A Truly Green Lawn

Are you one of those people who love the look of a manicured lawn but can’t help feeling a twinge of guilt every time you look over your expanse of green? Do you worry about the cost to the environment in keeping your emerald square looking lush and weed free? Or maybe you’re tired of having to mow your lawn but would like an easy care substitute. 

Well, here are some ways to have a truly green lawn, as well as a few interesting alternatives.

Fertilize Naturally

Stop bagging those clippings! Leaving them on the lawn provides your turf with an ideal fertilizer at no cost. For an extra boost try an annual sprinkling of compost or organic fertilizer.  

Don’t Skimp on the Seed!

A thickly seeded lawn will choke out dandelions and crabgrass without the need for herbicides. Select a mixture of hardy, low maintenance grass seeds such as perennial rye and fine fescues and continue to add a few handfuls of seed every year, preferably in early fall.

Corn Gluten Meal

This by product of corn’s wet milling process is usually sold at feed stores as a protein supplement for hogs. However, it also works great as an organic pre-emergent herbicide for crabgrass, foxtail, dandelion, lambs quarter and pigweed.  It should only be applied on a well established lawn. For best results spread as soon as the snow melts in the spring. Garden centres typically charge far more for this product than feed stores, so shop around for the best deal.  

Easy On the Haircut

Stop giving your lawn a crew cut!  An ideal height for your grass is three inches. A tall lawn will shade out sun-loving weeds such as dandelions while keeping the soil cool and moist which encourages a healthy root system. Never cut your grass down by more than one third at a time or you risk sending your turf into shock as you rapidly deplete its ability to accumulate nourishment from the sun.    

Lawn Mower

Using a standard gas mower for one hour emits the same amount of common air pollutants as driving a car for almost 600 kilometres! Fortunately motor-less push types are making a comeback and these modern versions are built to be far easier to push than their back breaking ancestors.  

Water

Lawns require no more than one inch of water a week. If you’re unsure how much that is stick a rain gauge in your lawn before you water to measure the amount. The best time to water is early mornings. Watering during the heat of the day will rapidly evaporate the moisture, while evenings mean the water will sit too long through the cool night and invite disease.  

Rethink Kentucky Blue

What if you could grow a lawn that rarely needed watering, was naturally weed free, never needed fertilizer, aerated the soil on its own, was soft to walk on, attracted beneficial insects, seldom needed mowing, stayed a luscious green even after Rover peed on it and as if all that wasn’t fantastic enough, what if your lawn was capable of fertilizing itself?

Too good to be true?  Not so!  Back in the 1950s those were the precise qualities of a prestigious lawn plant marketed to savvy consumers.  What happened to it?  It was too easy.  It worked so well people decided it had to be a weed and ushered in the era of finicky grass seed, lawn fertilizer, weed killers, sprinklers and lawn mowers that we know and hate today.  Our planet came out the loser while profits at garden centres sky rocketed.  What was the name of this miraculous plant dubbed weed? Clover.  

With its deep root system clover tolerates compacted soil better than grass and is able to tap into moisture at lower levels which is why it requires far less watering.  These qualities make clover highly competitive and able to choke out weed competition, so you can put that toxic weed killer back on the shelf.  And forget the fertilizer too.  Clover has the clever ability to snatch nitrogen right out of the air and pull it down into nodes along its roots, making it self-fertilizing.  How cool is that?  

Best of all, clover’s small sweetly scented flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects.  When you consider that a third of our food is a direct result of the bee’s pollinating abilities, it makes sense to start making our planet more bee friendly instead of presenting them with square after sterile square of the toxic soup we call lawns.  If you’re allergic to bees and enjoy running barefoot in the summer, simply mow off the blooms and your lawn will be naturally bee free.  

We have been taught to view the white clover blossoms as an eyesore, but if you take the time to get down to earth and look them in the petals, they are really quite pretty.  Better yet they will fill your yard with a sweet, honey-like aroma.

