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Getting Stuck in a Rut

We all do it. It’s how we live. We eat, we grow, and then we get on a tread­mill to cut back our size. Then the cir­cle starts over again and we eat and eat (because it just tastes so good!) only to obses­sively work out some more. Sur­pris­ingly enough, this seems to make us only a dis­tant rel­a­tive to grass. That’s right, for­get the apes. We are like grass. Turf grass to be specific.

We water and fer­til­ize and water some more until the grass grows and needs to be cut. Then we repeat. Only prob­lem is we have a ten­dency to force-feed the grass and then obses­sively cut it. Who­ever decided this cir­cu­lar waste of time and money was what the “cool kids” should be doing was wrong. Let’s think this through and rec­og­nize that every time we attach the sprin­kler to the hose or bust out the fer­til­izer bag that it’s lead­ing to another hour mow­ing the lawn in the heat and buy­ing more gas and oil for the mower. Let’s not force our obses­sive behav­iors on nature. For some rea­son Amer­i­cans seem to have fallen head over heels for fer­til­izer and its mag­i­cal abil­i­ties. Well it’s not magic. In fact it’s a cir­cu­lar rut we seem to be stuck in and have forced on our out­door spaces along the way. Unfor­tu­nately, neg­a­tive effects of this evil rut spread quickly to our water ways and harm more than just our free time and pocketbooks.

This blog could go on for days, but here are the basics on get­ting out of the rut of lawn care (you’re on your own for your per­sonal habits):
– Don’t fer­til­ize unless you have brand new grass (i.e. it’s as fine as baby’s hair).
– Water only new grass and only in the very early morn­ing or late evening to avoid wast­ing water through evap­o­ra­tion.
– Test your soil before you put any­thing on your grass.
– Reduce the size of your lawn by plant­ing natives that don’t need extra water.
– Embrace dor­mant brown grass and put away the sprin­kler in the mid­dle of sum­mer.
– Save money, air pol­lu­tion, and time and let your grass grow an extra inch before mow­ing.
– Don’t mow on poor air qual­ity days.
– Embrace clover in your yard. The bees love it and so should you.
– Never mow to the edge of the stream. Leave as many feet as pos­si­ble to grow naturally.

More info on gar­den­ing and land­scap­ing with the envi­ron­ment in mind can be found here: http://livegreenhoward.com/land/gardening-landscaping/

~Lind­say DeMarzo

July 2012

Not Your Father’s Lawn

Ah, Spring. After this weird win­ter, who knows how early every­thing is going to start grow­ing and bloom­ing. I’m itch­ing to start divid­ing some peren­ni­als, mov­ing stuff around and adding new plants. It’s all good. Except for my lawn – which I hate. So this year I’m going to really put some effort into it – research, sci­ence, new ideas. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Soil Test – This is the first step. Of course, this makes sense. You wouldn’t start tak­ing med­i­cine with­out get­ting tests done by a doc­tor. Well, maybe you would, but it’s a really bad idea.

So, soil test — The Colum­bia Asso­ci­a­tion (CA) is offer­ing FREE soil test­ing. Why are they doing this? Because it turns out that most of us are using too much prod­uct – wast­ing time, money and adding unwanted nutri­ents to our local waters. Here are 2 doc­u­ments about it: soil test­ing and instruc­tions for tak­ing a soil sam­ple.

Back to the soil test – basi­cally, you take some soil from your lawn, put it in a plas­tic bag, bring it to your vil­lage cen­ter, then it is sent to a lab for test­ing. CA is hold­ing short work­shops to inter­pret the results so that home­own­ers can deter­mine what their lawns need.

If you have a lawn ser­vice, ask them to do a soil test and show you the results. Why should you pay to put stuff down that you don’t need? Actu­ally, since 1998, com­pa­nies are required to do a soil test for you and keep track of the amount of fer­til­izer used.

Pre-emergent – If you are going to spend time and money to put chem­i­cals on your lawn later to try and kill weeds, I guess it makes more sense to pre­vent them.

Many gar­den­ers advise using a pre-emergent when the Forsythia’s bloom (yellow-blooming shrubs you see all over the place in early Spring). So, that is basi­cally now.

My neigh­bor swears by corn gluten as a pre-emergent. It is organic, and works best if you keep using it for a few years. It does have some nitro­gen, and the Mary­land Exten­sion is pretty clear that IF YOU FERTILIZE, IT SOULD BE IN THE FALL ONLY. Sorry for all the Caps, didn’t mean to scream at you.

Chem­i­cal pre-emergents often con­tain a lot more nitro­gen than corn gluten, but I searched around and found one brand with 0 nitro­gen. There weren’t any in the “big box” store I went to first, but it wasn’t too hard to find. Great news start­ing this year is that many of the lawn care prod­ucts are now “phos­pho­rous free.” This recent change will help keep lots of this dam­ag­ing nutri­ent out of the Bay.

Of course, change is not easy. Many peo­ple just do what they’ve always done before, or what their par­ents taught them. But things change, and just because every­one else in your neigh­bor­hood is dump­ing chem­i­cals on their lawn 4 times a year, doesn’t mean that it works.

Cut it High and Let it Fly – I’m not sure who made up that slo­gan, but I like it. Cut­ting your lawn short stresses it out, and makes it harder for it to crowd out weeds. You would think that cut­ting it short would shorten the time before you have to mow again, but I’ve read that this is not true – grass shoots up in response, get­ting even weaker in the hot months. The let it fly part means using a mulching mower and leav­ing the clip­pings there. Clip­pings are a nat­ural source of nitro­gen (less fer­til­izer needed) and do NOT cause thatch. I hire some­one to cut our grass, so I am going to ask them to cut it higher this year. If they won’t, I’ll find some­one else who will.

Water­ing – I don’t water my lawn in the sum­mer. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could keep up with it to do any good. The type of grass most Mary­lan­ders have is not built to be green in a hot, dry sum­mer. Mary­land Exten­sion backs me up on this. They advise: “Allow estab­lished tall fes­cue lawns to go dor­mant dur­ing hot,dry weather in the sum­mer. The lawn will recover when rain­fall and cooler tem­per­a­tures return. Only newly seeded areas and lawns less than two years old should be irri­gated.” It might get a lit­tle crunchy, but so be it. If you do water new grass, it is best to water deeply, and less often. Short, fre­quent water­ing is bad for lawns because it encour­ages short, weak roots.

Whew, that’s about all I can han­dle. I’m bored with lawn talk already, and it is only March. Back to the real plants. Can’t wait to get started!

Elissa Rei­neck
March 2012

Green Tip

Use cloth napkins.It’s actually cheaper to throw cloth napkins in the wash than to buy paper ones.