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Healthier Lawn Care

In my last blog “Should I Weed and Feed My Lawn?” I suggested that we consider the health and environmental costs of using chemicals to keep a beautiful lawn.   Many commonly used lawn products are highly effective at killing weeds and insects but are also toxic to people, pets and the environment.  There are alternative practices and safer products available which can help us keep a nice lawn.

A slight change in how we view our lawn may be healthy.  Is having a one hundred percent weed-free lawn necessary?  Seeing a few plants other than grass can be OK.  In fact, the clover growing in your lawn is natural fertilizer which takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil.  Rather than conquering all aspects of a lawn, approach it as a living organism which if given the right conditions will be healthy and thrive.

Step one is to bring a soil sample to your local garden center for a free or low-cost analysis.  If an adjustment needs to be made to the pH of the soil, that will be your first task.  Most grass grows best in a pH range of 6.5-7.0.  The pH scale goes from 1-14 with 7.0 being neutral.  The lower you are from 7.0, the more acidic the soil is.  The higher you higher you move from 7.0, the more alkaline the soil is.  Add lime to soil with a low pH and add gardeners sulfur if the pH is above 7.0.  Although these are safe additives, some precautions need to be taken when handling.  The experts at your garden center can help you determine how much you need and how to safely apply it.  You will need to know the approximate square footage of the lawn you will be conditioning.

In the spring you can apply corn gluten meal as a safe way to prevent weeds.  Do not apply this at the same time you’re spreading grass seed as the corn gluten meal prevents the germination of all seeds.

If you have areas of your lawn where grass just won’t seem to grow, as is often the case in high traffic areas, your soil may be overly compacted.  No amount of work or chemicals will make those areas lush until you loosen the soil. It may be worth hiring a lawn care specialist to aerate it.  They’ll pull a core aerator over the lawn which removes plugs of ground about 1/2″ diameter and 3″ long.  This allows water, air, and nutrients to move more easily within the soil.  If you have a lawn tractor and a truck, you can save a few bucks by renting an aerator and doing it yourself.  Following aeration is a great time to fertilize by spreading a layer of compost 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick over the lawn.  Many communities have compost programs where you can pick up compost at a low cost.

Slightly taller grass will be healthier than that which is cut short. Set your mower to cut the grass at  2 1/2″ to 3 1/2″ tall.  At this height, the grass will grow thicker with deeper roots. This will allow it to get more sunlight and compete successfully with weeds.  Cut the grass often enough so that no more than 1/3 of the grass height is being removed, then leave the clippings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer.  Use a sharp mower blade since it causes less injury to the grass than a dull blade.

When weeds do appear you can pull them with a long handle weed puller.  You don’t have to do it for hours at a time, rather enjoy getting outdoors and exercising when you have ten or fifteen minutes!

To get rid of weeds that appear in cracks of your sidewalk or driveway, there are alternatives to the commonly used toxic herbicides.  One is Nature’s Avenger which has citrus oils to kill plants.  With minimal effort, you can make your own weed killer for very little money.  In a tank sprayer mix a gallon of white vinegar, a cup of salt and a tablespoon of dish soap.  Mix until dissolved and spray on unwanted plants.  Just as when using commercially made products, it will take a few days for the unwanted plants to die off.

As challenges come up with your lawn, there are plenty of resources to assist you.  A reputable garden center in your area is best.  Let them know that you want to use products which are safe for people, pets and the environment.  Cooperative Extensions in your area have websites with great information as well as people to speak with in person or over the phone.

Enjoy summer knowing that your yard is a beautiful and safe place to spend time relaxing!

Moe Lalonde

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