Hundreds of millions of people are about to go out and buy "Weed and Feed" and other forms of toxic rubbish to grow something that is strictly ornamental: a lawn devoid of edibles, flowers or poly-culture.
This lawn care article has been powerfully effective in persuading people to eliminate toxic crap for their lawn.
Please, I beg you, pass this article on to as many people as you can think of.
Organic Lawn Care
For the Cheap and Lazy Lawn care in a nutshell:
Set your mower as high as it will go (3 to 4 inches).
Water only when your grass shows signs of drought stress and then water deeply (put a cup in your sprinkler zone and make sure it gets at least an inch of water).
Add lime if it is below 6.0 and gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0.
How much top soil do you have? See how deep a shovel will go into the soil.
How deep can you dig a hole in one minute? Four inches of topsoil will make for an okay lawn. Eight or more inches of topsoil will make for a great lawn.
Now for the verbose details on lawn care:
A little knowledge makes it so damn near anything can qualify for the "cheap and lazy" label. Including lawn care. Organic is just a bonus. The key to the lawn care game is competition. You want to make things favorable for the grass and unfavorable for the weeds so the grass will choke out the weeds, naturally.
Lawn care must do:
Mow high There is a fight for sun. If the grass doesn't shade the weed, the weed will shade the grass. Sun is food. Food is strength and life. Shade is weakness, disease and death. Grass will shade the weeds only if it is tall enough. The shade of tall, dense grass turf will prevent essential light from reaching most weeds and, will aid in the destruction of new baby weed seedlings (such as the notorious dandelion).
MYTH: "If I mow short, it will be longer until I have to mow again." False! Wrong! (SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!) Your grass needs grass blades to do photosynthesis (convert sunshine into sugar) to feed the roots. When you whack the blades off, the grass has to RACE to make more blades to make sugar. It then grows amazingly fast. This fast growth uses up a lot of the grass's stored sugar, and weakens the plant. It is now vulnerable to disease and pests! Tall grass is healthier and can use the extra sugar to make rhizomes (more grass plants) thus thickening the turf. Have you ever noticed that short grass in the summer is always riddled with dead brown patches?
If you have a serious weed infestation, consider mowing twice as frequently as you normally do. The sensitive growing point for grass is near the soil. The sensitive growing point for most weeds is near the top of the plant. So when you mow, it's as if you are giving your grass a haircut and cutting the heads off of the weeds.
Finally, when mowing, be sure to leave the clippings on the lawn. It adds organic matter and nutrients back into the soil. If you don't leave the clippings, your soil will begin to look more like "dirt" than soil. Soon it will be a form of cement that nothing will grow in and you will have the world's most pitiful lawn. Some people are concerned about "clumping" - that only happens when you mow too short or when you don't mow often enough.
Mowing higher gives the following perks:more shade to the soil leads to less wateringdeeper roots which leads to less wateringthicker turf which leads to fewer weedsslower growth which leads to less mowing.
When you mow high, it doesn't take much effort to mow. It is easier with a manual than a heavy, noisy, stinky gas mower. .
It is my opinion that when it comes to lawn care, mowing high is, by far, the most important thing.
lawn care must do:
Water infrequently This will force your grass roots to go deep into the soil. Deeper than most weed roots. As the top few inches of soil becomes bone dry, the weeds and weed seedlings up there die while the grass still enjoys moisture from a little deeper.
Shallow, frequent watering encourages "thatch" (the grass propogates with above-soil runners (like strawberry runners) rather than rhizomes under the soil - there gets to be so many runners that they weave a mat that chokes out water and air). Since the roots are in the top inch or two of soil, a hot day will quickly dry the soil and much of the grass will brown.
Weeds and weed seedlings love a daily watering. It's just what they need for a good start.
Two methods to tell when it is time to water:
The grass will start to curl before it turns brown. When it starts to curl, that is the best time to water. Anything after that is time for "intensive care watering" (water half an inch, wait three hours and water an inch).
Take a shovel and stick it into the soil about six inches. Keep the sun to your left or to your right when you do this. Push the handle forward. If you can see any moisture, wait. If it's all dry, water. If you can't get your shovel to go into the soil this deep, you need more soil.The first method is the best - especially if you have not yet trained your grass to make deep roots.
Watering on a schedule does not help in the war on weeds.
A tip for lawn care experts: If you have a good feel for how often your lawn needs watering and it is almost that time and there is a rain shower - maybe a quarter of an inch - that is the BEST time to water your lawn and give it that other 3/4 of an inch.
