Grass type key in organic landscaping
Photo courtesy of Lorene Edwards Forkner – Leaving your lawn "shaggy chic" will afford you more time to lounge.
by Lorene Edwards Forkner
For many, the lawn is the very essence of summer. But in an age of environmental awareness, changing climate patterns and a population boom in the Northwest that strains our natural resources, can we responsibly afford this nostalgic pleasure? The answer is yes — with natural lawn-care practices.
Determining where to site a lawn is half the battle. Turf requires a mostly sunny, well-drained, level area. A smaller yet well-sited lawn will be easier to maintain and will provide the greatest return for your efforts. Eliminate grass beneath trees, on slopes, and in soggy or difficult to access areas.
Instead, establish low-growing ground covers or a woodchip mulch for a more satisfying and beautiful result. The Northwest native beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) is a handsome, low-maintenance evergreen plant that adapts to a wide range of conditions.
Early spring or fall is the time to aerate worn areas where soil is compacted. Overseed with a mix appropriate to your growing region:
-West of the Cascades, choose a blend of mostly tall fescues and perennial rye. With cautious irrigation, these cool-season grasses thrive in cool, yet dry summer conditions, and maintain growth and good color throughout the cold, rainy season as well.
-Hot, arid summers and harsh winter conditions east of the Cascades require turf blends that incorporate the tougher Kentucky bluegrass. Many eastside gardeners are experimenting with warm season lawns - lush and green during the summer with less mowing and little irrigation, and going dormant with cold weather. Buffalo and zoysia are both slow-growing, warm-season grasses that tolerate drought, heat and cold.
In late spring, apply natural lawn food that will slowly break down over the coming months. High octane fertilizers not only provide an unhealthy blast of chemicals, but in rainy weather most of their water soluble components are washed away before reaching turf roots. The result is toxic runoff that contaminates groundwater and local streams.
In the heat of summer, mow to 3.5 inches - think of it as "shaggy chic" to slightly shade and cool the roots. Leave the clippings where they fall to return valuable nutrients to the soil.
Without water, most turf will turn brown. The lawn isn't dead. However, to remain in active growth, grass requires 1 inch of water a week. Carefully monitor the weather and only supplement water as necessary. Early morning or late afternoon watering will diminish evaporation. Avoid wetting pavement or creating unhealthy and wasteful soggy conditions. When the weather cools and the rains return in the fall, dormant grass will bounce back to a robust lively green.
Lorene Edwards Forkner, freelance writer, garden designer and food enthusiast, lives in Seattle and revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's a contributing writer to Northwest Garden News and author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables."