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Greening Up the Neighborhood, One Lawn at a Time

How to save time and money— and have a lawn you take pride in — while helping the planet.

It is said that man’s best friend is his dog and that his lawn is a source of pride and joy (and in case you missed it, here's an article that addresses how to minimize the damage when the dog and the lawn meet up). 

Oh, the lawn, that supposed-to-be lush, green, velvety buffer between the street and home.  An area at once the sight and scents of summers’ past but in early spring, a proving ground of man vs. nature—a battlefield of bugs, weeds, thatch and baldspots.

Let’s face it, it was a tough winter—the lawn spent a lot of time in purgatory, buried between frozen soil under an inordinate amount of ice and snow.  Do not despair lawn keepers, the green will come again—all of that trapped in moisture was actually good for the upcoming grass.  In fact, if handled properly, this may be a banner year for a showplace lawn.

To Spray or Not to Spray

But some decisions need to be made.  The landscapers have already called, lining up the spring clean-ups, arriving bright and early with blowers and rakes-and containers full of scary stuff.  First things first: To chemical or not to chemical—that is the question. 

In greening up the neighborhood, it is important to ask yourself if a prize-winning lawn is worth the risk of contamination to the water supply.  Most chemicals will find their way either in run-off or by absorption into the aquifer in one form or another. 

Scientists have proven that pesticides and chemical fertilizers have a nasty habit of going into the ground and interacting with other elements, recombining to make other chemicals in toxic forms whose long lives, or even half lives are really, really bad.

The home-gardener has a choice then to go "commando" (that is completely organically allowing his lawn to naturalize with moss and weeds) or "big guns"-spraying and fertilizing every inch of the yard on a schedule that would wow the Super Nanny!

Or you can choose a moderate path of somewhere in between and aim for natural—that is working with Mother Nature and living by the code—to do no harm to flora and fauna-including your family, your neighbor’s family and generations of families soon to come.  But let’s face it curb appeal counts-nobody wants to own a home with brown grass.

How Do I Save Time and Money and Have a Lawn I Can Be Proud of?

     Fire the landscapers, or at least find the ones that will work with you in eliminating harsh chemicals and building up the structure of the soil in a natural way.  According to Organic Gardener James Carr, an instructor at the New York Botanic Garden as well as Stone Barn, “the less you do, the more you get”.  The reason most lawns fail is that the soil becomes compacted and devoid of the organisms and minerals that make the loamy and humus-filled soil to support plant growth.

This explains why sod, which looks picture perfect for many years, begins to die out.  Chemicals applied to this grass encourage blade growth while the roots often stay closer to the surface creating the dreaded thatch. 

Another mistake homeowners make is to set watering systems on timers meant to water for too short of periods, every other day when a good soaking to the depth of at least two inches once, maybe twice a week in the height of summer, would be more beneficial to the lawn.  Frequent, shallow watering again drives roots to the surface, rather than reaching down into the soil.  Cut the grass to the length of about three and one inches-the extra length helps to shade the blades-especially helpful in drought.

The easiest and most economical way of maintaining a healthy lawn is to mow any leaves into the lawn, and to leave the grass clippings there where the two will combine in a natural composting process-the necessary green and brown elements essential to creating an ecologically sound balance-a “Biodiversity” in each yard. 

What about the weeds you ask?  A healthy lawn with lots of good soil structure will crowd out the weeds-pests and diseases are naturally attracted to sickly plants-grass included.  Dig out the few weeds here and there and use any dandelions in your salad-you can eat them now that you have stopped applying chemicals.

How can I ‘go natural’ after using chemicals for all of these years?  And what if we don’t have time to cut the grass?

Many landscapers today are aware of the need to ‘go green’ to save the environment from the impact of chemicals and offer ‘organic solutions’.  Be wary of the stamp organic and make sure to read the labels on anything that makes the claim.  Organic is big business today and often is no more than repackaging the same old toxins as before.  Additionally, a reputable landscaper who claims to operate organically, must follow very strict guidelines from the state in order to be certified.

R&S Landscaping in Midland Park and The Borst Company in Allendale services the reading area and has a transitional program to keep lawns attractive while aiming to maintain them more naturally.

If you must spray….

Choose chemicals wisely—ones that are made from natural ingredients that are safe for children and pets and allow for less frequent applications.

According to Twinbrook Nursery owner, Walt Scheuer, a long-time landscaper on Franklin Lakes Road in Franklin Lakes, you must identify specific reasons for spraying.  If you have grubs, for example, and you can tell this if you can lift sections of your lawn up toupe style, you need to appy GRUBX now, in order to eradicate the pesky larvae.  You may also opt to use DIALOX now and in September to eliminate worms and eggs.

“You must first thatch the lawn,” says Scheuer, a fan of the tried and true, “then apply a ‘pre-emergent’ to take care of crabgrass, plus a fertilizer to give the lawn a boost…and lime the shady parts to bring the up the Ph….Lime the shade, seed the sunny parts.  The answer to a good lawn is always sun and light.”

And to that I would like to add, “humus!”  It would be impossible to feed an entire lawn with compost from your kitchen scraps, but we can all do our part to create superior soil by using the free leaves and grass clippings and letting nature do its job of recycling natural elements for greener, healthier lawns and safer environments.

 It is never too late to have a happy lawn and a naturally green planet!

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