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Thursday, May 29, 2008

7 Steps to a Healthy Lawn

Unless you live in a plastic bubble somewhere, you are aware of potential damage and hazards associated with both pesticide and herbicide usage. Even when we are aware of possible problems, sometimes we don't act upon the information we are given, for a variety of different reasons.

Below is a simple and easy list of some of the steps you can take if you are considering making the shift to a more organic approach to lawn care. As with anything, this is a process and not something that can be done overnight, but with a commitment to taking a healthier approach, healthier results can be achieved over time.

Grass cycling (sharpen those mower blades!) returns clippings to the lawn providing about 1,500 pounds of free fertilizer to the average lawn. Scattered clippings break down quickly and feed the roots of the grass plants. Grass cycling can be done with a mulching mower or regular mower. Clip only 1/3 of the grass length at each mowing. This will keep the plants less stressed.

Use natural, organic, slow-release fertilizer in May and September. When nutrients are released slowly, the plants absorb them better, getting more bang for the buck. The goal here is to keep the lawn a healthy shade of green. A "too green" lawn is a sign of overuse of chemicals...a lawn on drugs.

Deeper watering will penetrate the root zone more effectively. Over-watering promotes lawn diseases and can leach nutrients from the soil. Aeration helps water reach the roots and corrects problems with compaction. If there is thatch buildup, de-thatch! Let the lawn go dormant in the summer. Dormant lawns need only one deep watering per month. Otherwise, water about one inch per week in July and August. Use less in late spring or early fall. Water slowly to avoid puddling and runoff. Newly planted lawns, of course, may need some additional TLC.

Aeration and over seeding go a long way toward creating a beautiful, healthy lawn. You can rent a power aerator or hire a professional. If your soil is compacted deeper than 2", find a lawn care professional that has equipment which can penetrate 6-8" for full aeration. Over seed after aeration with a lawn seed mix designed for the northwest. Ask about these mixes at your local nursery. April or May as well as September are the best months for aeration and over seeding.

Avoid 'weed and feed' products or other pesticides/herbicides. Pesticides and herbicides create problems, rather than solve them. For example, diazinon is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of dozens of birds in the Puget Sound region, while feeding on treated lawns. Instead, use compost on the lawn to feed the soil and enhance healthy lawn growth. Apply compost about 1/2 " deep on established lawns once a year. To prepare soil for a new lawn, apply 2" of compost to 6-8 inches of soil. Water well. Microorganisms in a healthy lawn help fight pests naturally.

Remove problem weeds by hand in the spring and fall. Long-handled weed pullers are a great tool! Other tools work well for dandelions by letting you go deep and getting the whole root. Try using headphones with your favorite music playing to help make hand weeding more pleasurable, or hire local youth to do the job for you.

Sometimes weeds are telling you something. For example, moss means you are trying to grow lawn in a place that is just too wet or shady for grass. Clover may mean you need more nitrogen.

Some folks believe that your lawn is anything green that grows to a height of a few inches and can be mowed! For many of us, clover and moss look just fine in the lawn.

Honey, I shrunk the lawn! We encourage people to minimize the amount of lawn they have, in order to reduce chemical use and save water and your own labor. Using native plants, ground cover, pathways, etc., instead of lawn, makes a lot of sense for many homeowners. To reduce lawn area, simply smother mulch the area of lawn to be converted to garden or other use. Cardboard works well as does a thick layer of newspapers. Apply several inches of compost over this layer and plant a new bed. It's an easy and effective way to make unwanted lawn disappear.

Now that you have an idea of some tips that can be done, complete your education by checking out the place to go for an "out of the box" education in Organic Horticulture and the Environment. Known as the home of the "Green Guerrilla", The Nature Lyceum, presents a 2 Day Course in Organics.

As a much needed response, to shift both the approach and education of the green industry into greater balance and harmony with the environment, founder Jeff Frank, opened The Nature Lyceum over a decade ago. His school offered a unique educational opportunity for those looking to be more connected with organics long before Green became trendy.

Working with horticulturists, landscape companies, tree care companies, estate care, grounds maintenance, wineries, golf course superintendents, farmers and the back yard gardener, The Nature Lyceum has helped to spread to the work of organics through their pro-active Green Guerrilla program. Students from around the world have graduated from the program and have taken back to their specific communities a holisitic approach to approach to plant and soil health.

The 2 day course is taught by talented and awesome professional co-instructors. Some of the topics covered in the program include: An Introduction to Organics, Soils, Microbes, Water, Dowsing, Organic Turf & Tree Programs, Compost and Compost Teas, Organic Fertilizers, and much more. Classes are offered monthly.

For information on the next class, contact Jeff Frank at 631-283-1915. Both Scott and I have attended programs at the Nature Lyceum and we highly recommend this to any one looking to expand their perceptions, abilities and knowledge basis as they work more co-creatively with the environment. Website

Natural Lawn Care Tips 1- 6 provided by: Natural Landscapes Project


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