Natural lawns are healthier, more sustainable

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It is finally summer, and you know what that means — more time outside. For many people, lawn care is an important and ever-present to-do list item from spring through fall. Some people love it, and others begrudgingly put in the time and money to care for their lawns. 

No matter which group you fall in, implementing natural lawn care strategies can save you time and money, with the added bonus of helping to create a healthier and more sustainable lawn to enjoy all summer long and beyond. 

Natural lawn care

First things first: what is natural lawn care? It is helpful to start by comparing it to its counterpart, conventional lawn care.  

Conventional lawn care typically focuses more on a one-size-fits-all approach, such as generic fertilizer from big box stores or irrigation systems that are based only on the time of day. In contrast, natural lawn care uses soil care as the foundation for its approach, along with addressing the specific needs of the plants within your lawn. 

By taking a close look at what your soil currently has and what it actually needs through a soil test, you can work towards addressing larger problems that will lead to a healthier lawn in the long term, not just managing the symptoms for short-term quick fixes. 

Below are four natural lawn care strategies that you can start implementing today to create a more natural and healthy lawn. 

Mow high

Number one on the list is mowing high, somewhere between 3-4.5 inches depending on your grasses and preference. The crown, or the green part of the grass, is what utilizes the sunlight that enables the roots to grow deeper into the soil, so longer grass generally has deeper roots than grass that is kept shorter. Having deeper roots means enhanced stabilization, better acquisition of resources, and fewer issues with runoff and erosion. Taller grass also shades the soil better, which can help minimize weed seed growth. 

When you go to cut your lawn, always make sure to use a sharp blade to help get a clean cut for healthier grass. Another thing to keep in mind when mowing high is to never cut more than one-third of the blade of grass at one time to minimize unnecessary stress to the plant for long-term health. So that means if you want to maintain a 3-inch lawn, you would mow when the grass reaches approximately 4.5-inches tall. 

Additionally, most grasses that are often used in lawns in Ohio and similar climates are classified as cool-season so their growing seasons are in the spring and fall with a dormancy period during the summer. You may have already observed this by noticing the changes in how often you have to mow depending on the time of year. You can use this to your advantage and lean into the natural dormancy period with less water and maintenance during the summer months.

Utilize natural fertilizer

When it comes to maintaining lush green lawns, we often think about applying fertilizer. Most fertilizers found at big box stores are a generic combination of essential nutrients for vegetation growth. Without knowing your soil, you may be unknowingly applying excess nutrients that will not be used by your grasses at all, and will likely be washed off into storm sewers or waterways with the next rain event, thereby contributing excess nutrients to our environment. 

Instead, you can utilize natural fertilizers like compost or mulched grass clipping and fall leaves. These nutrient sources provide a balance of nutrients that can help meet the demands of your soil and plants without going overboard. Because they are not present in excess amounts, they are less likely to run off your lawn and into the environment. 

When you mow your lawn, simply leave the grass clippings to break down naturally, and in the fall use your lawn mower to mulch fallen leaves for the same effect. As another bonus, that also means that you get to spend less time raking. 

Plant natives, remove invasives

Another great approach for a more natural lawn is to take an inventory of the plants that are currently growing on your land. Once you have an inventory, you can work towards removing invasive or less productive plants and replacing them with native alternatives. 

Planting native plants in general, whether to replace other plants or not, can be a big win for your yard and the environment. Native plants are plants that are historically and naturally found within a particular region. They have evolved with the local environment, climate, soils, weather and animals, and therefore have an advantage to non-native and invasive species when given a chance to thrive. 

They typically have very deep roots, which aid in stormwater management and preventing erosion, and in some cases, they can grow as deep as 15 feet or more. They are also great habitats and nutrient sources for important pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds and insects. Native plants have great aesthetic value and can really enhance the beauty of a lawn, in addition to the environmental benefits. While they often take a little more effort to seek out, they are most definitely worth it.   

Water efficiently

The last natural lawn care strategy is watering efficiently. Water is important for a healthy lawn, but in excess amounts or poorly timed it can do more harm then good. On average, lawns only need about one inch of water per week, which includes rainfall. If you do have an irrigation system for your lawn, resist the urge to just set it on a timer and forget about it. This adds to the likelihood of watering during a rain storm or overwatering, which only adds to stormwater runoff and pollution. 

By keeping an eye on the forecast and installing a rain gauge in your yard you can help give your lawn exactly what it needs when it needs it without waste. If you choose to water your lawn, it is recommended to water deeply in the morning to be the most effective.

Conclusion

There are so many wonderful strategies that can be implemented when it comes to natural lawn care. These are just a few strategies to get you started on your journey to a more natural and healthy lawn. 

When it comes to lawn care, what you choose to do with your lawn may seem like it only really impacts you and maybe even your neighbors, but the reality is that we are all connected through our land and water. Even the small choices we each make day-to-day and year-to-year with our own lawns can have a really big impact, especially when we are all working together to create a more natural and healthier environment.

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Megan Liggett is the technician/educator for Stark Soil and Water Conservation District. She can be reached at meliggett@starkcountyohio.gov or at 330-451-7649.

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