you might try eliminating broad leaf weed killers and pesticides and using organic controls.

If you eliminate weed killers your lawn might get a few dandelions in spring, but you can dig them out with a sharp knife. You’ll never totally eliminate dandelions, their seed can float for miles and if your neighbor has them, you will get them.

Incidentally, dandelions like a Ph of more than 7.0, so if you see dandelions, you probably need to lower the Ph, slightly.

If you get clover, let it grow, it attracts bees and other beneficial insects. Clover can also indicate that your lawn is low in nitrogen, so you might want to apply a high nitrogen fertilizer (if you want to stay organic, use well-made compost or dried horse manure). So what if your lawn isn’t pristine, it still looks pretty good and your immediate environment benefits.

Another item you should check is the Ph of your lawn. It should be just slightly acidic, about 6.5 to 7.0. At that level the grass will grow strongly. Greater acidity slows grass growth.

Next, instead of spreading a powerful pesticide, put down Milky Spore disease to control grubs in the lawn. One application of Milky Spore will control grubs for up to 15 years and it won’t harm worms. You can get Milky Spore at Jamestown Hardware or Secret Garden.

If you really have to water your lawn, cut the 15-minute daily sprinkler use to a longer period less often. By watering deeply you make the grass roots go deeper to look for water. Shallow roots systems created by light watering daily are affected by hot dry periods much more than deeply rooted systems are. You might check your watering system by putting a cup in the area being watered. One inch in the cup is the right amount once or twice a week.

Cut your grass longer in hot weather. By keeping the grass long, the root system is shaded and dries out much less, requiring less water.

To cut emissions you can try a hand operated reel mower. This has the double benefit of giving you and your lawn a good workout! If you cut your lawn weekly, the clippings can be left on the lawn to degrade and provide additional nutrients instead of removing the clippings and fertilizing. If you remove lawn clippings, use them as mulch (if they are untreated) or compost them to provide more nutrients for your yard and garden. Do not try to reuse treated lawn clippings. Unfortunately, they must be disposed of where they cannot do any harm.

One of the best ways to cut down on lawn care is to turn part of your lawn into a wildflower garden to encourage butterflies, moths, and other beneficial insects and give you a colorful display of wildflowers all summer long. To my mind, this is the best use of a lawn and it only needs mowing at the end of summer!

Changing your mindset about lawn care will benefit your lawn, in that it is organically maintained, your home, in that its immediate environment will be cleaner, your children and your pets, in that they will not be sent out to play on a pesticide-coated lawn, and your pocket in that less watering is better for your lawn and easier on the water supply system.

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