Remember, the grass roots are down deep and most weed roots are near the surface. The idea is to keep the top three inches of soil as dry as you can for as long as you can. That quarter of an inch might make it so that your top three inches is well watered but the lower 9 to 20 inches is on the edge of being pretty dry. This gives the weeds some advantage over your grass!
Another thing about lawn care watering:
I have discovered that if you are going to water an inch, it is better to water half an inch, wait 90 minutes and then water another half an inch. Maybe do this once a month. Sometimes when the soil gets really dry, it will repel water. This is called "superdeflocculation" (I think Mary Poppins would be impressed with this word!). If you put a little water in first, wait, and then put more, the soil is better prepared to take in more water. Imagine a dry sponge - so dry it is stiff. And another sponge, slightly damp - soft and well wrung out. Now pour a cup of water onto each. The water runs off of the first sponge and all over the table. The water is soaked into the second sponge, not a drop is lost.
Remember: water has a strange and powerful attraction to itself. It would much rather stick to itself than disperse through the soil.
Another perk: every time you water, you wash away soil nutrients. So the less you water, the more fertile your soil!
One last point about watering deeply: If your topsoil is only two inches deep, laying down an inch of water is a bad idea. An inch of water is good for watering 12 inches of soil. Further, an inch of water will effectively carry a lot of soil nutrients down deeper. So if your soil is only two inches deep, this rinses away a lot of your soil nutrients! So deep watering should be done only in conjunction with deep soil.
Lawn Care Fertilizer:Grass is a nitrogen pig. Legumes (such as clover and black medic) can get their nitrogen from the air (remember that the air we breathe is 80% nitrogen!). So, when you see legumes taking over your lawn (clover, medic, etc.), you know that your soil is nitrogen poor.
If your lawn needs fertilizer, sprinkle a little organic lawn fertilizer in the spring and fall. Use a very slow release fertilizer without salts. If your lawn is in serious need of fertilizer, use a third of what the package recommends every three weeks in the spring and fall. Otherwise, use half of what the package recommends at the beginning of spring and the beginning of fall.
Cool season grasses are semi-dormant in the summer. Fertilizing in the summer feeds the weeds, not the grass.
If your soil already seems like dirt or cement, add an inch of compost in the early fall. If you can see wood products in the compost sprinkle the fertilizer on top, otherwise, use only half as much of the fertilizer. (composts with wood products will feed your lawn for a week or two and then start sucking the nitrogen back out)
A lot of folks ask about what difference it makes using organic fertilizers in lawn care.
Consider a couple of things:
1) Ever hear about centuries ago when people would salt the land so nothing would grow? Nearly all chemical fertilizers are a salt. As you use it, year after year, your soil becomes poorer and poorer.
Healthy soil is loaded with heaps of microbial and macrobial life. Most of these critters are working hard for your grass. Most of those critters don't like salt. Let's take a quick look at an earthworm. I'm going to call him ... Fernando. Fernando tunnels through the soil, eating as he goes. He gets to the surface and poops out a lot of dirt and digested organic matter. His travels make it so the grass roots get air and water. He eats organic matter like dead leaves and dead blades of grass. He converts them to materials the plants can take up as nutrients.In an organic yard, Fernando takes a decaying blade of grass down in his burrow and munches on it "These things are my favorite!" says Fernando. "I need some more!" Back at the surface, Fernando finds some home made compost "What is this? Oh my! This is my new favorite! (munch munch) It's so good! (munch munch) How can this be crunchy and chewy AT THE SAME TIME! Oof, I'm so full. I wanna have sex and have lots of babies so they can enjoy the crunchy chewy stuff." In a yard that uses chemical fertilizers, Fernando says "AAAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!! THE PAIN! THE HORRIBLE, HIDEOUS PAIN! I NEED TO GET AWAY FROM IT, BUT IT IS EVERYWHERE! ACK! ACK! HEEEEEELP MEEEEEEE! URK!"(this dramatization brought to you by ... compost! It's yummy!)
So I'm making a strong recommendation to not use chemical fertilizers. For lawn care or for anything.
Here is possibly the world's very best lawn fertilizer. I get tons of this stuff for free! Really! Tons! Free! Moldy hay:lawn care pH:Dandelions love a pH of about 7.5. Grass loves a pH of about 6.5.
So if your pH is 7.5 or higher, your grass will probably never beat out the dandelion. Lower the pH to 6.5 and your grass has the advantage!
