Environment / Eco-friendly lawn care practices

Lawns and Lawn Alternatives 

To eliminate existing lawn and/or replace lawn with lower maintenance alternatives.

Benefits and Issues to Consider: Synthetically maintained lawns use large amounts of water, fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides to maintain the sterile look of a ‘perfect’ lawn. Exposing birds, beneficial organisms, pets, and people to deadly risks. In addition, gas fueled machinery used to mow, blow and trim weekly adds a high decibel noise pollution to the community and the air pollution damage is approximately 4 times the rate of a car.

Options exist: Implementing organic, manual or electric methods of lawn care and replacing lawn areas with alternatives needing less maintenance, that use less water and no synthetic chemicals. You will save money not buying chemical applications and reducing water bills. Your community will benefit greatly from reduced noise, air, soil and water pollution effects.

Practice Eco Turf Management:
    •    Use manual push reel mower to cut the lawn and hand rakes to remove leaves. Electric tools produce less noise and air pollution, but do require fossil fuel use.
    •    Start implementing organic lawn maintenance.
    •    Rake out old dead grass (thatch) in the early spring
    •    Aerate lawn with a core aerator
    •    Top dress lawn in the spring and fall with mature organic compost, ¼” – 3/8” maximum.
    •    Spread lawn seed in spring or fall.
    •    Cut lawn 2” high April/May, 3” tall June – August, back to 2 “ September-November (using a push or electric mower).
    •    Mulch lawn clippings and leaves into lawn to provide beneficial fertilizer
    •    Water only twice a week for 40 minutes (1” of water/week) June – August IF no rain and soil is dry.

Read your lawn. Many plants can indicate the health of your yard. For instance, clover is found in soil with low nitrogen levels and plantain in heavily compacted soils. Allow clover to grow, it naturally takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it to the grass. Additionally, its deep roots make it extremely drought resistant and it stays green longer than turf grass during the dormant season.

Weeds?  To remove perennial weeds it is best to hand weed after a rain. Other methods include pouring boiling water or vinegar on unwanted weeds to eliminate them. These treatments need to be targeted, since it will kill any plant it comes into contact with. To be successful, lots of sun and several applications will be necessary.  Do not use herbicides or other chemicals.

Leaf Me Alone  As the leaves continue to fall and turn our lawns into colorful mosaics of bright reds, yellows and oranges, many of us will use our time and/or money to rid our lawns of them. Actually, keeping our leaves nearby is a simpler, more environmentally friendly solution, as leaves contain nutrients that are good for the soil.  Here are some ways to make the most of your leaves:

  • Mulch your leaves in place  
    Shred your leaves with a lawn mower and leave them on your lawn. It's faster and easier than raking or leaf blowing and adds nutrients to the soil.
  • Add shredded leaves as mulch to your garden and landscape
    Shredded leaves can be used as a mulch to help prevent weeds and keep moisture in the soil. In addition, the leaves will slowly release nutrients into the soil.
  • Insulate your compost bin in the winter
    Place leaves around and on top of your compost bin. This will insulate your bin and allow the material to continue to breakdown. In the spring you will have fresh compost without waiting for your pile to thaw out.
  • Compost your leaves
    Leaves are a great source of browns, materials rich in carbon, that are needed to balance greens in your compost pile like food scraps and grass clippings. Compost can be used as a mulch or mixed into the garden soil. One of the biggest challenges to composting food scraps at home is the release of water into your compost bin as the food breaks down. One of the best ways to fix this is to add leaves every time you add food scraps.  Collect and store leaves in the fall, then use them throughout the rest of the year. Compost provides nutrients, improves soils structure, absorbs and holds in moisture, and adds beneficial microorganisms.  (Thanks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the "Leaf Me Alone" section)

Lower maintenance lawns  Replace existing lawn with alternatives such as: grass seed mixes requiring less mowing and watering, such as a No Mow lawn seed, or grass-and-broadleaf seed mixes including blends for butterflies, low growing meadow, clay buster seed, deer-resistant prairie, or infiltration-wetland, etc. Select mixes that are easily maintained.  

Other alternatives include moss, sedge, clover, or non-invasive ground covers. Make sure that the lawn alternative will meet the specific conditions of your yard such as deep shade or poor drainage. All alternative must be native to your region to qualify for this credit.

How's Your Soil?  Take a soil test to complete either recommendation. A soil sample analysis will describe what nutrient, mineral, and soil deficiencies you have and what improvements to make. These improvements will provide healthier conditions for your lawn and result in less maintenance. Be sure to request organic/natural recommendations from the soil lab. A simple pH test costs about $15.

Operation and Maintenance: Improper grass seed selection, poor soil biology, and compacted soil results in weak, unattractive lawn. In order to eliminate dependence on chemical fertilizers, select the right grass seed for your site conditions, aerate lawn annually, and feed soil biology with grass clippings and light layers of mowed leaves in the fall.

Note: plantain, dandelion and other weeds are indicators of compacted soil. Plug or core aerators is your best ‘herbicide’. Owning an aerator can be expensive, so you may want to rent or hire a landscaper to assist you. The best time to aerate your yard is directly after a soaking rain.

Planting multiple grass species and alternatives to grass enhances the biodiversity of your lawn, making it less vulnerable to illness and insects.

For more extensive information and guidance, visit Jersey-Friendly Yards
or re:Yard.

Banner photo courtesy of Kathryn Huang Photography