Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners' Advice For a Healthy, Natural Lawn

Thank you to Ann Acton of the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners Association for this guest post.  Check back around the 15th of each month for more gardening advice from association members.  We started using some of these tips two years ago and our lawn is doing great!

You may not know me, but it’s most likely we have something in common – a yard. Whether the land surrounding your house is large or small, you probably also have maintenance woes of some kind or another. The nearly year-round issues I have with mine are weed control and wildlife damage; you may have the same, with possibly the addition of lawn care.

Most yards come born with grass plots; a nice green lawn, accented with shrubs and trees is the ubiquitous definition of a cozy home environment. And in reality a grassy yard provides a place for children to play, the family to gather for outdoor meals, and something to admire after you’ve put in hours and hours of mowing and watering and fertilizing.

Being an avid gardener, I’m not a big proponent of lawns for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the amount of water or the proposed chemicals needed to keep them green. However, you can have a beautiful, healthy lawn while reducing your carbon footprint and keeping our water supply clean.

At the Master Gardener sponsored talk last weekend on Natural Lawn Care, Ladd Smith (In Harmony Landscaping) outlined several points that could make a difference in both the health of your lawn and your impact on the environment.

  • Mow regularly with a mulching lawnmower. Keep your grass at 2-3 inches in length – just like any other plant, if you cut off all the green stuff (leaves), the health of the plant suffers. By using a mulching lawnmower, you reduce your carbon footprint – no bagging the clippings for someone else to deal with – and the clippings decompose adding organic matter to the soil.
  • Fertilize moderately in May and September with an organic slow-release fertilizer; 6-2-5 is a good formula for our soils. An addition of garden lime (calcium carbonate) once a year will help “sweeten” the soil – Pacific Northwest soils are fairly acidic – promoting better root growth. In all applications, read the labels carefully to determine the correct amount as well as application conditions.
  • Water deeply but infrequently – one inch of water a week all at once is better than ¼ inch every other day. A good soaking encourages grass roots to grow deep rather than remain on the surface of the soil, easily damaged or dried out.
  • Aerate, over-seed and top-dress annually. Aerating reduces soil compaction that naturally occurs and aids in water and nutrient uptake. You can over-seed just about any time during the growing season; a combination of fescue and rye is best for our area. And top-dress with about ¼ inch of compost once a year – this adds organic matter, reducing your need for more fertilizer.
  • Try not to go the weed-and-feed route. Despite the hype, there is no magic bullet, no chemical that can tell the difference between a good blade of grass and a bad one. By tending to the health of your lawn, a huge application of a week killer won’t be necessary.
  • Consider lawn alternatives. As tough as grass is, there are conditions where grass just won’t thrive, like too much shade, or a low spot where the drainage is less than desirable. For these problems, consider a ground cover more suitable for those conditions.

Someone said that grass is the cheapest plant to install but the most expensive to maintain. It doesn’t have to be that way if consideration is given to providing the lawn what it needs.

Come by the Master Gardener booth at the North Bend Farmers Market to get a copy of our lawn maintenance calendar. Information on lawns and other gardening tips can be found at the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners’ website at www.svmastergardeners.com.

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