by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
By now, only the most stubborn among us have been able to avoid lawn work this spring. If you’ve got a full regimen of traditional lawn maintenance planned, it’s not too late to “green” your property. Go organic, for the benefit of your lawn and the well-being of the state we’re in!
There are as many reasons to switch to organic as there are blades of grass in your front lawn. Going organic produces a healthier lawn – better able to withstand weeds, insects and drought, and requiring less maintenance in the long run – and a healthier environment in general.
Problems with the old way
A National Academy of Sciences report estimates that the health of 1 in 7 people is adversely impacted by lawn pesticides. A number of studies link lawn chemicals to cancers and other long-term diseases, with children especially at risk because they are smaller and still developing.
Even the air we breathe is affected by lawn care, since the small engines in mowers are largely unregulated. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a gas-powered push mower emits as much pollution each hour as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much as 34 cars. It’s sadly ironic that the tools we use to care for our lawns actually make it harder for them to thrive naturally.
Work with nature instead
Going organic with your lawn doesn’t require drastic lifestyle changes. It’s mostly about figuring out how to work with nature instead of against it. Here are a few quick tips:
• Switch to a manual mower. If your lawn is small enough, buy a non-motorized reel mower. These mowers have come a long way from the rusty one in your grandfather’s garage, and are a cost-effective alternative to gas-powered mowers. Plus, you’ll get some exercise!
• Add organic matter to your lawn to build the soil. Increasing the amount in your lawn by as little as 5 percent will quadruple the soil’s ability to hold water… which means less watering for you!
• Water deep and less often. If you need to water, check to make sure that water soaks 4 to 6 inches deep. This promotes deep roots.
• Set your mower blades for 3½ inches high, because higher grass crowds out weeds. Allow the clippings to scatter, which fertilizes your lawn and attracts earthworms that break down thatch, aerate the soil, and reduce compaction.
• It’s easier to control a few young weeds, so get them early and by hand. Prevent the spread of dandelions by removing their leaves and flowers, which eventually starves their taproots.
• Aerate your lawn every few years to allow air, nutrients, and water to penetrate deep into the root zone.
• If you are reseeding, pick a variety suited to your area’s climate. For example, Kentucky bluegrass, though commonly planted in New Jersey, is better suited to (you guessed it) Kentucky!
• Lastly, depending on the size of your property, you may want to allow for something more natural – like a butterfly habitat or a wildflower meadow – that will enhance its beauty and yield other benefits. A well-placed stand of trees, for example, offers energy savings and wildlife habitat as well as time and money saved on lawn care.
There is a wealth of information out there on organic lawn care. Start with online research – www.safelawns.org, or www.eartheasy.com/grow_lawn_care.htm, for example; then consult with your local farmer or nursery for more specific advice about your property. To learn more about creating a wildflower meadow in place of lawn, go to www.meadowsandmore.com.
Or, jumpstart the process by attending “Organic Lawn Care for Homeowners” on May 11, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Duke Farm. It’s part of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ) “Twilight Meetings” series. An accredited, organic landscaping professional will provide information on making your lawn care regimen greener.
The cost for the class is $40, and pre-registration is required. You can sign up online at www.dukefarms.org, or find out more at www.nofanj.org/twighlight_meetings.htm or by calling 908-371-1111 ext. 4.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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