Regardless of the condition of your lawn, you will be better off to think ‘organic lawn.’ There has been a lot of publicity about the damage that chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides do to the environment. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough publicity about why plants, including lawns, are healthier and more disease resistant without man-made chemicals. If you have been brought up with a typical chemical lawn and garden mentality, you may think this idea preposterous. It is not. Understanding how grass actually grows may surprise you.
Even if your lawn has been doused with chemicals for years, you can convert it into an organic lawn. Some basic practices of organic lawns are still good advice for improving the health of any lawn even if you also use chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
I am a fan of organic solutions, but I also recognize that some people prefer chemically treated lawns and gardens. If you do use a chemical fertilizer or pesticide in your yard, please make sure to carefully follow the directions and avoid overuse, which can do serious harm to your lawn.
Here are some tips that will improve any lawn.
1. Water less frequently, but deeply. Most experts agree that an inch of water once a week is about right for most lawns. This will vary with climate, soil composition, and time of year. To find the best watering cycle for your lawn, distribute several cans or other containers around your lawn and water the lawn. When the containers have one inch of water, turn off the water. Note how long it took to fill the containers to the one-inch mark. Now you know how long to water. You also know which areas don’t get as much water and may need a sprinkler adjustment or change. It is time to water again when the lawn soil surface is dry to the touch. This insures that roots will grow deep. Exactly how deep the roots grow depends on the soil and type of grass.
2. Cut your grass to its recommended cutting height. Some people recommend setting your lawnmower to the highest setting, but I do not agree with this method. Different types of grasses have different cutting height requirements, so it is best to stay within the cutting range recommended for your type of grass.
3. Aerate your lawn. If you aren’t familiar with lawn aeration, it is simply poking holes in the lawn. This is done with a machine that pulls little round pieces of soil, called plugs, out of the lawn. These plugs are deposited on top of the lawn. Although unsightly, they break down and disappear in a couple of weeks. Aeration allows water, air, and nutrients into the soil and prevents soil compaction. Your lawn should be aerated about once a year.
4. Leave lawn clippings on the lawn. Your lawn needs the organic material they supply. Because the grass clippings will be pulled into the soil and decomposed by soil organisms, you will need much less fertilizer. The best kind of mower for this job is a reel or mulching lawn mower because they both leave finer clippings than regular rotary mowers. We’ll talk more about this in the lawnmower section. It is a myth that grass clippings cause thatch. However, if you already have thatch, you’ll want to collect your clippings until you have solved the problem because clippings can make it worse.
5. The best fertilizer for your lawn is an organic fertilizer with a ration of approximately N-P-K: 3-1-2 (3 % nitrogen, 1% phosphorous, and 2% potassium). Follow directions when applying any kind of fertilizer. As an alternative, organic fish emulsion or compost tea will be a healthy treat for your lawn because they both add live microforms to your soil. You can find fish emulsion at your local gardening center, but may have to purchase compost tea on the Internet or make your own. Compost tea is water that has been soaked in compost.