Thursday, January 26, 2012

Five Steps to a Healthy Lawn

Lush Lawns Don't Just Happen

Every year I get questions on how to get that deep green, thick lawn using organic methods.  Some folks think that 'organic' means letting nature do her thing, while not attending to any maintenance of the lawn. Others want instant results to the barest of essential grooming. Residential landscaping with turf is lovely when cared for appropriately.  Let me describe how to achieve a good looking, healthy lawn.

#1  Compaction of soil is the most detrimental condition in a lawn.  Areas that get a lot of foot traffic near walks and drives are most susceptible to compaction. If the children play on the grass, or the postal carrier walks across the lawn every day, compaction is bound to happen.  Walking on wet grass can add to the problem by pushing out air and water from soil.  Grass roots are dense, but no air, no water,.... the grass will not thrive.

Core aeration is an easy method to open up the root zone of the yard.  I prefer to have the core removed, as opposed to just pushing in pins into the soil.  By removing  the core, air and water can be placed right at the roots. I recommend raking in a 1/4" layer of compost as the second step to the aeration.  The compost has microorganisms that will draw nutrients right into the root zone.  The opening left by the plugs will allow water to seep into the root area as well. 

Compost allows the soil to drain while keeping moisture in the soil for a more drought tolerant lawn. If spreading compost is not available, an organic fertilizer of 8-3-3 or similar is also a good option. Either compost or organic fertilizer will add organic matter to the soil to feed the microorganisms for a healthy lawn. 

#2  Having a thick turf can be as easy as over-seeding.  The proper seed is important to this step.  I suggest a seed that is appropriate for your conditions.  Do you have a full sun area, a steep incline, or wish to reduce water needs?  The turf industry can offer you a custom seed for your area.

 This winter season is a good time to over seed fairly simply.  Dormant seeding, as this process is called, works well on frozen soil, or even a snow cover. Simply sow seed onto the yard with either a drop spreader or a broadcast applicator.  The freezing and thawing of the soil over the next few months will allow the seed to be worked into the soil.  Then, when temperatures are right, the seed will grow and thicken up your yard.  Thicker turf is going to look better and, depending on the conditions, more weed resistance and drought tolerant.

#3  Thatch is the mat of grass shafts, roots above the soil line, and dead organic matter.  This raking will open the soil up to allow rain to soak into the soil and nutrients to become available to the root system.  I believe that a good liquid organic solution will help degrade that thatch and keep a thick layer from building up.  A kelp or fish fertilizer can be used in a hose end sprayer even in the hot summer months.  The solution will not burn and, along with breaking down the thatch, your lawn will get a good drink of N for a nice green lawn. 

#4  Mow high - long blades of grass can a) shade weed seeds.  b) hold moisture, and c) optimize photosynthesis.  If more that one third of the blade is removed at once, the blade of grass is stressed and will wilt.  Taller grass will minimize weed seed germination as well. 

#5  Water Deeply.  Deep watering draws the roots down into the soil. More moisture is available deeper into the ground, and the grass will not wilt as easily in periods of little rain.  Water less often.  Short, frequent waterings (wettings) do not allow the root systems to grow deeply.  One inch of rain a week, for most turf allows the roots to remain moist without the contant watering.  Usually about 45 minutes is enough water to get soil moist about 4 inches deep.

Lawn care does not have to take hours every weekend.  Lawn care does not have to be expensive. A lawn you can be proud of is the ultimate reward.  Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Lawns - Benefits of a Healthy Lawn

Lawn, Yard, Turf, Grass - It's a Good Thing

Much interest has been focused on gardening in recent years.  The vegetable garden, the perennial garden, the cutting garden..... but one aspect of the home landscape, industrial landscape, and urban landscape that we overlook is THE LAWN.

We all have 'it' but 'it' is taken for granted.  In 2004 total acres of turf was estimated at a whopping 46.5 million acres.  The grass industry has available 7500 kinds of grass, with over 50 species being cultivated. Home owners in the US spend $6.4 billion annually on lawn care which includes fertilizers, weed and pest controls, equipment, and water.  With this much money spent on grass, I was interested to see what benefits we do get.

Throughout time recreation as been staged on the lawn.  Badminton, croquet, Frisbee... all need the grass.  Sports like soccer and touch football at a family picnic use grass.  Relaxation is the real game! 

The human factor cannot be overstated. 

