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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
Environmentally Sustainable Lawns
As environmental awareness increases, many gardeners seek ways to make their lawns and gardens more compatible. “Sustainable Agriculture” is a popular buzzword for lower input farming. The following suggestions are for those who are looking to create a more “sustainable lawn.”
The most flagrant environmental problem is when growing lawns is over watering. Studies show many lawns receive four inches or more water per week. This translates into an annual precipitation rate of more than 200 inches per year. The correct amount is closer to 30 inches applied during the growing season. This is 1-1.5 inches per growing week.
Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep drought tolerant root systems. Our desert does not come with an inexhaustible supply of water so use each drop wisely
Mowing is another misunderstood lawn care operation. Harvesting clippings is not a favorite pastime! Raise the mower height to three inches in the summer. This helps grass withstand the summer heat and use less water.
The prevalent practice of picking up the clippings has no horticultural basis. Leaving the clippings does not increase thatch or disease problems. Lawn clippings add nitrogen and other nutrients and builds soil organic matter over time. Mulching lawnmowers are nice but they are not absolutely essential for mulching the grass clippings in place.
Environmentally conscious gardeners can reduce their use of small gasoline engines. While these machines are labor savers, they produce more pollution than a late model automobile run for the same length of time. Keep them in good repair to prevent problems. They are also very noisy. Electric mowers produce fewer problems but the ultimate non-polluter is a push type mower that is much easier to use than older models.
Consider creating meadow-like turf in some landscape areas. This works well under trees in light shade and in more open areas. These areas are mowed infrequently and require less water and fertilizer. Plan them carefully and include low water use grasses, wild flowers and bulbs.
Leaving the clippings provides some but not all of the needed nutrients. Apply nitrogen fertilizer as needed. It is the best weed control available.
Strong healthy lawns crowd out most other plants. Use small amounts to produce a dark green dense turf. Avoid extra fertilizer that produces excessive top growth that must be mowed frequently. Slow release fertilizers even out the growth.
A base recommendation is to apply one half pound of actual nitrogen per growing month. This can be adjusted according to plant growth. Organic gardeners can choose several kinds of manure, compost, or sludge-based fertilizers. Always choose weed free products to reduce the need for herbicides.
Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are naturally resistant to some common turf insects such as billbugs. Mixtures of several varieties or species help prevent disease problems. Using resistant varieties is the easiest way to control pest problems.