Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy
by Paul Wheaton
in a nutshell:
- Set your
mower as high as it will go (3 to 4 inches).
- Water only
when your grass shows signs of drought stress and then water deeply
(put a cup in your sprinkler zone and make sure it gets at least
an inch of water).
with an organic fertilizer in the fall and spring. I recommend
the Ringer brand.
- Have the
pH of your soil professionally tested. Add lime if it is below
6.0 and gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0.
- How much
top soil do you have? See how deep a shovel will go into the soil.
How deep can you dig a hole in one minute? Four inches of topsoil
will make for an okay lawn. Eight or more inches of topsoil will
make for a great lawn.
the verbose details on lawn care:
A little knowledge
makes it so damn near anything can qualify for the "cheap and
lazy" label. Including lawn care. Organic is just a bonus.
grass vs. weed competition
The key to
the lawn care game is competition. You want to make things favorable
for the grass and unfavorable for the weeds so the grass will choke
out the weeds. Naturally.
must do: mow high
There is a
fight for sun. If the grass doesn't shade the weed, the weed will
shade the grass. Sun is food. Food is strength and life. Shade is
weakness, disease and death. Grass will shade the weeds only if
it is tall enough. The shade of tall, dense grass turf will prevent
essential light from reaching most weeds and, will aid in the destruction
of new baby weed seedlings (such as the notorius dandelion).
mow high one week later MYTH: "If I mow short, it will be longer
until I have to mow again." False! Wrong! (SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!)
Your grass needs grass blades to do photosynthesis (convert sunshine
into sugar) to feed the roots. When you whack the blades off, the
grass has to RACE to make more blades to make sugar. It then grows
amazingly fast. This fast growth uses up a lot of the grass's stored
sugar, and weakens the plant. It is now vulnerable to disease and
pests! Tall grass is healthier and can use the extra sugar to make
rhizomes (more grass plants) thus thickening the turf. Have you
ever noticed that short grass in the summer is always riddled with
dead brown patches?
If you have
a serious weed infestation, consider mowing twice as frequently
as you normally do. The sensitive growing point for grass is near
the soil. The sensitive growing point for most weeds is near the
top of the plant. So when you mow, it's as if you are giving your
grass a haircut and cutting the heads off of the weeds.
mowing, be sure to leave the clippings on the lawn. It adds organic
matter and nutrients back into the soil. If you don't leave the
clippings, your soil will begin to look more like "dirt"
than soil. Soon it will be a form of cement that nothing will grow
in and you will have the world's most pitiful lawn. Some people
are concerned about "clumping" that only happens
when you mow too short or when you don't mow often enough.
gives the following perks:
- more shade
to the soil leads to less watering
- deeper roots
which leads to less watering
turf which leads to fewer weeds
- slower growth
which leads to less mowing
this pic. Someone started to mow and then I convinced them, as an
experiment, to set their mower higher. This pic was taken about
six days later as summer is setting in. Can you see the difference?
My lawn care
mower of choice? The "Scott's
Classic" manual mower. When you mow high, it doesn't take
much effort to mow. It is easier with a manual than a heavy, noisy,
stinky gas mower. The Scott's Classic is the only manual mower that
I know of that can mow three inches. The others top out at 2.5 inches
or less. It's at amazon.com.
series of wacky events led me to try a cordless
electric mower. Wow! Exceptionally lightweight and quiet!
I definitely prefer it over the manual mower. Despite the higher
price, I bought one! I like it that much! There is a bigger
one with more whizbangery, if that's what you're into.
It is my opinion
that when it comes to lawn care, mowing high is, by far, the most
been a lot of discussion about this in our forum. Visit the
thread about lawn mowers.
must do: water infrequently
force your grass roots to go deep into the soil. Deeper than most
weed roots. As the top few inches of soil becomes bone dry, the
weeds and weed seedlings up there die while the grass still enjoys
moisture from a little deeper.
watering encourages "thatch" (the grass propogates with
above-soil runners (like strawberry runners) rather than rhizomes
under the soil there gets to be so many runners that they
weave a mat that chokes out water and air). Since the roots are
in the top inch or two of soil, a hot day will quickly dry the soil
and much of the grass will brown. Weeds and weed seedlings looooove
a daily watering. It's just what they need for a good start.
to tell when it is time to water:
- The grass
will start to curl before it turns brown. When it starts to curl,
that is the best time to water. Anything after that is time for
"intensive care watering" (water half an inch, wait
three hours and water an inch).
- Take a shovel
and stick it into the soil about six inches. Keep the sun to your
left or to your right when you do this. Push the handle forward.
If you can see any moisture, wait. If it's all dry, water. If
you can't get your shovel to go into the soil this deep, you need
The first method
is the best especially if you have not yet trained your grass
to make deep roots.
a schedule does not help in the war on weeds.
A tip for
lawn care experts: If you have a good feel for how often your lawn
needs watering and it is almost that time and there is a rain shower
maybe a quarter of an inch that is the BEST time to
water your lawn and give it that other 3/4 of an inch. Remember,
the grass roots are down deep and most weed roots are near the surface.
The idea is to keep the top three inches of soil as dry as you can
for as long as you can. That quarter of an inch might make it so
that your top three inches is well watered but the lower 9 to 20
inches is on the edge of being pretty dry. This gives the weeds
some advantage over your grass!
about lawn care watering: I have discovered that if you are going
to water an inch, it is better to water half an inch, wait 90 minutes
and then water another half an inch. Maybe do this once a month.
Sometimes when the soil gets really dry, it will repel water. This
is called "superdeflocculation" (I think Mary Poppins
would be impressed with this word!). If you put a little water in
first, wait, and then put more, the soil is better prepared to take
in more water.
dry sponge so dry it is stiff. And another sponge, slightly
damp soft and well wrung out. Now pour a cup of water onto
each. The water runs off of the first sponge and all over the table.
The water is soaked into the second sponge, not a drop is lost.
water has a strange and powerful attraction to itself. It would
much rather stick to itself than disperse through the soil.
every time you water, you wash away soil nutrients. So the less
you water, the more fertile your soil!
One last point
about watering deeply: If your topsoil is only two inches deep,
laying down an inch of water is a bad idea. An inch of water is
good for watering 12 inches of soil. Further, an inch of water will
effectively carry a lot of soil nutrients down deeper. So if your
soil is only two inches deep, this rinses away a lot of your soil
nutrients! So deep watering should be done only in conjunction with
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