COSHOCTON, Ohio — Do you ever remember mowing your lawn in March? Due to the warm weather this year many of us did just that. I don’t remember starting this early and I have spent many hours of my life on a lawnmower.
Before moving to Coshocton, I mowed several acres of yard that took me about six hours a week. If you conservatively figure 26 weeks per year (mid-April through mid-October); that totals 156 hours.
Now multiply that figure by 20 and I’ve spent 3,120 hours of the last 20 years mowing. And that doesn’t even count the times during the spring when you have to mow twice.
But nothing gives a homeowner more pride than a neat, freshly-cut lawn, whether we live in the country or in town.
Did you ever consider that good lawn care practices that protect and improve water quality are also conservation practices? The millions of grass plants in your lawn help clean the air, trap dirt, and remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
The grass roots and soil microbes act as a natural water filter to capture and break down pollutants. Most of the weight (90 percent) of the grass plant is in its roots. This keeps the soil in place to prevent erosion.
Lawns are more than 2,000 times more effective at preventing erosion than bare soil. Grass is one of the best ground covers for absorbing water. Healthy grass can absorb most of the runoff from roofs, patios, driveways, sidewalks and streets that would otherwise go directly into storm drains, lakes, and streams.
So how do you practice conservation in your back yard? Healthy soil is the foundation of a good lawn. Healthy soil supports earthworms, microbes and beneficial insects that improve soil structure, air and water flow, and plant growth.
For mature grass, always choose a fertilizer that is phosphorus-free, unless a soil test shows a need for this nutrient. Generally, only new grass plants require additional phosphorus for initial root growth.
The best time to feed your lawn is spring and fall when the grass is actively growing. Set your mower at its highest setting. Taller grass is stronger grass. It builds deeper roots that enable the plant to find water and nutrients and better withstand periods of heat and drought.
Use a mulching mower so grass clippings can be returned to the soil where they will break down and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
In the fall, mulch the leaves that fall on your lawn using your lawn mower. Leaves will break down and enrich the soil. Sweep leaves, grass clippings and fertilizer that lands on driveways and sidewalks back on to the grass to help keep nutrients out of waterways.
If your lawn borders water, do not mow or fertilize to the water’s edge. Create a buffer zone with uncut grass or other vegetation to prevent soil erosion.
It’s OK to let your established lawn go dormant during a dry spell. Grass plants are resilient and will grow again when the rain returns and you can save yourself a few hours mowing.
Conservation goes hand in hand with good lawn care practices that protect and improve water quality. Stop by your local soil and water conservation district office for an informational brochure called Backyard Conservation: Lawns and the Environment.
By using proper feeding and mowing techniques, we can enjoy a healthy lawn and conserve our natural resources for future generations.
(Deb Bigelow was raised on a grain farm in Morrow County, Deb Bigelow moved to the position of District Administrator for the Coshocton SWCD in 2008; working for the Knox SWCD as Education Coordinator since 1989. )