June 1, 2015
Americans are obsessed with having the perfect lawn but much of what it takes for that to happen is damaging to the environment around us. Lawn fertilizers do not stay on the lawn. The nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers can travel great distances, ending up in the groundwater supply and the water we drink. They also damage the natural balance of water bodies such as lakes and ocean bays. These 8 natural lawn care tips can help you to reduce the damage from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides and have a healthy and beautiful yard to enjoy.
1. Test your soil – A soil test identifies the nutrients already present in your soil, so you only apply the right amounts of what your soil needs. It will also tell you if you need to add lime. You can contact your area’s Cooperative Extension Service to find locations for soil testing and other valuable information.
2. Limit or eliminate fertilizer use and use natural lawn enhancers – Often well-maintained lawns do not need any fertilizer. The results of a soil test and the type of grass you plant can make the difference. If you have sandy soils and are planting a new lawn, supplementing the soil with topsoil to have 6-8 inches of loam before planting grass is a start. A thick layer of loam will dramatically cut down your need for watering and fertilizing your lawn, and help reduce the spread of weeds.
If you do fertilize, use an organic determine how much fertilizer you need. Time your applications carefully, and never apply fertilizers before heavy rain or when cold weather is expected. Only fertilize in the fall or early spring. An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees, at least, the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. Examples include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, and conditioners. Espoma offers a full line of natural garden products that are readily available at nearly any garden store and even the big box retailers such as Lowes. Creating a compost pile and using compost as a slow-release fertilizer is another good option.
3. Select the right grass – Native grasses (or drought and disease tolerant species) require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than non-native species. Seed mixes specifically formulated for your area are generally available at local garden stores. For example in sandy soil coastal areas a mix of fine-leafed or red fescues and perennial rye grass is a good choice as they are low maintenance, easy to grow, drought resistant, and require less fertilizer than other grasses. Other species like Kentucky Blue Grass may require twice as much water and fertilizer to keep green.
4. Consider Xeriscaping or Smart Scaping with drought and pest resistant plantings instead of a grassy lawn – Xeriscaping is landscaping or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water and is a great alternative. Colorado State University has a list of Xeriscaping plants. Even taking time to research before you plant to ensure that what you pick is tolerant of the location and the amount of watering you plan to do will make a huge difference in the beauty and environmental impact of the result. Ground cover plants can be mixed with grass for a textured effect that requires less maintenance.
5. Mulching planting beds to conserve water – Mulching your gardens and shrub areas with 4 or more inches of mulch can greatly reduce or eliminate the need to water these areas, and will also reduce the need to weed these areas.
6. Limit or eliminate pesticide use – We’ve all read about the loss of pollinators and the reduction of songbird populations due to pesticide use and the elimination of natural food sources. Did you also know that ridding you lawn of those early flowering dandelions is also harmful to pollinators that need sources of food in the early spring season? Even many biodegradable and “natural” pesticides can do a world of harm. Consider letting nature take it’s course and only intervene when the balance tips way our of line.
7. Mow your lawn correctly – Keeping your lawn at about 3 inches and never cutting more than 1/3 or the grass blade at at time helps retain a healthy well-rooted lawn that resists pests and requires less fertilizer and water. Using composting blades and mulching mowers also helps and does not create a thatch problem.
8. Minimize watering – If there are no water restrictions in your area and you must water, do so early in the morning to minimize evaporation into the air and apply 1 inch of water each time. Spot water where needed if possible rather than using an irrigation system that waters everything whether needed or not. To measure how much you are really watering, set out a small tin can to collect the water.
For more tips on lawn care, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a downloadable lawn care brochure.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons