In the midst of upheaval as the climate changes, one thing is certain: our weather patterns have turned severe. This shift has us modifying the way we garden so we can accommodate these environmental extremes and perhaps show Mother Nature a little TLC at the same time. The lawn in particular is seeing a revolution. From eco-friendly maintenance practices to alternative "grasses",� lawns are making the leap into the 21st century.
The first step toward growing a 21st century lawn is to change your image of what a lawn should look like. A lawn can be a mix of grass types or perhaps a groundcover. If you want the traditional turf, adjust your expectations from pristine to a more Zen appearance. During periods of drought, it’s okay for your grass to brown up and accepting that maybe a weed or two is acceptable if it means you can avoid using harsh herbicide. Does your lawn really have to be the uniform velvet green only achieved through heavy applications of chemical fertilizers? Additionally, a side benefit for your mental health is that it can be quite liberating to let go of the idea of the golf-course perfect, traditional lawn.
Maintenance of a 21st Century Lawn
Watering a Lawn
- An actively growing lawn needs one inch of water per week.
- Deep soak once or twice a week rather than performing frequent light waterings to promote strong root growth.
- A professionally installed irrigation system is ideal, but you can easily set up a series of oscillating sprinkler heads connected with garden hoses.
- Use a water timer and set it for between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. This prevents moisture evaporation during the heat of the day and gives the lawn an opportunity to dry before nightfall, a time when fungi are most active.
- If your city is under water restrictions and your area is experiencing a lack of rain, taper off the frequency of watering and let the grass go dormant. It will green up again when the rain returns.
Mowing a Lawn
- Raise your mower blade to cut a maximum of 1/3 off the grass. Mowing high keeps roots cool and helps the grass retain its moisture. The longer blades also increase photosynthesis making for a healthier lawn. Additionally, taller grass chokes out more weeds and is more tolerant of drought.
- Mow once a week to stimulate growth when rain is plentiful. Conversely, cut back on mowing during a drought when the grass is stressed from lack of water.
- Mow in a different pattern each week for a clean cut and to prevent grass from growing in one direction.
- Mow when the grass is completely dry and leave the clippings to add organic matter and nitrogen back into the soil.
Nutrients for a Healthy Lawn
- Your new mantra is to feed the soil not the grass. Healthy soil promotes healthy roots and healthy roots make for lush plants.
- Top dress your lawn with compost to improve soil quality, increase moisture retention and increase organic matter. Rake a 1/4-inch thick layer of compost over the grass and water it in.
The mono-species, carpet of green that most people envision when they hear the word lawn is a relatively new concept. Before WWII most lawns were made up of a mixture of grasses, clover and what, until the past several years, we’d consider weeds. The introduction of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides coupled with a heavy migration to the suburbs birthed the notion of a weed-free, plush expanse of grass. With the rise of organics and a preference for earth-friendly methods, the pre-WWII lawn is seeing a renaissance.
Fine-bladed fescues and buffalo grass are just two of the many options available that are more able to withstand infrequent watering.
Miniature clovers are popular because they are low maintenance and because they add nitrogen back to the soil. There has been resurgence of the pre-WWII lawn and a mix of clover and grass will continue to grow in popularity in the 21st century.
For a shady area with acidic soil, moss will do wonders as a groundcover. You can purchase moss starter mixes or just make your own by blending 1 part moss, 3 parts beer and 1 part white sugar.