Dutch White is the most commonly used clover for lawns, growing only four to eight inches high.  In his book “New Way to Kill Weeds” by R. Milton Carleton he writes:  “The thought of White Dutch Clover as a lawn weed will come as a distinct shock to old-time gardeners.  I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained.  The higher this figure, the better the mixture… I can remember the loving care which old-time gardeners gave their clover lawns.  The smug look on the face of the proud homeowner whose stand was the best in the neighbourhood was something to behold.”

Dutch White is available from most farm seed outlets as well as garden centres.

LEAVE IT TO NATURE

Left to its own intelligent devices, nature will choose the most suitable blend of grasses and herbs for your lawn, including clover.  When clover first begins to naturally invade your lawn, it will form several patches of solid clover stands that can be perceived as unsightly.  However, left to do its thing it will eventually distribute itself evenly, along with a pleasing mixture of grasses and herbs that are resistant to drought, all naturally custom designed by nature for your particular yard’s needs and guaranteed to stay a lovely green throughout the summer.  

Grow Carrots Instead

Forget the 100 Mile Diet – start the 100 Metre Diet in your own front yard. Have you ever tried eating grass? It’s not that tasty. Why waste all that time and water growing something you can’t even eat? Convert your lawn to vegetables and you won’t just be doing the earth a favour, but you’ll be doing your health and wallet a favour at the same time. Besides, there’s nothing like the taste of new potatoes in July, unless it’s baby carrots; or fresh peas in a pod.  Or corn picked and husked just as the pot starts to boil. Even clover can’t compare – though I admit their blossoms do make a lovely tea.  

Grow Wild

Consider planting your lawn to wild flowers and native grasses.  The birds and bees will love you for it!  Once native plants are established they require little in the way of maintenance and unlike non native flowers and plants, they won’t require watering or fussing with deadheading and the like.  You can easily achieve a landscaped look by running through your wildflower meadow with a lawn mower a couple times a year to create a few pathways.  For further details on how to establish a native garden you might want to check out my article titled Grow Wild in the July/August 2008 Prairie Edition.    

Can’t See the Lawn for the Trees

If you don’t want to fuss with flowers or vegetables, but want to grow something more environmentally friendly than grass, why not plant trees?  Trees provide homeowners with shade, privacy, increased property values as well as homes for birds and other small critters.  Trees are our earth’s lungs.  They clean the air, store carbon and recycle moisture into the atmosphere.  They prevent soil erosion, modify temperatures and serve as a windbreak, which can translate into smaller heating bills.  Just be sure to choose trees with root systems that won’t interfere with your homes plumbing or foundation.  Find out how big your tree will get and plan accordingly.  That tiny sapling you barely notice today can morph into a towering tree in no time.  When it does, will it still fit in your yard?  Are there power lines, fences or driveways that it might interfere with?  Your local nursery will be able to answer all your questions to make sure you get the right type and size of trees to meet your needs.  

Pave Your Paradise

When my son rented an apartment in a converted garage in Burnaby, I was horrified.  Not that he was renting the garage, or that he had moved to Burnaby, but that his landlord had covered the entire yard with red paving bricks. In a climate that could grow anything from tea roses to hydrangeas this man chose to plant bricks; as someone who was gardening inZone 2a at the time, this seemed nothing short of sacrilegious. The only thing that prevented me from throwing myself down on those red bricks and wailing – besides not wanting the landlord to think his tenant had a crazy mother – was the sight of dozens of butterflies happily sunning themselves on the warm bricks. Sacrilegious or not, the butterflies did not deserve to be squished by a grieving gardener. Whether or not it was the landlord’s intention to create a butterfly habitat, that’s exactly what he had done.  

After giving the matter more thought – and as my family will attest I could think of little else – I had to reluctantly admit that the bricks were a better choice than a chemical soaked lawn being trimmed weekly with a pollution spewing mower. Once in place it was virtually maintenance free, and yes, the butterflies loved it.  

In the end it really didn’t matter what I thought. The bricked over yard belonged to the landlord and was his to do with as he pleased. If you are lucky enough to have a patch of ground to call your own, you can do what you please with it as well. That’s just one of many things that make gardening so great.   

So what are you going to do with your patch of paradise?