Everyone loves a green, healthy lawn, yet we often do not realize that pesticides, fertilizers and grass clippings wash into storm drains and end up polluting our streams, lakes and Puget Sound. So, how can you make your lawn green without making the water feel blue? It’s easy -- keep soils healthy…the natural way! Healthy soils will grow healthy lawns that are more resistant to pests and drought. Here are some tips:
Aerate: Aerating your lawn removes small plugs of sod and soil, which improves root development by allowing air and water to soak into the soil. Aeration is the most effective way to loosen up compacted and/or poorly draining soil. You can rent an aerator or hire a lawn care service to aerate for you.
Overseed & Top Dress with Compost: After you aerate, overseed with a perennial rye/fine fescue grass seed mix designed for the Pacific Northwest and top dress with ¼ inch to ½ inch of fine compost. The compost will cover the seed and improve soil health by keeping the soil “spongy.” Compost also add nutrients and micro-organisms that help build healthy soil.
(If you like flowers, use a grass seed mix with white or red clover. The clover will add nitrogen to the soil to help the grass grow.)
Use a Slow-Release Organic Fertilizer: If you are planning on fertilizing, you can apply a slow-release organic fertilizer prior to top dressing with compost. Slow-release fertilizers rely on soil organisms and other processes to “release” nutrients at a rate at which the plants can use them. This makes it less likely that the nutrients will wash away. Typical synthetic “quick greening” fertilizers tend to force-feed lawns chemical fertilizers at rates that are too fast for lawns to fully absorb. The excess chemicals are carried by stormwater into streams, lakes and Puget Sound often contributing to water quality problems, particularly in the warmer summer months.
Use Your Grass Clippings to “Feed” Your Lawn. The soil in your yard needs nutrients to grow healthy grass all throughout the growing season. An easy and no cost way to provide this nutrition is through “grass-cycling”. Each time you mow, leave the grass clippings on the lawn to provide free nutrients to your lawn. This will also help your soil store more water and stay nice and cool.
Also, before you mow your lawn this spring, make sure to remove and sharpen the mower blade so it will make a “clean” cut of the grass blades, which helps prevent diseases. Next, adjust your lawn mower to cut your grass at a height of two inches. Mow the lawn and leave the clippings on the lawn.
[Note, grass clippings do not contribute to thatch build-up. Thatch build-up is usually due to over-watering or over-fertilizing, which causes a build-up of dead roots and other woody plant materials that are not easily broken down by soil micro-organisms.]
Just Say “NO” to Weed & Feed! Weed and feed products combine quick-release fertilizer and weed killers. These products spread pesticides all over your lawn and often contain chemicals for pests and weeds that are not even present in the Pacific Northwest! In addition, the chemicals can kill the beneficial micro-organisms that help create healthy soil. It’s much more efficient, cost-effective and healthier for the environment to hand-pull weeds, or, if hand pulling is not an option, “spot spray” weeds. Weeds often thrive in nutrient-poor, compacted soils. So, the best way to combat weeds is to build healthy soil (See Steps 1 - 4).
A 1997 pesticide study of conducted by the Department of Ecology found twenty-one pesticides in two urban streams in western Washington, including Indian Creek located in Olympia. The pesticides that were most often detected are products available in stores for home use by the general public. Source: Washington State Pesticide Monitoring Program: 1997 Surface Water Sampling Report, 2000, Pub. # 00-03-003
Invest Now for a Healthy Lawn All Year Long
By following these 5 steps to build and maintain healthy soil, your efforts will reflect in a greener thicker lawn! Healthy lawns grow deep roots, which will help to out-compete weeds and keep grass green in summertime with less watering. Spend less time raking your grass, less money on pesticides and watering, and more time enjoying your lawn.
It may take a little time and energy on the front end, but the investment will be well worth it once you see the results!