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Organic landscaping saves water, time and energy

Photo courtesy of Lorene Edwards Forkner Leaving your lawn shaggy chic will afford you more time to lounge.

Photo courtesy of Lorene Edwards Forkner Leaving your lawn shaggy chic will afford you more time to lounge.

Photo courtesy of Lorene Edwards Forkner – Leaving your lawn "shaggy chic" will afford you more time to lounge.

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with our lawn. We love the lush look, but we hate the work it takes to keep it that way. We fret about sparse growth, weeds, insects, diseases and the lack of rain. With all that maintenance, it's no wonder that we love to hate the lawn.

To get rid of the worry, we need to use the best practices for lawn maintenance and adjust our attitude about the way it looks and its care.

Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Mow high. Keep the grass 3.5 inches tall. Grass at this height keeps the roots cool and shades out weeds and their seeds.

  • Water only when needed. If you feel you must water, do so infrequently and deeply — you want at least the first inch of soil moist. Deep watering promotes good root development. To test this, stick a shovel in the soil to see where the moist soil measures on the blade.

  • Keep it natural and avoid synthetic fertilizers, which do nothing for the soil. Natural or organic fertilizers work on improving the soil structure. Healthy soil yields healthy plants. Remember: feed the soil, not the plants.
  • A few blemishes are natural, so get over the idea of a weed-free lawn. Clover actually fixes nitrogen in the soil, a good thing for grass.

  • Practice patience. When transitioning from synthetic lawn-care products to organic products, allow at least two years before making an evaluation. Natural products work much slower than synthetic products, but the results are long-term because they improve the soil.

Another important aspect is selecting the right type of grass for the right place. Consider:

  • Cool season grasses, such as Kentucky blue, fescues or perennial rye, are recommended for the Midwest. Most grasses are sold as mixes of these three types. Check with your local county extension agent for specific recommendations for your area (csrees.usda.gov/Extension). Warm season grasses, such as zoysia, are better for southern climates because they need hot weather to hold their color.

  • Tall fescue is a low-maintenance, clump-forming turf that's coarser than Kentucky bluegrass or perennial rye. It tolerates low soil fertility, insects and diseases.

  • Fine fescues are finely textured grasses that are preferred for shady conditions with low soil fertility. This low-maintenance grass does best in well-drained sites that are slightly dry. In fact, too much fertilizer will cause the grass to decline.

  • Kentucky bluegrass is the most commonly sown grass throughout the Midwest. It spreads with underground stems, called rhizomes, to produce a finely textured lawn that can withstand weather extremes.

  • Perennial rye forms a finely textured grass in bunches. The seed germinates quickly and is frequently mixed with Kentucky blue, which germinates much more slowly. It's more drought tolerant than Kentucky blue, but less cold tolerant.



Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.


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