Natural Lawn Care
You can have a green, healthy lawn using natural lawn care.The methods in this article take less time and need to be done less frequently than previous standards of lawn care.
You’ll need to do some research on which lawn varieties are best for your area. If you want to use a native grass, be aware that it may have a period of dormancy when it turns brown. Native grasses require less fertilizer and mowing than traditional grasses. To find out the best type of lawn for your area, visit a local nursery or garden center, or ask your county Master Gardeners.
If you want to use a lawn alternative, consider using ground covers that do well in your area. Look for low-growing, tough plants that can withstand traffic and don’t need much water. You will need to water the groundcovers regularly the first year until they established.
Often gardeners are intimidated by their irrigation system controller. In order to save water, energy and money you’ll need to read the manual to learn how to use it. If you can’t find it, look it up online.
It’s never necessary to water every day. Plant roots need air as well as water, and overwatering weakens plants. The key to a healthy lawn is to water deeply so that water penetrates through the soil to reach plant roots.
Many gardeners like to keep their lawn short and tidy. However, cutting more than 1/3 of the lawn blade can actually harm your lawn. Those small blades are used to get energy from the sun, and if you constantly eliminate the leaf mass, you will stress the lawn and leave it weak and vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Fertilizing aka “Grasscycling”
Lawns need a lot of nitrogen, and a great organic method to provide it that saves money on fertilizer is called grasscycling. Grasscycling is the practice of leaving lawn clippings on your lawn. Grass contains a lot of nitrogen, so instead of bagging it, leave it on your lawn to decompose. This practice not only saves time and money, it also adds organic matter to build up your soil.Just remember to mow your lawn when it is dry and keep your lawn mower blades sharp before you grasscycle.
Contrary to popular belief, grasscyling does not cause thatch build up. Thatch is a layer of dead stems and roots that builds up over time. A ½” layer of thatch on your lawn is not a problem. To decide if you should dethatch your lawn, dig up a small section of soil and roots (put it back when you’re done). If thatch measures more than ½” inch, it’s time to dethatch. The best time to do this is during spring or fall. Dethatch using a rake or rent a vertical mower.
Lawns and Water Pollution
Nitrogen is a common contaminant in our water supply. This nitrogen comes from the over application of lawn fertilizers. If you do use fertilizer, make sure to follow directions. More does not necessarily mean better. Over fertilizing causes lawn to grow faster, and then you’ll need to mow more frequently.
What About Drought?
Lawns have been the foundation of many landscapes for years. However, if you live in an area affected by drought, local regulations may not allow you to water your lawn enough to keep it healthy. In fact, your town may even offer rebates to take out your lawn. Pulling out a lawn may or may not save water, especially since establishing a new landscape uses a substantial amount of water during the first year.
If you don’t use your lawn, you can replace it with water-wise plants (note, not all native plants are water-wise). For some people, a lawn is a great place to have family gatherings, play sports or let the dog roam. In this case you can have a patch of grass that is inviting and uses less water and resources.
Water Saving Tips
To learn more about saving water in the landscape, read Eco Gardening: Water Saving Tips.
To learn more on how to keep your lawn healthy in greater detail, read UCANR Guide to Healthy Lawns
photos by Holly Guenther