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Lawn Basics

Making your lawn or landscape toxic-free might seem like a daunting task, but, rest assured, the process is no more complicated or costly than maintaining a chemical landscape. Here are the basics for maintaining a PRFCT (toxic-free!) lawn and landscape

1. Soil: the foundation for plant health is deep roots and efficient nutrient uptake. Healthy soil contains organisms that fight lawn and landscape pests. Chemicals destroy these organisms. Promote healthy soil with proper watering, mowing, aeration and compost.

2. Water: Over watering promotes shallow rooting, fungus diseases, mosquitos, and nutrient run off. Do not start watering when your irrigation system is turned on in spring, wait until the soil dries down to 4” or so. Do not let your irrigation company set the irrigation clock; they are water delivery experts, not lawn experts. Encourage deep roots by watering deeply but infrequently. In temperate climates this generally means a maximum of 2x per week in the hottest weather, for at least an hour per zone. Water less, or not at all, during cool periods.

3. Mowing: Mow high: 3.5-4”. Longer leaf blades collect more sun, provide more energy to roots, shade out weeds and prevent rapid moisture loss. Mow often: remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a time. Mow sharp: dull mower blades tear grass which invites fungus infections. Use a mulching mower and leave clippings in place.

4. Aeration: Aerate annually in the fall, more often in high traffic areas. Aeration reduces compaction and encourages better drainage and incorporation of nutrient.

5. Feeding: Feed the soil, not the plants. Leave grass clippings, they return nutrients to the soil. Mulch mow leaves and rake them into shrub and tree areas as mulch. Feed lawns in fall only. Spring fertilization encourages fast, weak growth, invigorates weeds and invites disease problems in hot weather. Use compost, compost tea, or slow-release, organic fertilizer, they stimulate soil health and are also less likely to run off, reducing the risk for watershed pollution.

6. Overseeding: Cut short, rake and over seed in early fall when grass seed germinates best and weed seeds are dormant. Grass will then out compete weeds in spring. Do not cut short or rake in spring which provides opportunities for weeds.

7. Diversity: Clover fixes nitrogen (natural fertilizer) and fills gaps in lawns. Dandelions are excellent aerators and are soon overwhelmed by the healthy, taller turf they pioneered.

8. Letting go: Trees and shrubs are, in most cases, able to take care of themselves, especially in a well-managed toxic-free landscape. Before resorting to sprays, determine and fix the cause and avoid continual treatment of symptoms. If you must spray, use naturally derived substances, but keep in mind, they will probably kill beneficial insects as well as your target pest. Organic sprays should be applied early or late in the day to avoid contact with pollinators. Note: PEP does not support the use of tick sprays. They are toxic to you and your family, kill beneficial insects, pollute water and the environment. They create a false sense of security as they cannot possibly kill all the ticks in a yard, and the ticks come right back. Even the organic ones are harmful to beneficial insects. Instead, protect yourself and your children with frequently applied personal repellents, just like sunscreen, and do a body check daily.

9. Participation: A healthy, pest resistant lawn, like a healthy body, is a process. With consistent inputs of intelligence, rather than products, you will produce a balanced ecosystem that is resilient and resistant to environmental stresses. It is interesting and rewarding.

10. Higher education: Read through our Resources section for an in-depth view of the PRFCT process.

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The Basics of Nature Based LandCare, a free LeafLet is available in English and Spanish for you to download, use and share.