A Sustainable Lawn … You Can Grow That

Just as sure as blades of green grass are beginning to show in the lawn outside my office window, thoughts of lawns will start creeping into Connecticut home owners’ heads. This spring I want Connecticut lawn owners … no, I want lawn owners across the U.S. to repeat this phrase: You can grow that sustainable lawn.

We are told by a certain fertilizer and chemical company that lawns need 4-steps. But they don’t, as Tom Christopher noted during his Sustainable Lawns presentation at the February 2012 meeting of the Connecticut Horticultural Society. Because so many land owners buy into the onslaught of 4-step advertising, lawns are typically spread with chemical fertilizers and covered with pesticides. And, as Christopher noted, lawn is the largest irrigated crop in the U.S. Most of the seven billion – yes that’s billion with a ‘b’ -  gallons of irrigation water used each day goes to lawns and a good portion of these water-soluble chemicals end up in waterways where they adversely effect water quality and aquatic creatures.

Lawn owners can change these facts, one lawn at a time.

Stopping the use of unnecessary water-soluble chemical and pesticide treatments is one way. Converting some of your lawn into other types of plantings is another. But for homeowners wanting to keep some or all of their lawn while minimizing the environmental, time, and financial cost of lawn care, choosing the right lawn seed for the climate and soils is the way to go.

In Connecticut, Christopher said, this means planting fine fescues (blends of hard fescue, creeping red fescue and other fescue cultivars) which

  • are insect-resistant,
  • grow well in sun and tolerate shade,
  • have deep root systems that are less vulnerable to drought than shallow-rooted grasses,
  • once established, will tolerate foot traffic,
  • are slow growing, which means less mowing,
  • grow in nutrient poor soils, and only need supplemental fertilization in very poor soils,
  • are allelopathic – they emit compounds that depress the growth of competing plants – think weeds.

Fine fescue turf is not adapted to heavy traffic, such as a soccer or baseball field, but Christopher says it is fine for home landscapes.

Here’s a close up look at a fescue blend I started growing in pots on a window sill just a couple of weeks ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I wanted a close-up look at how this Eco-Lawn fescue blend grows, looks and feels. So far so good. The blades are soft to the touch but thick enough to withstand foot traffic and the color is a wonderful grassy green … not that dark green color of an over-nitrogenized lawn. The next step is to try it in our lawn, which is in dire need of attention.

Autumn is the optimal time to seed a lawn. To redo an existing lawn in the spring, Christopher suggests letting the grass grow to seven inches or so then mowing it down as low as possible to scalp existing grass. Use a slit-seeder – a machine that slices rows into existing soil where it deposits grass seed -  or overseed the area with fescues. To give new seed a better start, top-dress the area with good quality compost before slit-seeding or overseeding. Of course, you’ll have to water regularly until the seed is established. However, limit watering once summer comes to encourage deep root growth.

Christopher, who is a sustainable lawn consultant at Smart Lawn, also suggests adding clover to your grass seed blend.  As one of the legume crops, clover fixes nitrogen into the soil where grass roots use it as needed. Thus, clover is a low-maintenance, natural way to provide nitrogen to the lawn. Clover takes mowing and foot-traffic well and is salt-tolerant, making it a good addition to roadside areas and has the extra benefit of attracting a host of pollinators to its flowers.

The bottom line is a lawn is nothing more or less than a large green garden … a large green garden you can grow best with the right seed for the right place. A large green garden you can grow with minimal maintenance and for maximal enjoyment.



  sustainable lawn.


You Can Grow That! is a blog meme idea germinated by C.L. Fornari of Whole Life Gardening.  On the fourth of each month, C.L. asks gardeners to remind the world You Can Grow That! because gardening is good for people.

Consider yourself reminded.

Link to more You Can Grow That! posts through the You Can Grow That! Facebook Page. Other sources of low-maintenance grasses: Prairie Nursery, Seed Superstore, Outside Pride, or ask your local independently-owned nursery for low-maintenance grass blends.

Also, read more about the extent of lawns in the U.S. from Earth Observatory/NASA, and more about water for landscape irrigation.

