Healthy Lawns 101

Let Your Lawn Last

How-To

The Longer the Turf The Better

The way we look at an organic property needs to be different than a chemically managed property. Our expectations and goals are very different. Firstly  If you mow very close the root systems are very shallow . If you mow infrequently (every 10-14 days) and high (mowing height of 4” or more) you get the following benefits:

– Tall turf shades out low growing weeds such as crabgrass.

– Taller turf means a deeper root system this creates a more insect,disease and drought tolerant plant .

– The plant naturally competes with weeds and will choke out many species reducing the need for herbicides.

Each property has its own personality. The following is an overview of a good solid program.

Insects can devastate a lawn quickly . Typically in the northern part of the US the damage is done in the summer months ,sometimes when the lawn is dormant. We have had great success using beneficial nematodes and Milky Spore Disease.

These are soil borne organisms that attack the target pest and can stay in the soil for decades .

The nematodes work to control the following:

Annual Bluegrass Weevil, Armyworm, Billbugs, Chinch Bug , Clearwing Borer, Codling Moth , Cutworm , Flea Larvae, Flea Pupae, Giant Palmetto Weevil, Japanese beetle, Root Weevil, shore flies, Sod Webworm

They can be purchased here.

The main advantages of using organic fertilizers is that they work with nature’s way of supplying nutrients to your turf and plants. Organic fertilizer nutrients are released slowly through normal biological activity in the soil. Here’s our recommendation for a home lawn care program that builds your soil and takes what used to be the financial sting out of “going green”.

*Soil testing should be performed to find the best blend for your specific situation

Early Spring: March – April

Test your soil as soon as the ground thaws enough to do so.

Fertilize your lawn with an organic fertilizer like McGeary Organics 6-0-4, 8-0-0, or 8-1-1 according to your soil test recommendations. Apply the appropriate blend at 10 lbs per 1,000 sq ft and top dress with compost.

Water responsibly at no more than one inch per week done at the earlier part of the morning to minimize waste through evaporation and avoid fungal problems associated with late or evening irrigation.

Late Spring: April-May

Raise mower height for subsequent cuts to a minimum of 3-3.5 inches. Use proper mowing techniques and continue to maintain mower blade sharpness. Leave grass clippings on the lawn and continue to water properly.

Scout for weeds and use mechanical weed control and a reliable organic selective weed control like A.D.I.O.S as you continue to re-seed any bare spots and cover them with compost.

Monitor your lawn for pest problems and signs of stress.

 Summer: June – August

Understand that your lawn can go through a period of natural summer dormancy and avoid fertilizing during the hottest time of the year.

Continue to use sound irrigation and mowing practices leaving grass clipping on the lawn.

Monitor for insects and disease problems.

Apply organic soil bio-stimulants like Soil Restore and compost tea to help your lawn handle the seasonal stresses of compaction, heat, and possible drought conditions.

 Mid-August to Mid-September

Many organic programs recommend liming at this time but we prefer to use natural biological methods to handle soil pH issues unless clearly indicated by a soil test.

Re-seeding and top dress with another application of compost especially in situation of previous neglect or heavy chemical fertilizer use.

 October and November

Apply the McGeary organic fertilizer blend you used earlier in the season at 1/2 rate. Use a mulch fall leaves as they accumulate or mow over the leaves a few time with your mower and leave them on your lawn for a free and effective boost for the spring.

 In between fertilizations, apply compost tea and a liquid soil bio-stimulant like BCWC Organic’s Soil Restore liquid kelp and humic acid blend. The natural minerals derived from the kelp and the organic matter provided by the humic acid work with the balanced natural nutrition of McGeary’s organic blends to improve the health of your soil by providing a steady, slow-release nutrient buffet for your soil’s beneficial microorganisms which are the underground heroes that do the heavy lifting when it comes to organic lawn fertilization.

Based on an average home lawn size of 5,000 sq ft, the average cost to naturally nourish your home lawn using an OMRI listed McGeary blend and BCWC Organic’s Soil Restore is about $5-$7 per 1,000 sq ft per application.

Replace fine turf with short, “no-mow” grasses.

