Mary and I both love to mow. In fact, we have a friendly ongoing competition to see whose “stripes” in the yard look the best. But both of us agree that we never want a great lawn at the expense of having to use chemicals.
I have to admit – in my mid twenties, I was one of those “have to have the perfect lawn” people. You quickly fall into those crazy, never-ending fertilizing and weed-killing cycles. Then of course, having to follow up with the recommended bug and insect control applications in between – until at some point – you expect to see your lawn glow from all the chemicals.
It was a vicious cycle, until finally I realized one day I wanted more than just a lawn of abnormally green and unnaturally weed-free grass – but one that was healthy and well-maintained – as well as safe and natural!
So quite a few years ago, using a little common sense and some basic organic strategies, we stopped using all fertilizers – and quickly realized that we never needed them in the first place to have a great looking lawn.
The U.S. National Wildlife Federation reports that on average, suburban lawns receive 10 times as much chemical pesticide per acre as farmland – and that each year, over 70 million tons of fertilizers and pesticides are applied to residential lawns and gardens. It’s no wonder that you can turn on the news almost every day to find out that another lake, stream or river has had an algae bloom due to excess nitrates from fertilizer run-off. In fact, algae blooms have been reported in every single state in the U.S. in the last 10 years.
The reality is that you simply don’t have to resort to using harsh fertilizers and chemicals to have a lawn you can be proud of. In fact, these days, we are even MORE proud of our lawn because we don’t use any!
Let me be the first to say that our lawn is by no means 100% weed free. However, by following the few simple and easy steps found below – you can keep a perfectly healthy and well-groomed lawn all spring, summer and fall long, and keep weeds to a minimum.
1. Mow High – Raise Those Blades!
If there is one single thing you can do to improve your lawn right now – its to raise your mower blades up! When a yard is mowed too low, all sorts of bad things begin to happen. For one, weed seeds have a much easier time finding their way to the soil base to take hold. It also allows the soil to dry out more rapidly on those hot, sunny, summer days – turning it prematurely brown.
Cutting the grass higher allows for much less stress on your lawn, and the added shade that comes from the height will do wonders at keeping moisture in.
What is a good height? We mow right at about 3.5″ – but anywhere from 3.25 to 4″ works best. In addition, it is important to never take more than 1/4 of the grass off in a single cutting. Removing too much grass at once puts a lot of stress on the lawn, not to mention creates a mess of clumped grass all over your yard. If your yard does happen to get ahead of you at some point – its far better to raise your blades up even higher and then mow again in a few days to get it back it at the normal height.
2. Sharpen Those Blades!
Speaking of those blades – its important to keep them sharp. Dull blades on a mower will tear the grass instead of cutting it – leaving the tips of the grass brown the day after a cutting. Many times, people mistake the brown tips for a dry a lawn and think they need to water – when the reality is the tips of each blade has “browned off” due to a dull blade damaging the end of the grass-blade. Good sharp blades make for a clean cut, causing less stress on the lawn, and your mower. So sharpen those blades at least once a month to keep that grass looking great!
3. Stop Bagging Your Grass – Mulch it Back into the Ground!
When you bag your clippings, you are taking the very lifeblood of your lawn and simply throwing it away. Those clippings contain valuable nitrogen and additional trace minerals that when left on your lawn, break down to feed the soil. Your clippings are the most natural way to fertilize your lawn – so leave them on!
4. Don’t Mow When It’s Wet
Mowing when your yard is wet from the morning dew or rain can cause damage to your lawn, your blades – and your mower!. Not only will wet grass dull blades quickly – it can make your mower work twice as hard as the grass becomes clogged underneath. Wet grass will also “tear” more than cut – creating the brown-tip effect talked about above. Last but not least, the balling and clumping from a wet mowing can snuff out the good grass as it lays in the yard and dries out – creating unwanted thatch in your lawn over time.
5. Top Dress in the Fall and Spring with Compost
If you really want to give your lawn a boost – you can top dress it in late fall or spring with a 1/8″ to a 1/4″ thick fine mix of compost and pulverized top soil. It can be applied easily with a drop spreader – and then raked into the grass. The grass will grow right through it and the added nutrients of the compost will help to build a thicker lawn. This is especially good when overseeding or re-seeding your yard to fill in bare spots.
6. Learn to Accept a Few Weeds – and less “Unnatural” Green…
Last but not least – and this is the big one…learn to relax a little! By no means is our lawn weed free. Yes, we have some dandelions that bloom in our yard the first few weeks of spring, and a little clover that blooms in June, and some crabgrass that appears in the fall. Guess what – we are fine with it – and so are our bees! Remember, all of that diversity is actually a good thing!
And when it gets a little hot as it always does, we don’t stress about running out with the hose and wasting water on the lawn. It may lose a bit of its bright green status during a dry spell – but lawns are tough, and they come back just fine when left to handle dry spells on their own.
So save yourself some, time and money – and turn your yard into an organic lawn – and relax and enjoy it!
Happy Gardening…and Mowing!