Garden thoughtfully,


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

16 comments for “A Sustainable Lawn … You Can Grow That

  1. March 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Joene, A great post that is certainly timely. I saved all my ecolawn samples to use outdoors but seeing yours growing happily in your containers makes me wish I’d sown at least one package for a teaser.

    • joenesgarden
      March 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Debbie, I save most of mine for outside sowing, too. I only used a few seeds for the pots and I love the way they look.

  2. Tiny Tim's Garden
    March 4, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Nice well researched post, Jolene, and I couldn’t agree more. The other side is pulling up a lawn for a sustainable garden is just more fun, more interesting and more joyful–and who wouldn’t want more of that?

    I kept two “reading under the old apple tree and have picnics underneath on them” circles of lawns but don’t put anything on them and cut them with weed whackers. Do you think the fescue blend would do well under 100 year old trees? Thanks, Benita.

    • joenesgarden
      March 4, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Benita, Fescue might work at the outer edges under the trees. You want to keep the areas near the trunks free of lawn and covered in mulch. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. March 5, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Joene, I planted a bunch of EcoLawn samples at work last spring. They were beautiful. I am about to start some more. I have yet to plant it at my house but we have gotten some good feedback from a few people who bought it so I am hopeful. At my house, I am trying to figure what to do with a large area of lawn I just do NOT need. I’d say it measures 40’x200′. I have a few choices- 1. stop mowing it and let it grow all season, see what comes up and mow it (brush hog it?) down next spring. 2. Spend a fortune and kill it (with a natural type grass killer-never the evil round up) and plant a million plugs, water weekly and get a meadow started. 3. Keep mowing it and let my kids “rope off” a few areas to test the “stop mowing it” idea…. I just can’t stand caring for it anymore! I do not water it, I let it go dormant in a hot summer but it needs fertilizer and mowing all season.

    • joenesgarden
      March 5, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Diane, Thanks for sharing your experience with Eco-Lawn. It’s good go hear that other Connecticut lawn owners are pleased with it …I’m anxious to see how it works outside in my yard.

      You have a lot of options for that area of lawn. Perhaps you could rope off a no-mow section, rather than the entire part, and watch what happens. A small no-mow area will be easier to keep free of any invasives. In another area you could scalp it, as described in my post, then cover it with cardboard and 3-6 inches of compost or wood chips or a combination of the two. Let worms and soil biology do what they do and by fall, or definitely next spring, you could plant it with meadow-plant plugs. I’ve used the cardboard trick in a few areas of my yard – no digging. You have the opportunity to do some interesting test plots here, and gain valuable experience you could then share. Every challenge is also an opportunity.

  4. March 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing this post! I’m in CT as well, and have been thinking about this for some time. For the past 1.5 years we’ve lived here, I haven’t done anything (except let the weeds take over in the grass) but that’s going to get ugly fast – and my neighbors will not be too happy! I think I might at the very least try overseeding with fescues this spring and fall, and see what happens!

    • joenesgarden
      March 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Overfeeding with fescues sounds like a good plan, Shira. Happy seeding.

  5. March 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I missed the Hort Society meeting, so this was a great recap for me. What a lot of good info!

    • joenesgarden
      March 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks, Laurie. Hope to see you at the next CHS meeting about natives.

  6. March 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    We seeded with Eco-lawn which came up last season. I want to find something for our lawn that isn’t typical grass. It did come up, but in the back yard the small section that we had did not stand up to the foot traffic.. Of course the foot traffic near the pond is waterfowl. LOL… I have some left and may try again…Novice gardener in western NY..Michelle

    • joenesgarden
      March 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      Michelle, I think the secret to establishing fescues is to limit foot, or in your case webbed, traffic as much as possible until the grass really takes hold. From what I understand, after the first growing season it should be quite thick.

  7. March 6, 2012 at 4:18 am

    The more we can educate folks about organic lawn care the better! Not to mention persuading people to reduce lawn space and plant more gardens!
    Great Post!

    • joenesgarden
      March 6, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Thanks, Forest Keeper. I totally agree.

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