Lawn care is (has been) moving into the modern age which means it’s changing both on the golf course and in the subdivision. These changes are a response to the overuse of chemistry harmful to humans and wildlife. They are also a response from the golf industry to increase profit margins by using ecology to do the work chemistry used to do. This blog follows a previous one about lawns and the Tyrrany of Turf. This one is aimed at helping you to make decisions about weed-care, over-seeding and other lawn care choices. The goal is to help you decrease the cost (economic and health-wise) of lawn care. Places besides this blog, you can go to for learning about turf industry changes are: · http://nysgolfbmp.cals.cornell.edu/ · https://mikenowak.net/podcast/feel-good-about-caring-for-your-lawn/ · https://www.gcamerica.org/index.cfm/publications/publicationdetails/pid/77 Why care about changing the way we care for turf? 1. Because lawns are the dominant plant type in landscapes throughout urban and suburbia (USA-wide) which means they dominate our time and money. 2. Because lawns are the primary entry point of poisonous chemicals to our soils, water aquifers, surface waters, pets, and families. 3. Common lawn care chemistries such as dicamba, imidacloprids, thiophanate, and triclopyr have been repeatedly documented to cause these issues in humans: a) Hormone imbalances (endocrine disruptors causing feminization in amphibians), b) Kidney and/or liver damage, c) Reproductive effects (see #1) d) Birth defects These are not probable impacts but repeatedly demonstrated outcomes of exposure. No one is arguing about whether they damage humans – people are arguing over how much damage, how fast and how long repeated applications lead to permanence in the landscape. There isn't research on how applying all or some of these to the same block, year after year, impacts human or soil health. Nor is there research on the synergistic or compound effects of using multiple caustic lawn chemistries. Not enough investment dollars for scientist to do this kind of long-term research.
What can you do to save money, time and your skin (literally and figuratively)? Care for your lawns using some of the following strategies. 1. Hire lawn care professionals with education (formal or self-taught) in ecology and/or soil biology who will test your soils yearly to design a health care approach. In so doing, you get a healthier lawn more resistant to disease and pests = less chemistry applied. You save money. The lawn care company can price their services to ensure they continue to make money though they may be applying less chemistry (visiting your lawn less frequently). 2. Choose your grass seed for your region and your soil type – see table below. 4. Include a mix of 3+ species of grass for winter and spring/summer growth. This will increase the resistance of your lawn to pests and diseases because you will not be growing a monoculture. a. Of the 3+ for either winter or spring/summer, the fast-growing species should be no more than 20% of the total mix. b. If the fast growing is more than this they will out-compete the others leading to a monoculture more prone to pests. 5. Select the species based on the amount of UV your yard gets on average – your lawncare professional can provide this estimate for you. 6. Select the seeds based on the clay content of your soils and their compaction – again this should be information provided by your lawncare professional. The table below should be updated regularly to reflect new cultivars available on the market. 7. Allow your lawn to be inhabited by 10% weeds. A weed is defined as any plant growing where you don’t want it growing. Bee balm can be a weed, cucumbers can be a weed, if growing too much or in a designated pathway. Clover is often considered a weed however from a bee’s perspective this is a constant food resource from early spring through Autumn. From the grass’ perspective it is a nitrogen fixer meaning it’s feeding the grass. From the viewers perspective it is either a welcome splash of color or an interruption of uniformity. 8. Change the mowing height to fit the season! This will increase water retention in areas with rapid water loss from soils, grasses have different height requirements to thrive. In the Spring you can cut most grasses shorter but when it begins to get hot and/or humid let your grass grow to 4”. This will reduce the stress on the plants that are actively photosynthesizing and transpiring. Reduced stress = turf that can better defend itself from diseases and bugs. 9. GRASS CLIPPINGS are NOT THATCH a. Thatch is the build up of roots which are woody-like meaning they decompose slowly and thus can create barriers to the growth of green leaves. b. Excessive thatch build-up happens due to the grass type and too much nitrogen addition c. Using biofertilizers = increase microorganisms that can breakdown thatch faster, but these beneficial critters don’t like highly fertilized soils. d. Clippings are the fast-decomposing leaf and stems of grasses. They are full of water and nutrients that can readily be recycled into the soil. So, they save money by reducing the amount of fertilizer and water needed. So let the clippings fly! e. When to not let the clippings fly is if the lawn has grown so much that thick-wet layers of clippings result after mowing. These should be raked up and can be used in compost or to suffocate weeds in flower beds. 10. Spot spray whenever possible to remove weeds instead of weed & feed. Weed and feeds have chemicals that build-up in soils with numerous applications throughout the year or during the growing season. Research shows these products can reduce both the abundance and diversity of beneficial microbes in the soils. As you read above, they are also toxic to you and your pets. Spot spraying can include with a vinegar/citrus oil combination. I have not found white vinegar to work very well. The addition of citrus oil helps tremendously as it is also acidic, and the oil helps the acid to stick to the leaves longer. I like to use ammonium-based herbicides which essentially over-excite the plants with too much nitrogen causing internal cell rupturing and burning of above ground tissues. 11. If you like or can learn to like clover add a red clover to the white/pink clovers in your yard. This will provide a greater breadth of color. It’s considered the hardest working weed in the lawn care world because of the it’s ability to help lock in soil moisture and increase nitrogen levels in soils. 12. Choose ground level irrigation rather than headers that rise and shoot a fountain of water. The latter can lose up to 50% of the water to evaporation. That’s just not economically reasonable. Ground level irrigation can be better dialed-in to water areas that are wet less than those that dry out faster. Yards are not uniform; they have microclimate pockets of high variability and need to be watered accordingly. They're not flat, shade happens, etc. 13. Learn the invasive from exotic weeds. Exotics have been imported (intentionally or not) from abroad but cause no long-term harm to the indigenous flora and fauna. Invasives out-compete indigenous flora harming birds, pollinators, soil microbes and other parts of our local nature. 14. Seed your lawn with multiple grass species specific to winter and summer greening.
Weeds tell you a story about soil issues: a. Compaction: i. Birds-foot trefoil ii. Carolina geranium iii. Heal-all iv. Quackgrass v. Prostrate knotweed
b. Low nitrogen:
i. White clover ii. Woodsorrel iii. Yarrow iv. Queen Anne’s lace v. Purslane vi. Oxeye daisy vii. mallow viii. Japanese clover ix. English daisy x. Clovers xi. hawkweed