Be sure to have your pH tested professionally. The kits that you can buy in the store will often give you the wrong information. I once spent $18 on a pH meter that told me that my lawn pH was 6.0 when it was really 7.8. So I should have added gardeners sulfur, but instead I added lime! If you're going to buy a pH tester, be prepared to spend around $85 for the tester and the calibration solutions.
A little side note: a dusting of lime on the soil surface has been shown, in most cases, to nearly double earthworm reproduction.
There is a big difference between dirt and soil. Soil is rich in microbial life and has a lot of organic matter in it. Dirt comes in many forms and it's a challenge to get anything to grow in it. If you are getting "topsoil" delivered to your house, be prepared for it to bear more resemblance to "dirt". You may want to have compost also delivered to your house so that you can mix the two and have the beginnings for "soil". One part compost to two parts dirt is a good mix for lawn care.
Lawn care weeds
The above lawn care advice will eliminate 95% to 99% of your weed problem. But there are some weeds that are almost impossible to get rid of, no matter what. Some of these are even resistant to the chemical army. The two to be careful of in my area are BINDWEED (looks like white or pink morning glory) and CANADIAN THISTLE. These two have HUGE root systems that might go as deep as thirty feet into the soil. They spread with rhizomes, just like your grass.
The above techniques will discourage them enough to go to your neighbour’s instead. They don't like tall grass or mowing. They might try to pop up on fences or other lawn borders. Fifty outcroppings could all be part of the same plant, so you really have to get as much of them as you can. The key is to remove the green plant that provides it with sugar. It needs sun and sugar to support that massive root system. Repeated digging will weaken it to the point that bugs and bacteria can take over.
I once moved to a house that was infested with both bindweed and thistle. Imagine my yard as a big rectangle. I started pulling weeds on the left and stopped about ten percent of the way across. A few days later, I started at the left again and picked out anything that cropped up in the last few days and then made a little progresss into the rest of the rectangle. Each brief weeding trip gets me another 5% of new territory. The important thing is to always weed the area you already weeded first. If I didn't do it this way, then the weed would recover in the first section while I was attacking another section.
DANDELIONS are a sign of alkaline soil. Refer to the pH stuff above. They can also indicate compacted or poor soil. The above methods will prevent dandelions from propogating. Since dandelions live about five years, the mature dandelions will struggle with the tall, thick turf and die off in two to three years. I now think that a few dandelions poking up once in a while are kinda nice and I leave them alone.
BLACK MEDIC is a sign of low nitrogen soil. Refer to fertilizing above. The above methods will keep black medic in check. You will occassionally see a little once in a while, but it is kinda pretty when it isn't taking over your lawn. This stuff is sometimes called "yellow clover". When it's taking over, it will choke out grass and make flat mats about a foot in diameter. I found a litte in my current lawn and it was a single tiny strand with little yellow flowers.
CLOVER is a sign of low nitrogen soil. Refer to fertilizing above. White and pink clover is often desired in a lawn. It contributes nitrogen to the soil and doesn't compete strongly with the grass. Yellow clover is actually "black medic" (see above).
KNAPWEED tries to poison plants around it with niacin. A little water washes the niacin away and the plants around it can have a fighting chance. Especially if mowing is involved. Mow a little more frequently in late june and early july to wipe out knapweed.
Lawn Care Enhancements:
Now that you aren't dumping toxic gick on your lawn, you can enhance it with some other growth.
CROCUSES: These flowers pop up in the spring while the grass is still dormant. They're done blooming long before the first mow. These are bulbs that are planted in the fall. Go ahead and plant a few dozen right in the middle of your lawn.
ROMAN CHAMOMILE: They look like little daisies. When you mow, it smells like green apples.
YARROW: This herb makes your grass extra spongy. It feels really cool to walk on with bare feet.
Lawn Care Summary:
With these methods you will mow less, water less, never buy pesticides and have the best looking lawn on your block.
A little lawn care side trip:
Some entertaining perspective on why you should care about how you care for your lawn.
Before my master gardener training I thought that herbicide use had a time and place. The training covered not only the time and place, but also covered the details of toxicity. 2-4D is considered one of the safest herbicides. A quantity of 2-4D that would be about the same as a roll of life savers rubbed on the skin of four kindergarten children would kill two of them. This is not getting it in their mouth, but just rubbed on their skin. My reading on this subject has exposed far too many nightmares than I care to share here.
My closing opinion is that I can see no time and no place to ever use herbicides. Especially not for anything as frivolous as lawn care. I would rather have weeds.
by Paul Wheaton
Passed on as requested Paul