Organic landscaping starts with healthy soil
Photo courtesy of Lorene Edwards Forkner – Leaving your lawn "shaggy chic" will afford you more time to lounge.
by C.L. Fornari
When my husband and I bought our new house, the lawn was OK, but not great. It was cut very short and there were many bare spots. In several locations, the prevalence of moss indicated that the irrigation system was coming on too frequently. Overall, it looked like a typical lawn, maintained with standard turf care.
In the spring, weed seeds germinated in all of the bare places. Traditional turf maintenance would call for applications of broadleaf weed killers, a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass, and doses of synthetic fertilizer. All of these are products that I don't want my family and pets to walk on, nor do I care to add them to the water table.
In addition to health concerns and runoff, typical lawn care wastes products and energy. Repeated fertilization dictates using additional fossil fuels to cut lawns more frequently. Grass clippings are routinely hauled away (fossil fuels again) to other locations, and don't get me started about how automatic irrigation systems are over-watering landscapes.
There's a better way, but it involves a change in habits, attitudes and expectations. Organic gardening starts with paying attention to the health of the soil, including the biology living there. A professional soil test determined my soil was too compact and needed lime to raise the pH level.
Further recommendations included an application of organic fertilizer, aeration and a top-dressing of compost to increase the biological activity. In addition to properly preparing the soil, it's very important to mow the lawn no shorter than 3.5 inches and leave the clippings for readily available nutrients.
Organic fertilizers do take longer to become available to plants than synthetic products, so your expectations will most likely need to adjust. My turf didn't grow quickly, but by late June, my lawn was lush and green. It wasn't yet weed free, but I changed my attitude and embraced the process.
"Weeds are a symptom of poor soil," says Michael Murray, owner of Organic Soil Solutions in Woburn, Mass. "Once the pH is corrected and a deeper root system develops to encourage thicker turf, weeds are crowded out. Mowing high and leaving the clippings prevent annual weeds from getting a foothold, but I encourage customers to accept a few weeds as part of a more natural environment."
And that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm accepting a few weeds, higher grass and a lawn that's transitioning out of fast food. This is a small price to pay for knowing that I'm doing all I can for the health of my family, pets, garden and community.
C.L. Fornari is a writer, gardening expert, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to getting you into the garden. The Osterville, Mass., resident is a member of the Perennial Plant Association, American Plant Propagators Society, National Speakers Association and Garden Writers of America.