Is It Your Lawn Behaving Badly or Are You?

Are you the weekend warrior when it comes to the lawn? You are way too busy between long hours at the office, dropping kids off at soccer, cooking, cleaning and all the other demands in life. If it wasn’t for your body’s ability to breathe without a conscious effort you would probably pass out. If this is you, then I am guessing you mow the lawn right before you get a notice from the Township and cut it as short as possibly to buy you time. Maybe you are the opposite and you actually enjoy working in the yard, taking pride in your luscious green lawn and making your neighbors jealous of your green paradise. No matter which extreme you fall under, your behavior may be the issue and not your lawn.

This article is not solely for organic lawn care and can be used on most lawns in northeast Ohio. By doing the following, you will have a nicer lawn, reduce work and become a better steward for the environment. By noticing your lawn care behavior, you can see what you are doing right and what needs to change. Making these changes it will help you grow a greener, healthier lawn.

Grass Height

Mowing Practice

Let’s start with mowing behavior. Most of us have cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, fescue, rye or a blend of all them. These grasses are more adapted for our cold winters and stay greener for longer periods of the year than warm-season grasses. In general, you do not want to mow cool-season grasses below 3 inches. When you set that mow on the lowest setting so you don’t have to cut every week, you are creating an environment that allows weeds to creep in and the moisture in the top soil to evaporate. As the end of June approaches you will want to consider raising the cutting deck a little higher to around 4 inches. By maintaining the grass at this height, you will prevent the lawn from drying out, browning and going into early dormancy. This will also help keep weeds from moving in. Once you see the dreaded heat of summer passes and the fall rains move in, this is a good time to lower your cutting deck back down to your spring cutting height. Through the entire year remember the following: never cut more than 1/3 of the total height of your grass, keep your mower’s blade sharp and change your mowing pattern.

Grass Clippings

To bag or not to bag, that is the question! It is recommended to bag for your first cut of the year or in the fall if there are excess leaves. That way you can capture or prevent the mold, fungus and disease that moved in during the winter. After that, recycle those clippings right back into your lawn. By using a mulching mower or leaving the clippings, you are adding nitrogen back into the soil. Grass clipping are 90% water so they decompose quickly. Studies show by allowing your grass clippings to recycle into your lawn, you can reduce your need for fertilizer by 25-50%. If you choose to bag, then compost the clippings with your leaves and spread them on your lawn next year. You’ll add nutrients, organic matter and retain moisture for your lawn. Contrary of the belief, leaving grass clippings on your lawn will not cause thatch.

Grass Height

Watering

If you follow the behaviors above and the contents of this organic article series, you will greatly reduce your need to water the lawn. Synthetically treated lawns, especially ones treated high with nitrogen, require more watering. Do you have one of those high tech, computerized irrigation systems that ensure your lawn gets a healthy sip every morning? If so, you are doing more harm than good. By watering frequently, we encourage shallow root depth which makes the grass more susceptible to drought or disease. If you water infrequently but longer, then you train the roots to penetrate deeper in the soil, thus creating a lawn that is more drought resistance. When watering if puddles start to form, shut the facet off, let the water soak in and then resume watering. A rule of thumb is that our lawns need about 1 inch of water per week. This requirement is not exact. Sandy soil or sunny spots require more water than shady areas or clay soil. In the case of Howland Township, we have a lot of clay and average about 3 inches of rain per month. So we do not require much watering. If you need to water do it in the mornings to prevent most of it from evaporating from the day’s heat.

Aerating

Compacted soil prevents water and nutrients from infiltrating, allows weeds to move in, reduces pore space to store water or air and prevents roots from penetrating deeper. By aerating your lawn you allow for water to infiltrate extending your roots system and giving them a chance to breathe. If your lawn has major compaction issues, you will want to aerate in the spring and then again in the fall. Once the issue of compaction subsides, you may aerate once a year.

Dethatching RakeDethatching

Many believe that thatch is formed by leaving grass clipping after mowing the lawn. Excess thatch is typically found in synthetically treated lawns where high amounts of nitrogen are quickly released. This effect kills off beneficial microbes which breakdown and decomposes the dead grass and roots (thatch). Too much thatch prevents roots from receiving nutrients, water and air. To remove excess thatch, you must use a power rake or a bamboo manual rake. Rake out your lawn and compost this dead material to use next year. Top dress with a half inch of compost and overseed with the proper grass species.

Overseeding

Overseeding annually is crucial to remedy bare spots and keep a thick stand of grass to crowd out unwanted weeds. Typically you want to overseed in spring or early fall, but it depends if you applied corn gluten meal pre-emergent.

This may sound like a lot of work and it is at first. Come back to this article once a month to remind yourself and audit your behavior. By making these changes you’ll eliminate more work down the road and on the road to a healthier, greener lawn.

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