Lawn Care: How Green is Your Grass?
by Judy McClure UC Master
Gardener Program Coordinator, Sacramento County Cooperative Extension
Although often labeled as a water and energy hog, lawns remain a significant
part of the home landscape. By establishing small, practical areas planted with
turf species that require less water and implementing simple maintenance
practices, you can have a nice lawn and also be environmentally responsible.
Amazingly, the inevitable, unwanted brown spots that appear in our lawns are
seldom the result of insects. More often improper lawn care, ill-timed watering
or a grass variety not suited to your yard are the causes of unhealthy areas.
Many problems can be eliminated by performing routine maintenance on sprinkler
heads, evaluating mowing practices and using care when applying fertilizers.
In order for a lawn to thrive, it must have a strong, vigorous root system.
Lack-luster root growth can often be traced back to an irrigation issue or
compacted soil. Contact your water agency to schedule a free irrigation system
evaluation. When water puddles or runs off without soaking in, increase water
movement down to the roots by aerating during the cool spring months.
At each mowing, cut only 1/3 of grass height and keep the mower blades sharp.
Mowing too low removes too much of the food producing area. As the grass
literally starves, the lawn thins and looks poor. Incorporate grasscycling; the
natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn. The clippings
decompose quickly and release valuable nutrients back into the soil, reducing
your fertilizer requirements. This simple practice will also eliminate a large
amount of green waste from going to our landfills.
If feeding is necessary, use a slow-release fertilizer when grass is actively
growing and apply no more than the recommended rates. Too much or improperly
applied fertilizer can injure lawns and may contribute to water pollution
through runoff. If excess nitrogen is applied too frequently, shoots will
continue to grow yet root growth will slow, leaving the turf vulnerable to
insects and disease.
Save your money by holding off on applying insecticides and herbicides. Prior
to treatment, utilize non-toxic management methods and verify that a damaging
level of an identified insect is the problem. A vigorously growing lawn will
crowd out most weeds; consider tolerating the few that do appear.
No two lawns are exactly alike. Lawns may differ by turf species, soil type,
climate, location, how they are used and how they are maintained. To tailor a
program with the specifics of your situation in mind visit the UC Guide to
www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF. Master Gardeners are available at 987-6913,
to assist you with lawn care questions.
The result of investing a little time evaluating the sprinklers and mower,
plus using care with fertilizers and pesticides will result in a lawn that is
both attractive and environmentally friendly.