Sustainable lawn care

Many myths about lawn care have driven us to an inefficient way of maintaining our grass. With the overuse of lawn care materials and equipment, synthetic fertilizers have contributed largely to water pollution, and gas lawn-care equipment has become responsible for 5-10% of US emissions. Working with your lawn to help it thrive more independently is critical to reducing our negative environmental impacts.

Seasonal care mostly focuses on recharging the grass’s nutritional bank, the soil, through aerating, and adding fertilizers and amendments. Soil often gets compacted over time or during installment, which reduces the soil’s ability to store moisture and nutrients and prevents roots from navigating through the soil. When this happens, it is important to aerate the soil to increase its efficiency, which essentially is introducing air to the soil and increasing porous structure in the soil. As nutrients in the soil get consumed by plants over time, refill with fertilizers and amendments. Organic fertilizers and amendments are recommended, as synthetic fertilizers commonly have many negative side effects. First, synthetic fertilizers tend to kill essential microorganisms in the soil and lead to thatch buildup, a layer of dead organic matter on top of the grass that can deprive the grass from sunlight, water and nutrients. Secondly, as they often have excess nutrient doses, the grass experiences something similar to a sugar rush while the rest runs off into water streams and becomes pollutants. Lastly, with excessive use, the grass gets too comfortable getting its nutrients from the upper levels of the soil and does not establish deep roots, leaving it more vulnerable to malnutrition, drought, and diseases. Organic fertilizers and amendments incorporate slow-release processes to supply the soil with matter that gets broken down over time into nutrients, rather than overload the grass with nutrients. This applies to amendments as well. Seasonal care tasks should be handled once a year (recommended in the spring) and twice a year if your soil is very depleted (spring and fall).

Regular care happens during most seasons and includes mowing and watering. A common misconception is that you should mow your grass short. In fact, giving your grass more length allows it to block out weeds, be resilient to pests and diseases, and gives it more area to carry out photosynthesis and stay strong. It is also recommended that you mow your lawn relatively frequently to minimize the shock to the grass. If the grass loses more than 1/3rd of its length, the loss in energy supply from photosynthesis will shock the grass enough to damage it. Additionally, although reel mowers can be inconvenient, they are often recommended as they produce a cleaner cut on the grass that leaves it with less shock and vulnerability to diseases than machine cutters that use rotating blades. You should not water your lawn very frequently as this makes the grass adjusted to obtaining its water supply in the upper levels of the soil, which in return stops the roots from establishing themselves deep into the soil. Instead, more infrequent but deep watering is preferable. To achieve maximum efficiency, watering in the morning allows the soil to soak up the water with minimal loss to evaporation. If you have to water in the evening, wait until the dew has already set for the day so that the moisture does not increase dew damage to your lawn. A couple good ways to know if your grass needs water are if the grass starts to curl up, or it holds the shape of your footprints.

Lastly, it is important to know what type of water and grass you are working with, as different type have different needs. For example, clay-like soils hold onto moisture longer than sand-like soils, and some grass types require more water and/or nutrients than others.

To sum this up, remember to do seasonal care in the spring (and the fall if your lawn is struggling) by aerating the soil and supplying nutrients through organic fertilizers and/or amendments. When performing regular care, allow the grass to maintain some length to block out weeds, fight off diseases, and to produce energy. Water your lawn less frequently but deeply to ensure a healthy cycle and more independent grass.


Written by Zein Tynon ‘24.

Photo by Daniel Watson on Unsplash