This New Year's, resolve to maintain a healthy, lush chemical free lawn with helpful tips from Garden Editor Mike McGrath.
Resolve to have a legal — and healthy — lawn this season
The best New Year’s Resolutions are things you’re going to have to do anyway, like exercising more, using your turn signals and saying nicer things about kale. And the lawn-care laws for Maryland and Virginia that restrict the times, frequency and amount of lawn fertilization are actually going to be good for your lawn — if you resolve to care for it correctly in the New Year.
Cutting with a super-sharp blade,
Always leaving the pulverized clippings on the lawn, and
Never cutting cool-season grasses such as fescue, rye and bluegrass lower than three inches.
Almost sounds too easy, right? Like diet and exercise as the first line of defense against diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But you know what? Simple works. Easy works. All you have to do is lean into it.
Think sharp; cut sharp; be sharp!
Resolve now to do one of the most important — and least expensive — things you can do to have a great-looking lawn this summer.
To paraphrase The Grinch: “It doesn’t come in a bottle. It doesn’t come in a bag. It isn’t on a shelf with a shiny price tag.” It’s a freshly sharpened blade for your lawn mower.
Get back here! You ever use a dull razor or kitchen knife? They do a remarkably poor job while carrying an excessive risk of injury, and the same is true of a lawn mower blade.
A dull one rips the blades of grass apart without actually cutting them; you wind up with ragged shreds that look bad and can’t hold water. A sharp blade, newly purchased or freshly polished, cuts clean and even, leaving you with a level cut that will quickly seal up and hold water well.
It’s the best $20 you’ll ever spend on that turf.
Don’t wrap it; don’t bag it
Think the new lawn-care laws that restrict the amount of nitrogen you can feed your lawn are going to make your Green Acres look like the tattered turf of The Munsters? Well, Papa may have a brand new bag, but all you need to do to improve the look of your lawn without breaking the law is to get rid of yours (bag, that is). Grass clippings are nitrogen, and if this potent natural fertilizer is used correctly, you might be able to misquote The Beatles and sing “all you need is clips!”
In studies performed back in the 1990s, returning the cut clips to an acre’s worth of lawn provided an astounding 235 pounds of nitrogen; that’s more than half the nitrogen you’re technically allowed to apply to your lawn under the new laws in Maryland and Virginia. And it’s at least half the nitrogen any lawn could possibly need.
And they’re free. And you were going to throw them away.
The not-so-angry inch
This resolution involves a ruler.
Go out to your lawn on the next nice day and measure the height of the grass. Gently press the butt end of the ruler against the soil line, but don’t press it into the soil — no cheating! Measure the height of your turf in a few different places — especially problem areas. The lawn should be 3 to 3.5 inches high everywhere.
And that’s the height your lawn needs to be all year round. Cut it shorter than that and the grass will try and regrow at its fastest possible rate and use the most nutrients. You’ll also expose bare spots in uneven areas and make it easy for weed seeds to germinate.
A three-inch lawn can photosynthesize many of its own nutrients, and will grow at a slower pace and more evenly. It will look fuller, and its height will prevent weed seed access to the soil line.
Don’t trust lawn mower markings; they are famously imprecise. Oh, and please don’t tell me you’re already cutting at three inches. Your neighbor just posted a YouTube video of dirt blowing out the back of your mower last July.
Indoor insecticides are never a good idea
Looking for a New Year’s resolution to replace the ones you’ve already broken? Resolve to follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and stop using toxic chemical pesticides in homes with children.
It’s an easy resolution to keep, because chemical sprays are never a good solution, especially indoors. Fleas, roaches and flies, for instance, are much better controlled by traps than sprays. Ant colonies collapse when exposed to otherwise nontoxic boric acid baits. And structural pests such as termites are better deterred by outdoor bait stations and intelligent mulching than toxic trenches.
The next time you feel threatened by a pest, resolve to research the alternatives before you spray.