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Natural Awakenings

In Pursuit of the Perfect Lawn

Jun 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By Jay Workman

We all love our lawns, which provide much more than landscaping: they are a place for our kids to play, our pets to roam and just somewhere to relax in a hammock. And there is a right and a wrong way to plan and maintain them.

Planting for Performance

With water shortages occurring in many parts of the country, choosing the plants to put into your lawn is important. Trees and shrubs require little attention and provide energy-saving shade if placed correctly. Some bear flowers or fruit as a bonus. If we choose a variety of grass on appearances alone, it could be an import from a different climate, and may require more maintenance. Native varieties are often best, having a proven ability to thrive with the rainfall and soil already present.

Another alternative, such as xeriscaping or other drought-resistant landscaping, might be for you. Not just limited to rocks and mulch, many plant choices are available that use a fraction of the water required for a traditional lawn. Moss could serve as a nice ground cover in some wetter areas, while various types of spreading plants work well in many regions. Several bear attractive flowers. Clover turns out to be a terrific choice; University of California Cooperative Extension advisor Chuck Ingels says, “You can add almost enough nitrogen to meet the needs of the following crop in the summer.”

Care and Feeding

To conserve water, apply it to your lawn in the morning to minimize evaporation, and don’t overdo it. Usually one half-inch, measured via a tuna can on the lawn, is sufficient. Stop when runoff reaches the driveway. Use a device that shuts off sprinklers when it is raining. Rain catchment systems are becoming a popular way to make every drop count. Why not make your own organic compost heap for fertilizer? Backyard Gardener’s Michaela Strachan advises, “You can construct a simple wire bin made out of chicken wire stapled to four posts and lined with cardboard.” Kitchen leavings, fallen leaves and cut foliage can all go in the pile. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients.

Commercial lawn treatment services leave warning signs on the areas they’ve treated for a reason. Poisonous pesticides can eventually end up in lakes and streams and are especially dangerous to children and pets. A study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that these compounds are often tracked into the home, to end up on furniture and floors, and in the air. Pesticides have been linked to a host of ailments, including chronic diseases like asthma; cancers; and prenatal damage. They even kill helpful fauna likeearthworms, which aerate the soil.

Once a year, in late spring or early summer, rake off the thatch, the compacted dead grass that attracts harmful insects. In the fall, remove small plugs of earth to aerate, then add compost, raking it into the holes. A healthy lawn readily breathes-in water and nutrients.

Even without pesticides, removing weeds by hand is tedious work. A local agricultural extension service will assist with a soil test to balance its acidity. A good pH helps grow grass so robust that weeds won’t be able to compete. Mowing high also discourages weeds.

It’s Growing, Now What?

Gas-powered mowers are notoriously destructive, inefficiently using petroleum fuel, emitting carbon into the atmosphere and creating noise pollution. Electric mowers are better, and cordless models are nearly silent.

Consumer Reports recently reviewed the self-guided models and found the time it takes for the blades to stop spinning when a curious youngster or adult tips it up is long enough to inflict severe damage. The old-fashioned, push-type reel mower is not a burden to operate if used regularly. You can even get a healthy workout without going to the gym.

Make a Green Noise

Condo and apartment dwellers still have options. Talking about green issues at an association meeting or appealing to management may open up some meaningful dialogue. Invite an environmental consultant to speak or distribute literature to the membership and follow up. Start by making copies of this article.

Why? Conscious lawns are the obvious way to go in achieving the truly healthy home.

• For more info on soil testing, visit
• Get organic gardening tips at
• Find out how to muzzle a mower at
• For reel mowers visit
• Learn more about amazing clover at
• Sample groundcover options at, search online catalog.
• Discover how to make compost via, search compost, as well as lawn care.
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