Lawn care

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(HOST) Now that we’ve gotten some much needed rain, everything is greening up fast – including our lawns – and commentator Henry Homeyer says it’s time for a few quick and easy lawn care tips.

(HOMEYER) Maybe that old ditty about spring should be changed a little, to something like this:

Spring has sprung,
The Grass has rizz,
I wonder where
The chemicals is?

Americans love their lawns, and many spread chemicals on them each spring. But you don’t need to.

My lawn is greening up nicely now, and all I’m doing for it is giving it a good raking. That gets the dirt and leaves off the lawn, and lets the grass absorb the warm spring sun. It’s important to rake the lawn after it’s dried out, because walking on a soggy lawn will compact it, making the soil less hospitable for grass.

I see lawn chemicals as an endless addiction. Lawn chemicals kill off many of the beneficial soil organisms that naturally help you have a good lawn.

Chemicals make the soil more prone to compaction, and more acidic, and hence better for weeds, than grass. So what should an organic gardener do for the lawn? Rake it, then spread some compost. Just buy some top quality compost and dump it onto the lawn. Spread it with your lawn rake until you have a layer about half an inch thick. Yes, that’s more work than spreading chemicals. But it will help to inoculate your lawn with beneficial microorganisms. And it will attract earthworms, who love compost for lunch. They’ll loosen up the soil and fertilize it a little bit.

If you feel you must add fertilizer, buy a bagged organic fertilizer. One advantage of an organic fertilizer is that most of the nutrients are not water soluble. They depend on critters in the soil to break them down into forms useable by the lawn. Most chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, contain highly soluble ingredients. If we get a week of rain after you’ve applied a chemical fertilizer, much of the nutrition – and the money you paid for it – will be washed away.

If you’re buying seed to fill in bare spots or start a new lawn, buy premium seed. Cheap seed is not worth what you pay for it. And although Kentucky Blue grass has the reputation of Kentucky racehorses and whiskey, it really isn’t a great grass for most lawns here – not unless you plan to apply chemicals three times a year. For an easy care lawn, buy a mix that has more fescue and perennial ryegrass than bluegrass. And look for Dutch white clover in seed mixes: it fixes nitrogen free of charge. Or buy clover and add it to your seed mix – ten percent is about right.

Having a lawn is a bit like being in a relationship with someone you love. A good lawn takes some work, and it won’t be perfect every day of the year. But if you accept the imperfections, you’ll have a lot more fun.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.

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