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.
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.
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.