(9/2) My husband and I are not lawn experts, but people tend to rave over our lawn. The grass is thick, green and lush. When I tell them that we have not applied chemicals in the last ten years, and we don't water, they are amazed and want to know our secret.
We have no secret, unless you count following good, organic gardening practices. The whole idea behind organic gardening is to feed the organisms living in your soil which in turn keeps the plants healthy. I am a dedicated gardener who loves the birds and butterflies flittering around in my garden, and, I especially enjoy watching my grandchildren
rolling down the hill in the grass. To feel good about that, I prefer not to use chemicals anywhere on our property. Here are some things we do to maintain the lawn with a minimum of work and expense.
Soil test and aeration
We test our soil periodically to see what nutrients it may need, or if a lime application is indicated. You can purchase a soil test kit from the Penn State Extension at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Gettysburg. We also pay to have the lawn aerated every few years. Our property is one big hill. All those little holes allow the water to better seep into
the soil instead of immediately running off. You can rent the equipment and do it yourself if you are so inclined. Either way, we prefer the machine that actually pulls out the plugs, not the one that just pokes holes.
Never mow grass shorter than three inches
When you cut it too close to the ground, you stress it. Any plant that is stressed is weaker and more susceptible to disease. Set your mower at three inches, and never take it lower. During the spring, this probably necessitates mowing twice a week.
Don't bag the grass and leaves
Grass clippings left on the lawn are only unsightly when you let the grass get too long between mowings. If you mow consistently with a sharp blade, you don't even notice the clippings. Be sure to keep your mower blades sharp.
When the leaves begin to fall, keep up your consistent mowing routine, and mow right over them. All those grass clippings and mulched leaves are free, organic fertilizer. People often say that they have way too many leaves for that. But I have to wonder if they have ever tried it. Again, twice a week will do the trick.
It is a myth that failure to bag your grass will cause thatch. Thatch is actually caused by overuse of synthetic fertilizer. The grass clippings and mulched leaves will decompose and become part of the soil with the same result as applying compost or organic fertilizer. Earthworms and other soil organisms carry the organic material down into the
soil where it can feed the roots of the grass.
If fertilizer is needed, go organic
Organic fertilizers are obtained from natural sources. There are several brands from which to choose. We buy an organic lawn food that comes in pelleted form and is easy to use in our broadcast spreader. When you buy any organic fertilizer, you will notice that the numbers on the bag are much lower than you are used to seeing on a synthetic
fertilizer bag. This is because fertilizer companies are required by law to show the amount of nutrient immediately available to the plant on the day you apply it. Organics are slow workers. They actually build the health of the soil which in turn supports healthier, deep-rooted plants. Don't be fooled by the seemingly low numbers. The fertilizer IS doing its job!
Take a weed walk
For years, we used a chemical maintenance company. One advantage of that was when we went organic, our grass was not full of weeds. It would brown out in June as soon as the spring rains slowed, but we were basically weed-free. Now, about once a week I walk around the yard looking for weeds. When I see one, I dig it out using my trusty garden knife
which allows me to easily pull the weed leaving only a very small slit behind. Remember that a disturbed area, or open soil is an invitation to weeds, so try not to expose any more soil than you have to.
I have found that because our organic grass has deeper, healthier roots, it can more easily crowd out weeds. Also, due to its deeper root system, it no longer browns out at the first sign of summer heat. We don't water. If it's a true drought period like we have had this summer, watering doesn't seem to help anyway. As soon as it rains, the grass
greens right back up.
The other 2%
We are not purists. We believe that an occasional spot application of broadleaf weed killer beats covering the lawn with chemicals on a regular basis. The trick is to stay on top of it. Certain weeds, if given a foothold, will work to destroy your lawn very quickly. Use that spot application while the clump is still small. If you are forced to
remove a rather large patch, reseed immediately, and don't forget to water those young grass blades until they can get established!
Read other articles on lawn care & weed control
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