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Keeping your lawn on drugs will cost you $4 billion

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation\'s largest estuary. (AP)
Early spring means wacky garden growth

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 3:47 am

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

This Just In: The real cost of chemically intensive lawn care is a mere $4 billion a county

I bet our listeners in Fredrick County sat up straight when they heard the report last month. It will cost them $4 billion over the next 25 years to repair the damage being done by their fertilizers to the Chesapeake Bay, as mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.

Local lawmakers acknowledge that legal limitations on fertilizer used by homeowners would lead to cleaner water essentially for free, but that such actions “face strong opposition from fertilizer lobbies.”

That leaves you as the answer. You can prevent an enormous hike in your taxes. You can prevent the need for fertilizer police. Heck, you’ll also save money, save the bay and have a better-looking lawn. All you need to do is stop drenching your turf in toxic chemicals.

Yes, it really is that easy. Ask any vegetable gardener. Grass is the toughest weed there is. The only way to have a bad-looking lawn is to cut it too short or drench it in chemicals all summer.

If your lawn were a person, it would weigh 700 pounds

How much of lawn fertilizer use is overuse? On average, American homeowners use four times the amount of fertilizer per square foot of land as farmers. Your lawn doesn’t look bad because it’s underfed. Your lawn looks bad because it’s overfed.

Our cool season lawns — bluegrass, rye and the fescues (essentially everything in our area that’s not zoysia grass) — should only be fed twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. More food than that is unnecessary and wasteful, and feeding in the summer actually damages our lawns.

Let’s make this the year you put that big divot of yours on a diet.

Two feedings, period. If you’re on a four-step program, get on a 12-step program because those two extra steps are making your turf look worse and building the tab on a bill that no one wants to pay.

Half your food for free without a Groupon

One great way to feed your turf without adding to the poor beleaguered bay’s pollution is by cutting it with a mulching mower. These specialized machines with sealed decks and super-sharp blades pulverize the clippings before returning them to your lawn in the form of a fine powder that’s 10 percent nitrogen, the perfect level of the perfect fertilizer for your lawn.

Using a mulching mower provides half the food your lawn needs all season and it eliminates the need for you to do anything with your clippings.

Lawn rehab Step One: Get your gluten ready

Susan in Vienna, Mary down by Stafford, Curtis in D.C., and Cameron in Bethesda are among the many who’ve emailed this past week expressing their desire to try and help the bay by getting their lawns off drugs this spring. Good for all of you. Let’s clean up our own acts so the government doesn’t have to send chemical cops after us to save the bay or hit us with a $4 billion bill per county.

Let’s start by being ready to spread a packaged corn gluten meal that’s labeled as a pre-emergent herbicide on our lawns in about a month. Corn gluten meal provides the perfect level of natural nitrogen to feed your turf and it prevents dormant weed seeds — especially crabgrass –from sprouting.

But it must be applied just as the local forsythia and redbuds are beginning to bloom — the highly visible plant cues that crabgrass seeds are germinating invisibly in your lawn) No pre-emergent, chemical or organic, can stop weeds once they start growing. If you snooze, you lose and crabgrass will win. So get your gluten and keep your eyes on those plants and the prize.

Lawn care or a ride to intensive care?

I had to promise not to reveal the name and location of the listener who clued me in, or the name of the lawn care company who promoted the bay-safe approach she leaked to me. An astonishing eight treatments a year comprising large amounts of every herbicide legally on the market, including the cancer-causing Agent Orange component 2,4-D and five applications of high nitrogen fertilizer, is exactly what’s killing our poor beleaguered bay.

Want a weed-free lawn without a $4 billion bill? Feed it twice — once in the spring and once in fall. Never cut it below 3 inches of green. Water it deeply and infrequently.

That’s it. Anything else you do will weaken your grass and encourage your weeds.

Next week: Valentine’s Day!

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