“Grass-cycling” or mulching your lawn with grass cuttings is very important to sustainable lawn maintenance. When mulching you are reintroducing nutrients back into the grass and not contributing to landfills. Keep in mind that you have to cut your lawn more often in order for this to work. Many people believe that mulching a lawn causes thatch, this is incorrect. When done properly it helps fertilize the lawn. You receive the best results from cutting the lawn on a dry day and removing no more than one third of the grass blade.
I highly recommend a mulching lawn mower. A mulching mower works by suspending the cut grass tip in the air, which the lawnmower blade then slices into fine pieces and shoots back into the lawn as a recyclable product. This speeds up the lawn mowing process since you don’t have to bag the grass.
There are some terrific new rechargeable recycling lawnmowers. This is allowing many people who were not able to before, to cut their own lawn, while saving a considerable amount of money. Remember to keep your lawnmower blades sharp! This will prevent disease from entering the cut part of the grass blade.
Fertilizing your lawn for sustained health consists of using organic fertilizers and/or slow release standard fertilizers. There are two main reasons to fertilize:
- Hard Pan Clay – During the construction of new homes (within the past 20 years), the healthy topsoil that naturally occurred was scraped and removed. Often this leaves the home owner with a hard pan clay construction surface.
- Time & Age – The natural growth habit of the lawn, watering, and rain naturally takes the nutrients and minerals out of the soil. This is why it is important to recycle your grass clippings and fertilize at optimum times, with fall being the single most important time to fertilize your lawn.
Slow release fertilizers may cost a little more, but in the long run they are less expensive as they last longer and require less effort with fewer applications. I personally like the combination of using standard and organic fertilizers. It is important not to mow your lawn too soon after applying your synthetic fertilizer. The lawnmower will cut or fracture the fertilizer, destroying the slow-release technology. Wait one full week after application to cut your lawn.
Organic fertilizers improve the quality of your soil. If you take care of your soil, it takes care of your lawn, reducing problems and cost. Please remember, that most of your higher quality organic fertilizers have a very strong smell, so take this into consideration when planning. Organic fertilizers have a temperature window between 55 and 75 degrees F.
One of the single best things you can do to optimize your fertilizer use and know the requirements of your particular soil is to get a soil test. This way you know exactly what is required to build and keep a healthy soil profile. For more details please read my Soil Testing article.
It is best to fertilize earlier in the spring to prepare your lawn for the summer.
Although we live in the Seattle area where rain is abundant, we still have to be careful about when we water the lawn. It is best not to water during the heat of the day. It is better to water less often and heavily as to imitate nature and encourage deeper root growth from your lawn. If puddles develop on the lawn you should stop watering!
If you have a sprinkler system you should check it several times a year to make sure you are getting adequate coverage and that the sprinkler heads are not broken or spraying into the street. To help reduce the use of water, consider lawn aeration and introducing compost in the fall to help improve water retention.
Surprisingly, it does not harm your lawn to let it go dormant during the summer. The grass plant is unique because it can be dehydrated then re-hydrated without being damaged.
Thatch is naturally produced by many grass plants. Thatch is a dense mat of roots, stems and grass clippings that accumulate between the soil and growing blades of grass. Thatch typically becomes a problem with unhealthy soil or over-fertilized lawns. Your fescue and bent grasses produce a lot of thatch. These types of grasses spread horizontally and self-replicate. A healthy soil will naturally digest excess thatch preventing the thatch layer from getting too thick. This happens with the use of microorganisms which happen naturally in a healthy soil profile. For instance, an over-fertilized lawn growing on clay may grow like crazy and still keep producing thatch. It looks healthy for a while, but without a root structure (which can’t happen when it is choked by thick thatch) the grass plant will not last. The roots will not be able to develop because the clay is so hard that all the growth will be directed upwards.
Lawn aeration helps to reduce thatch levels by keeping the soil healthy.Aeration reduces compaction and incorporates air into the soil and the thatch layer. With a healthy exchange of air between the soil and atmosphere, microbial activity can continue and begin digesting thatch.
Having a healthy, properly maintained lawn helps to withstand a fair amount of damage from pests and predators. The healthier the lawn, the faster it will rebound after being damaged. Unhealthy lawns, such as ones that have been growing on hard pan clay, devoid of organic material, will show damage fairly rapidly. When the lawn is growing on unhealthy soil there is almost no root structure. The clay prevents winter drainage, which then leaves roots to sit in pools of water and rot. The rotting roots are very susceptible to disease and Crane Fly larvae.
I highly recommend a product called Speed Zone which you can easily purchase via My Products Page.
Having a sustainable lawn means tolerating some weeds. You have to decide as a homeowner how many weeds are acceptable in your lawn. It was perfectly normal back in the 1950s for lawns to have English Clover. It was only with the introduction of “weed and feed” that clover became unacceptable. The clover plant is usually found on lawns with low nitrogen and heavy clay. It can be a difficult weed to control, so it is extremely important when applying any chemical to control clover, that you apply it at the proper time of year. This means that the correct application rate and timing should be coordinated.
With sustainable lawn care, it is best to spot spray weeds. This way you are not dumping chemicals over your whole lawn, just the specified amount in a small area.
If you are going to be purchasing an herbicide I strongly suggest you purchase it from a nursery. They may have a licensed chemical consultant there to talk to. I have found the best day for homeowners to go to a nursery is on cloudy or rainy days. The staff tends to have fewer customers and will be able to provide you with more one-on-one service. Your neighborhood nursery may charge a little more than a national chain but with the quality of product and the knowledge they can provide, you may find this to be a much better value.