Does your lawn look down for the count? No need to reach for toxic garden chemicals that can harm people, pets and the environment. Metro’s Natural Gardening Specialist, Carl Grimm, showed us how to give our lawns a “green” makeover and keep it beautiful, growing and Earth-friendly.
RENOVATE TO MAKE YOUR TURF GREAT
Fall is one of the best times to renovate a lawn. Just be sure the soil is moist, hand-pull as many weeds as possible and mow before you begin. Use a thatch rake to expose soil for overseeding and to remove moss. If the soil has drainage problems, use a rented power aerator, or push a garden fork 6 inches deep every 4 inches throughout the lawn, rocking it back and forth to loosen the soil. Overseed the whole lawn with a Northwest-appropriate lawn seed. Top-dress with compost that’s weed-free – including seeds – to feed soil organisms that will generate free fertilizer for years to come. To improve drainage even more, include quarter-ten gravel or sand in your top-dressing. Spread this a quarter-inch to a half-inch thick over the entire lawn, and irrigate.
USE ORGANIC, SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER, IF ANY AT ALL
Fast-acting, synthetic fertilizers can cause excessive, thirsty grass growth vulnerable to pests and diseases and can easily lead to polluted runoff in our local lakes and streams. If your lawn tends to look green and healthy October through May, you likely need no fertilizer at all. If your lawn looks pale even in the rainy season, use a slow-release organic fertilizer with a low phosphorus content in fall or spring.
MOW OFTEN, MOW HIGH AND LET THE CLIPPINGS LIE
If nothing else, mow regularly, leave clippings where they fall and keep the grass at the upper limit of its optimal height. Mowing once a week, March through October, is ideal for most lawns. Or, just mow often enough so you never cut more than the top 1/3 of the height of the grass. The optimal height for typical grass varieties in the region is 2 to 2.5 inches. Meanwhile, mulched grass clippings serve as free fertilizer and eliminate the need for raking and bagging.
SKIP THE WEED AND FEED
Weed and feed contains fertilizers and weed killers that are hazardous to people, pets and the environment. Plus, folks rarely need both herbicides and fertilizers at the same time. Skipping the stuff altogether prevents waste and helps keep toxic runoff out of storm drains, lakes and streams.
ENSURE LAWN GETS AN INCH A WEEK, IF GREEN IN SUMMER IS WHAT YOU SEEK
To determine how long it takes your sprinklers to deliver an inch of water, put out a few tuna cans or rain gauges on the lawn, and irrigate. Record the time it takes to fill the cans about an inch, and use this information to set your weekly watering schedule. A sprinkler system with an automatic timer and a rain-activated shut-off valve is best. Water in the morning, allowing grass to dry out by nightfall and reducing the chance of fungal disease. If you do not expect heavy foot traffic and don’t mind your turf turning a golden brown in summer, there’s no need to water at all! Unwatered lawns will green up again with fall rains.
FIGHT WEEDS AND DISEASE BY MEETING YOUR TURF’S NEEDS
Top-dressing, overseeding and mulch mowing regularly are the key strategies to preventing most weeds. If some show up, remove them by hand, but be sure to overseed and top-dress the exposed soil right away. The new grass will help crowd out the weeds later. Useful weeding tools include a thatch rake, a dandelion puller, a hori-hori knife and the claw of a hammer. Tolerate moss or change conditions so it is less likely to grow. Shade fosters moss growth, as do acidic and compacted soils. Prune overhanging branches to reduce shade and remove moss with a thatch rake. Overseed and address drainage and pH problems with core aeration and gravel-and-compost top-dressing.
PLANT AN ECO-LAWN FOR BEAUTY AND EASY CARE
Eco-lawn is turf seeded with low-growing, drought-tolerant, flowering plants such as clover, yarrow, daisy or chamomile. The plant diversity reduces water and maintenance needs and looks beautiful. Look for eco-lawn seed mixes at the nursery.
With a few simple steps or the addition of some eco-lawn flowers, you can get your lawn off garden chemicals – saving time and money. You may even help save the planet in the process!
LEARN MORE WITH FREE RESOURCES
• Presentation: Natural lawn care, 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, September 12, with hands-on activities until 1 p.m., Metro's Natural Techniques Demonstration Garden, 6800 SE 57th Ave., Portland. No registration necessary. Call 503-234-3000 for more information.
• Metro Recycling Information , 503-234-3000, click here.
• Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, click here.
• Oregon Department of Environmental Quality,click here.
• Regional Water Providers Consortium, click here.