(Note the unused chairs!)

Reducing tension and getting a feeling of well-being are benefits of lawns.

Turf has a positive effect on the environment too. 

The front yard offers a cool space. Unlike the concrete walks and street that cook us, grass of eight front yards can actually have the cooling effect of a 70 ton air conditioner. (Our home equipment only has 4 ton capacity).

Lawns absorb water, reducing runoff, and erosion. 

The root system of turf is dense.  It pulls water into the soil, and filters the water that eventually get into the underground aquifer.  According to The Lawn Institute one blade of grass can have 387 miles of roots.  A healthy lawn can have 850 plants per square foot. 

Sodded lawns actually pull in more moisture than seeded  lawns even after after two years of growth. A healthy lawn can actually absorb more rain than a field of wheat by 6x, and 4x better than hay.  
 Healthy lawns - healthy water.

Air quality is also affected by grass.  Carbon dioxide is pulled from the atmosphere and releases enough oxygen to support a family of four.

A 625 square foot lawn provides enough oxygen for one person for an entire day.

Tons of dust and dirt in the air are trapped by lawn each year.

Benefits of a healthy lawn are evident in cleaner water, less erosion, and cleaner air.

At the beginning, I stated the enormous amount of money we spend each year on our lawns.  When asked why they are willing to do all that work and spend that amount of money, homeowners felt that they would recoup the money on the lawn with added value of their property.  In fact, there is a 100% - 200% recovery rate on landscaping, in comparison to money spent on a patio or deck which only returned 40% - 70% of the investment. 

Realtors also put an importance on curb appeal since a well maintained front yard has a perceived value to a buyer. 

The healthy Lawn serves up alot of benefits.  Relaxation, recreation, filter of air and water, and monetary value to the homeowner. 

I couched this article as though we have 'healthy' lawns.  I'll define that concept, and give ideas on how to achieve a healthy lawn next week. 

What benefits do you get from your yard?  Let us know.  And thanks for stopping by.  Claudia

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nightshade - A Family of Plants with a Dark Side

Nightshade Vegetables and Ornamentals - Are They Tasty or Toxic?

I called some of the vines and plants in my yard 'weeds'.  I didn't plant them there, and I certainly didn't like the intrusion. But, since I didn't want to upset the natural way of things in my garden, I researched these beasts to see if I would be on the nature lovers black list if I removed them.

Nightshade - Solanaceae

 I read murder mysteries, and I know of many victims who succumbed to this plant - belladonna seemed to ring a bell.  Yep,  belladonna is a nightshade too! It is often referred to as 'deadly nightshade'.

Datura, or Jimson weed, Mandrake, and petunias all are in the nightshade family.  All of these plants, stems, leaves and berries are poisonous!

Seed Pod of Jimson Weed

These seeds are a hallucinogen, and has also been call 'loco weed'.

Mandrake roots resemble humans and superstitions suggest the roots scream when they are pulled.  These roots have a place in Wica and other magical rituals.
Mandragora plant is attractive but deadly.

But I would never eat any of these, right?  Nightshade family has 1500 - 2000 species - many of them we do eat. 

Nightshade vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, Gooseberries, eggplant, and all kinds of chili peppers.  The vegetables are safe to eat but the leaves of the tomatoes and  potatoes are poisonous.
Eggplant should always be cooked well, and any potato that has turned green or has elongated eyes should be tossed.

All Nightshade plants have a substance called alkaloids.  Potato and eggplant produce a Solanine. Tomatine is found in tomatoes, capsaisin, in chili peppers. These elements are in high concentrations in the leaves and stems of these plants and should never be eaten!

Tobacco, Necotiana, is a Nightshade as well.  It produces nicotine, an alkaloid,  that has long been noted as addictive.


Chili Pepper

All of these are members of the Nightshade family.

Even though the alkaloids are dangerous to ingest, the plants have produced them to protect themselves from pests.  The medical community does use some of them too.  Atropine has been derived from Nightshade alkaloids, and is used as an eye dilator.  Useful drugs have been developed from these plant substances to treat poisons, treat side effects of chemo and even sarin, which is a chemical warfare substance. And some research has indicated that eating Nightshade vegetables can exacerbate arthritis and other joint and muscle pain.


Tomatoes and potatoes are a staple in our diets, and the vitamin and mineral benefits of each are well know.  Just as in any family, Nightshade is a family of contradictions.