At your property, where is the closest place you (and your family and your pets) can connect with nature? The answer is just outside your front or back door. But has it started to gnaw at you just a bit that just when you go outside for a bit of late-summer nature experience, you have to stoop again and pick up the little sign with its foreboding warning?
Does it bother you when you try to read the directions for applying that bag of “lawn food” you saw advertised on TV that you have to read, “Caution, the state of California . . .”? So when you step outside for nature, are you really stepping into a chemical wonderland?
But when you read the lawn company’s diagnosis of all the ailments they have found attacking your lawn, you know you have no alternative, right? And you have visions of taking a year off of treatments, but having to replant the whole thing because of grub damage.
There is a more natural way, and here are some principles to consider:
First, lawn grass is not native in this area, so nurturing it will require some effort. But there is good news, weekly mowing itself is the biggest investment you need to make.
The majority of native and non-native weedy invaders will not tolerate getting their heads knocked off weekly. Grass will. But to put grass in the strongest position, you should mow high and frequently and leave the clippings. (Mowing low or infrequently can give some lawn enemies an advantage).
Second, lawn grass is hungry and thirsty. I suggest you consider investing all of your pesticide dollars into organic lawn food. Research has shown that healthy lawns with deep roots resist all kinds of problems (including grubs) on their own. And, organic fertilizer improves the soil, while synthetic — or chemical — fertilizer can actually harm the soil. Additionally, although probably not anymore this season, you may need to water the lawn deeply three times in a hot, dry summer.
Third, lawn grass needs to breathe. If your lawn gets a lot of traffic, you may need to aerate. And when you aerate, don’t be gentle: It should look like a mess afterwards.
Fourth, lawn grass needs balanced soil. In clay soil, you will probably need to adjust the pH regularly.
Finally, you may need to adjust your own expectations. There will be some weeds. (As shown in the photo, even chemical lawns have some weeds, even along the front curb!) Aside from the effective weeding tools, here are three natural weed removal options. First, spray the center of the weed with strong vinegar. Second, use borax for ground ivy. Third, use corn gluten, especially for crabgrass.
While it may take a Ph.D. to prescribe and dispense chemicals, even a monkey can improve a lawn naturally.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.