Organic Lawn Care for the Eco-Conscious Suburbanite

The social pressure to have a perfect lawn often seems to put the environmentally aware homeowner in an impossible situation.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ On the one hand he realizes that the use of poisons endangers wildlife, groundwater, even the future of the human race itself.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ On the other hand the dirty looks of neighbors or worse the notices from the local Homeowner’s Association would seem to force him to use poisonous products whose use he can only rationalize.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

In Washington State, where a Federal District Judge has ruled that almost all of the chemicals pesticides and herbicides that are commonly used on the average suburban lawn are illegal to use within the watershed of the area’s endangered salmon species, even the local homeowner’s associations are advocating non-chemical means of lawn care.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ One source of information on organic lawn care in most states is the extension services of that state’s universities, especially the state agricultural colleges, but much of that information seems like simple common sense.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

As a former suburban homeowner in the Issaquah, Washington area, I was able to try a number of different methods and suggestions for organic lawncare from a number of different sources, the best of these was the extension service for Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.�¯�¿�½ Some worked well, while the results of others were disappointing.�¯�¿�½ Hopefully, listing both tyoes and explaining why each worked or did not work will be of the most help to the environmentally conscious and socially responsible suburbanite.

The first proposal made not only by the state extension services but also by the water boards of many localities (especially in the western US) is to plant a type of grass that is native and drought resistant as opposed the traditional Kentucky bluegrass.�¯�¿�½ Fescue is one of the most commonly recommended types.�¯�¿�½ Unfortunately I must say that I had mixed results with this recommendation.�¯�¿�½ Fescue has narrower, more wiry looking leaves than Kentucky bluegrass and can be mistaken by some for a crabgrass like weed.�¯�¿�½ A lawn consisting completely of crabgrass might well be the easier to maintain in an environmentally friendly manner but unless it is cut very short it is hardly esthetically pleasing.�¯�¿�½ For this reason after trying fescue I went back to Kentucky bluegrass, despite the fact that it was non-native and required more frequent watering.�¯�¿�½ However, some of the other techniques I will discuss here mitigated the environmentally consequences of that decision.

Which brings us the next suggestion made by the extension services which makes very good sense but requires the homeowner to walk a line and possibly have to educate his neighbors or his homeowner’s association to some extent.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Both for reasons of reduction in water use and weed control, it is best to let your lawn grow to be at least 3 or 4 inches tall.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ The shade created at grass roots by taller grass gives weeds less of a chance to germinate.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ The shade also reduces the evaporation rate of water and thereby reduces the need for watering.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Of course, to further prevent evaporative loss watering should be done in early mornings or late evenings.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ It is also better to thoroughly soak an area a few times than give it a light watering many times.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ A deep soaking causes the grass to grow deep roots and be more drought resistant.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Therefore, it is best to set your lawnmower at the highest possible setting for grass length.�¯�¿�½�¯�¿�½ Which brings us to an environmental decision I made pretty much on my own, which I think may well have been one of the most important of all.�¯�¿�½ I decided to do without a power lawnmower and use one of the old push type lawnmowers.�¯�¿�½ It is a lesser known fact that in the summer in many communities, the exhaust from power mowers contributes as much or more to pollution than the exhaust of trucks and cars.�¯�¿�½ The contribution of the exhaust from power mowers to greenhouse gas emissions is also very far from insignificant.�¯�¿�½ Additionally, the extra exercise derived from the use of hand mower and the fact that I did not have to worry about what time of day I mowed (neighbors who use power mowers early in the morning on weekends are far from considerate in my humble opinion), also argued for the use of the hand mower.�¯�¿�½�¯�¿�½

Finally there are the twin issues of weed control and fertilization, which interestingly enough, can be accomplished with the same organic products on some occasions.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ In Issaquah, a very inexpensive product called “Corn Gluten” (which is also a byproduct of ethanol production, another environmental plus) was available at the local Grange store.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ While for best results it should beÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½applied in the winter and early spring, it can also be applied to the lawn later and acts as a natural weed and feed, causing Kentucky bluegrass to grow so tall and thick that it chokes out weeds.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ A more selective broadleaf organic weedkiller, which is almost as effective as the most toxic poisonous weedkillers, can be made out of the combination of simple vinegar, with smaller amounts of salt, corn oil and just a trace of the B-vitamin Niacin.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ NiacinÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½is also the chemical that dandelions produce to kill nearby plants.

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