In this pandemic summer, knowing that outdoor interaction is far safer than indoor makes gathering outdoors even more attractive than usual. A smooth, perfect lawn sure seems tempting! However, the environmental cost of a typical suburban lawn can be steep. The Great Healthy Yard project is an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Foundation at the University of Texas. Their goal is to get homeowners to sign a pledge promising to avoid using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and weedkillers, and not to throw chemicals or pharmaceuticals down drains or toilets. Their website, http://tghyp.com/468-revision-v1/, lists some ways these items can disrupt hormones and DNA, causing possible severe results. The idea is to be outside for better health, not exposure to toxins! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a Homeowner’s Guide to protecting frogs, tadpoles, and other amphibians, with a special section on lawn care. Their website, https://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2008/Frog/FrogPages/YourHelp.html, lists simple ways to keep your lawn healthy for living things. These include using organic fertilizer, compost, and leaving grass clippings to act as fertilizer. Various ways of reducing pesticide use include reducing standing water, keeping wood piles away from the house, and planting natural pesticides such as lemon balm. Unlike many popular brands of liquid fertilizers which green up your grass in as few as 24 hours while killing microorganisms in the soil as well are poisoning beneficial insects and pollinators, organic lawn care requires time and some more effort, but builds healthy soil necessary for a healthy lawn by supporting the microorganisms that act to feed grass. It won’t eliminate all of the “weeds,” but it will still be a lawn on which you can have children and pets play safely and not contribute to polluting runoff into the streams and waterways that lace our area. Some ways to begin the transition to an organic lawn follow, and we’ll add more as the summer progresses into fall. First, don’t cut your grass too short. The best height is 2 – 3.75 inches to produce a more drought-resistant lawn and to reduce weed seed germination. Also “sweeten” your soil naturally with pelletized lime, which breaks down gradually and provides long-term benefits. Grass prefers a sweeter soil than weeds, which tend to like more acidic soil. Gypsum, over time, breaks down our heavy clay soil so grass can establish stronger roots. If you compost at home, you can spread it on your grass in the spring or fall. Compost tea (https://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/gardening/how-to-make-compost-tea) can be applied any time. If you don’t have your own compost, you can purchase bagged compost at many home improvement stores (or Rolliers). Blood meal can give your lawn a nitrogen boost, which will help green up your grass (just not in 24 hours). This newsletter has included other recommendations in the past. Rain gardens are an excellent way of discouraging mosquitoes. Other natural pest controls include nasturtium, marigold, and sweet alyssum. Finally, learn to adjust your definition of perfection. Three months of sheltering in place have taught us a lot about what is important. Watching children and pets frolicking on an expanse of green is priceless, and they don’t care if it’s more clover than bluegrass. And what florist can beat a fistful of limp dandelions?
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