Growing a sustainable lawn doesn’t mean a lot of extra work or high-maintenance practices. It means simply rethinking how to initially establish grass and support that growth. (Photo courtesy: ThinkStock)
The lawn can be the centerpiece of any landscape, with its green expanse connecting disparate sections of the garden. A cool, green patch of grass under the shade of an old tree offers an oasis in the heat, while the simple smell of fresh cut grass is like nature’s ultimate perfume with a direct feed to the nostalgia zone of our brain that ties back to childhood — memories of the first bare feet padding across a freshly cut lawn or running under a sprinkler.
But lawn maintenance has received a bad rap, and rightly so. Chemicals that are used to achieve perfect lawns can run off into streams, bays and lakes, pollute the air and lay the soil to waste. The image of a barefoot child running across a chemically treated lawn is not nearly so appealing.
Growing a sustainable lawn doesn’t mean a lot of extra work or high-maintenance practices. It means simply rethinking how to initially establish grass and support that growth. To create and maintain a sustainable lawn, you simply need to go back to the fundamentals of maintaining life.
Our Virginia soil can become compacted easily as a result of its red clay content so it is important to reintroduce air into the soil. You can do this by renting an aerator (this will also require muscle power) or using a hand-held one (best for smaller areas) or, simply, a broad fork.
Once the soil can breathe, you can add compost to it, filling in those spaces you created through aeration by topdressing your lawn.
This is the one part of lawn maintenance that will take a little science, but it will provide you with valuable information you need for a healthy lawn. You can pick up a soil test at most garden centers and this test will let you know what nutrients are lacking in the soil. Then, you can work with that same garden center to find the best organic fertilizer for your lawn’s specific needs. Look for brands such as Espoma or Ringer.
Water your lawn in the morning between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. Watering in the evening can result in fungal disease. Lawns need about an inch of water, per week. Safelawns.org provides a great tip in its video series: to gauge an inch, place a tuna can on your lawn during watering. Once it is full, you have reached an inch.
Work on the bulk of your lawn projects during the cooler weather of early spring or autumn.
What varieties and when to plant for warm weather vs. cool weather grasses varies by area. The Virginia Cooperative Extension website (ext.vt.edu), or your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, can provide details.
Set your blade height to 4 inches during the summer and to 3 inches in autumn. During droughts, mow less frequently to avoid scorching your lawn.
Instead of striving for a “perfect” lawn, happily accept (and nurture) a “green” lawn, even if some of the green is clover or dandelions. After you have mowed it, the lawn will look lush.