Our current model for managing tens of millions of acres of home lawns could be easily changed to a sustainable model. The use of short, no-mow grasses could save the U.S. tens of billions of dollars per year in maintenance costs. In addition, if yards were managed organically, we could reduce the dumping of millions of pounds of pesticides each year. This in turn could contribute to a decrease in the incidence of diseases which have been linked to exposure to toxins in the environment.

Depending on the region and climate, there is a native grass to be used to naturalize open space and excess fine turf areas. In the mid-Atlantic region it is common for homeowners to mow 2 acres of lawn each week. This practice could be changed by mowing a small area around the house and then planting a short, no-mow turf on the excess acreage. This grass is similar to prairie grass if left alone (after soils are re-built to a pre-chemical state). It will grow year after year without chemical inputs just as the prairies did for thousands of years.

Indeed, the grass left in its natural state will grow very deep root systems. These root systems develop where plants grow naturally, whereas tight mowed turf has very shallow root systems. The deep root systems have a great benefit to the plant such as drought tolerance. In deep root systems, billions of microbes bound the soil particles together creating voids for oxygen transfer deep into the soil. This creates crumbly soil similar to a woodland. Aeration channels tunnel through this soil to help drainage. There is remarkably little run off, and the water that does run off is clear filtered water. Most rainfall is absorbed like a sponge; it gently drains through the subsoil and into rivers and streams. Much of the rainfall is stored—trapped along the way, actually—as colloidal humus for the plant to use in dry times. This highly active microbial soil also traps toxins such as excess nitrogen from leaching into wells and inland waterways. The root cause of dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico are nutrient runoff from chemical lawns and farms.
An additional aesthetic benefit is having green grass during drought periods. The no-mow native short grass has a far greater root mass, so even in drought periods the grass stays green much longer. The nutritional benefit is that the roots reach the subsoil, which has minerals needed by the plant. It is not proven but widely believed that the prairies grasses improve soil fertility, as the early farmers did not need to fertilize for the first 10 years when prairies were first plowed under.

The native short grass in its natural state will produce seed heads and re seed itself to proliferate. The subsequent generations of seeds will evolve naturally; each generation of plant will be more tolerant of pests, environmental conditions, and disease. This is how the great prairies survived for thousands of years—they evolved to survive whatever nature put forward. This type of crop looks after itself. The end result will be a very attractive park-like look as opposed to a tailored manicured lawn.

In order for suburbia to embrace native short grass, homeowners first need to change their outlooks on their yards. The home lawn is a status symbol in this country, so the viability of this movement depends on our image based society. Society must accept short grass as a naturalized lawn as the norm. What would happen if everyone came to think that the more native short grass you have on your property, the more altruistic you are? After all, you would be benefiting the environment. A general philosophy could come to pervade suburbia: the more sheep fescue in the yard, the greater landowner’s social conscious. Increasingly more turf grass would be replaced as the native grass peer pressure would spread.

Already the image of a shaggy 8” tall lawn is changing into something that is aesthetically pleasing. The notion that beauty manifests itself in rigid uniformity imposed upon gardens and yards is beginning to ebb. In fact, Chanticleer Garden is planting masses of short grass. Chanticleer, a 36-acre botanical garden which employs 15 full time horticulturists, could be the nicest garden in the country. If it is good enough to be in a first-rate botanical garden, it could well be good enough for a home lawn or at least a portion of a home lawn.
Ultimately, the aesthetic value of sheep fescue needs to be accepted and a positive image of longer, less manicured grass needs to pervade. Once this positive perception is created in our image-based society, we can start to understand how such a small change in paradigm can make a huge impact on our environment. Replacing 1 million acres of turf with native short grasses will result in the following:

  • A reduction of the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers by billions of pounds each year.
  • A reduction of the 800 million gallons of gasoline used in the U.S. to mow home lawns.
  • A reduction of the Co2 gasses emitted by lawn mowers which are 40 times worse than an automobile.
  • A cooling of waterways due to decreased run-off.
  • A cleaning of well water and waterways due to the reduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the ability for organic soils to trap nutrients and keep them from leaching.
  • A reduction of dead zones that currently plague areas from the Gulf of Mexico to the Chesapeake Bay.
  • An increase in aquatic life such as oysters and fish which inhabited the dead zones.

This is just another simple way to bring on change, helping improve the water supply, air quality, and public health while saving the U.S. homeowner billions.