Now that the weather has warmed up, and we’ve gotten a few good rainstorms followed by nice sunshine, the grass in our lawns is growing taller and taller every day. We all want a beautiful, soft green lawn to run around in during the summer months, but finding the time to maintain it can be a challenge. One way to reduce the time spent on a lawn but still have a lush green expanse is to maintain it organically. Get away from chemical fertilizers and stop mowing so often, and the backyard soccer field will be as beautiful as ever!
Mowing the lawn properly is the most important step in maintaining a lush green field in the front and back of one’s home. A correctly mown lawn will be nearly weed-free, require less maintenance, and less water to keep it looking nice. Though many homeowners like the “putting green” appearance, with very short grass, this type of lawn is a lot more work and water intensive. A lawn is made up of thousands if not millions of individual little grass plants, and like all plants, they get their food from their foliage. Cutting the grass very short forces the plants to expend more energy (that they may not have) to push out new leaves to attempt to compensate for the food cut short from the previous set. A lawn that is left longer (3-4″) has much more capability to support each individual grass plant, and requires less frequent mowing, leaving us more time to enjoy the summer. Leaving the grass longer will also shade out weeds. Competition for nutrients goes to the stronger plant, and if your grass can out-compete the undesirables, you can have a dandelion-free lawn.
Clippings should be left on the lawn. They will break down, adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil. Soils lacking in organic matter will quickly form the appearance and texture of cement, which does not make for good growing conditions. As long as the grass is mown when it is dry, and merely given a trim rather than half the length being removed, grass clumps should not be a problem either. If your lawn soil is starting to take on undesirable qualities, a top-dressing of fine compost in early fall will add organic matter and depth to your soil. And applications of organic fertilizers throughout the growing season will create an excellent environment for maintaining a healthy worm and beneficial bacteria population.
Many commercially-available lawn fertilizers are chemical-based, and by virtue of chemistry, “salts”. Centuries ago, people would ‘salt the earth’ so nothing would grow there. Use of chemical fertilizers will essentially ‘salt your lawn’, leeching important nutrients from the soil, and building up harmful levels of useless elements. Consider this cycle: Chemical fertilizers are used, providing huge amounts of “instant” nutrients to the grass (and any weeds that may be present), making the grass grow very quickly. The lawn then needs mowing, resulting in the cutting off all the foliage that was created from the outpouring of chemicals, forcing new grass blades up from the crown. These will be weaker, as the nutrients from the chemical fertilizers are gone, so the lawn looks pale and patchy. To fix this problem, more chemicals are applied to the lawn… eventually, the lawn becomes dependent on these chemicals, which very quickly becomes very expensive, and is not healthy at all.
To release your lawn from its chemical dependencies, and to help maintain a healthy bacterial and worm population, go organic. Grass is a nitrogen-hungry little plant, so fertilizer is a necessary step in lawn care, but “fertilizer” does not have to mean “chemical”. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural materials such as kelp, corn gluten, bone meal, and dried manures, and do not add any harmful substances to the soil. Corn gluten is a natural seed-germination inhibitor, as well as a fantastic source of natural nitrogen. Applied in the spring, it will greatly reduce the number of annual weeds in a lawn (just don’t apply it to a newly seeded area, or you’ll be disappointed when the grass refuses to grow…). There are many organic lawn care step-by-step programs out on the market today, making it so easy to keep your lawn healthy and happy.
A final note concerns watering. The best way to water a lawn is to give it a nice soaking (at least an inch of water) once a week. Perhaps twice a week during the hottest part of the summer. A good deep watering will promote deep grass roots, often deeper than most weed roots. When the top couple inches of soil dries out in the heat of the summer, the weeds and their surface roots will dry up and die, leaving the deeper grass roots to grab moisture from further down in the soil, keeping them alive. Keeping the grass itself longer will also shade the soil, retaining more of the surface moisture.
A nice lawn doesn’t have to be a lot of work. An organically grown lawn should actually be less work, as it doesn’t need to be babied and fertilized and watered every single day. You can enjoy your lawn, and still have time to enjoy the rest of what summer has to offer!