Rehabilitating Your Lawn Naturally
Joe Lamp’l - Gardening Expert and Host of Growing a Greener World®
As a green gardener, I’m always looking for ways to keep my lawn and landscape looking their best using natural methods. When it comes to lawn care, there are a few important considerations, no matter what type of lawn you have that don’t require any special inputs. It’s a common misconception that throwing some fertilizer on your lawn several times a year is all that is needed to keep your lawn looking green and good. But that’s simply not true. Yes, all lawns need to be fed, and when the time comes for that, I look to organic and natural solutions. But there are other basic steps that are just as important to building a strong foundation. To keep our lawn looking great naturally, try these steps to success.
Do a soil test
One of the simplest and most overlooked steps to lawn success is getting your soil tested. It’s the first step to maximize your lawns potential. All plants, including grass, have a preferred soil chemistry, which allows nutrients to be taken up by the roots. Known as pH, the range goes from 0 to 14 with 7.0 being neutral. Lawns like a neutral to slightly acidic pH so your goal is a reading around 7.0 – 6.5. How do you achieve that? Your soil test report, typically provided by your county extension service will tell you just what you need to add to get your soil within the ideal range. It’s typically an easy fix. But not making these simple adjustments can handicap your lawns success before you ever get started.
Feed your lawn
A common recommendation in a soil test report is to add nitrogen. That’s the nutrient that gives your grass its deep green color, as well as some other important benefits. There are many sources nitrogen-based lawn fertilizer on the market. However, most are synthetic, water soluble, salt-based products. Although fast acting and effective, I don’t believe these are the best long-term solution for a lawn or the environment. What isn’t taken up by the roots immediately can find it’s way into a watershed, adding to an already growing problem, plus the salt buildup over time can have an adverse impact on soil health.
My mantra is always to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants. So I look to natural alternatives for my nitrogen sources. In the perfect world, I’d top-dress my lawn with several applications of compost each year. It’s great for adding important organic matter to the soil and has important nutrients. But, adding a generous amount of compost each time can be impractical.
Corn gluten is an one organic fertilizer option. Although primarily marketed as a pre-emergence weed control, it was found to contain a natural component of nitrogen at about 10% by volume. Although it does a great job of feeding and greening up your grass, because of the pre-emergence control, you would never want to use this in a newly seeded application. Another readily available and environmentally friendly product that is safe to use for newly seeded or established lawns is Milorganite. It’s a slow release natural product, which releases nutrients to plants and lawns over about an 8-10 week period. And it adds organic matter to feed the soil, which is exactly what I look for.
Provide access to sun
Some lawns are more shade tolerant than others, but all prefer full sun. More often than not, when you see an area of sparse coverage, look up. Chances are shade is impeding the ability for the grass to thrive. Although cutting trees down may not be an option, raising the tree canopy by limbing up just might be all that is necessary to get more sunlight to the ground. Alternatively, choose a more shade-tolerant grass.
Cut at the ideal level with a sharp blade
Studies have been conducted to identify the preferred or optimal growing height for peak performance for each type of lawn grass. Learn what type of grass you have and then do an online check to see at what height to keep your grass level. Accordingly, avoid cutting more than a third of the height at any time. More than that can stress the plants and potentially lead to pest or disease problems. And maintain a sharp blade for clean cuts. This greatly reduces the chance for torn or rough edges that are more susceptible to potential problems as well.
Provide supplemental irrigation per week and at the right time
Over watering is just as, if not worse than under watering. In the absence of rainfall, one inch of total water per week is your target. When you do irrigate, do so early in the morning, to minimize the time your lawn stays wet. Excessive moisture above ground can promote diseases that can easily be avoided by watering at the right time.
Aerate during active growth
Once a year, just as your lawn is kicking into gear for the season, rent a core aerator and give your lawn a once over. This type of aerator is designed to remove cores or plugs from your soil so that air and water can move more freely around the roots. It also gives the roots a better chance of expanding as the surrounding soil becomes less dense and compact. The extracted cores will quickly break down and become unnoticeable in a matter of days.
Simple steps like the ones mentioned above will go a long way to getting and keeping your lawn in peak condition. And the added bonus is, a healthy lush lawn is the best way to fight competing weeds, naturally of course.