Proper use of fertilizers is critical to both a healthy lawn and a healthy Bay. iStock
Green, manicured lawns are better at slowing runoff and reducing erosion than hard paved surfaces but they are usually achieved at a high environmental cost. Consider reducing or eliminating your lawn. Bay friendly landscaping helps create filters and habitats to slow runoff and keep sediment and nutrients out of waterways.
Here are eight key steps to ensuring a healthy, beautiful yard and clean rivers and streams:
- Test your soil
Find out what your lawn actually needs to thrive, and find organic, local materials to protect it.
- Feed the soil to feed the lawn: Proper use of fertilizers and compost is critical. Choose natural, organic fertilizers, or create your own organic compost to give your lawn the nutrients—and only those nutrients—it needs. The best alternative to water-soluble chemical fertilizers for your lawn and garden is compost. You can make your own from food waste, grass clippings, yard waste, and other natural ingredients, or purchase it from garden centers.
Nutrient and mineral-rich compost:
- Improves the productivity and health of the soil,
- Increases rainfall and runoff absorption, and
- Slowly releases nitrogen to your plants (and not the Bay) where it is needed the most.
A compost "bin" can be as simple as a pile of leaves left to decompose in a corner of your yard or it can be a purchased container made to speed up the decomposition process.
The best compost is a mix of:
- Two (2) parts "green" material: vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells, wilted flowers, and grass clippings (do not use animal products such as meat or fats); and
- One (1) part "brown" material: raked leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay, sawdust.
- Add water if necessary to keep the pile from drying out, but don't let it get soggy. Turn it every now and then to circulate the material, add oxygen, and speed up decomposition.
- Mow high
Don't cut your grass too short. Taller grasses help prevent weeds, allow roots to reach deeper and reduce runoff, and stay green longer during drought. A height of 2 1/2 to 3 inches is ideal.
- Pick the right grass seed
Do your research to select the best grass for your lawn.
- Water thoughtfully
Don't overwater your lawn. In fact, excess water can cause disease. During the hot summer, it is normal for the grass to go dormant, and the tops of grass blades to go brown.
- Deal with lawn problems safely
Weeds can be removed by hand, or with natural products like corn gluten or vinegar. Most insects and "nuisance" animals, like moles, aerate the soil and are actually good for your lawn!
Use a weed-popper or trowel to remove individual weeds
Spray full strength vinegar on young leaves (works especially well on a hot day)
Burn weeds with a propane torch
Pour boiling water over weeds
Feed lawn with compost or organic fertilizers, so grasses outcompete the weeds
Learn to live with a dandelion or two
- Minimize pollution from lawn equipment
A gas-powered push mover used for one hour produces as much air pollution as ten cars driven the same amount of time.
- Reduce your lawn
Great expanses of grass are not your only option. Consider enlarging flower beds, planting native shrubs under large trees, letting fallen leaves serve as compost, and creating a rain (or wetland) garden in wet areas. Smaller lawns need less water, maintenance (mowing, watering, and fertilizing), and toxic chemicals.
- Determine how much of your lawn you actually use (for a play area, paths and walkways, access to the mailbox, or utility areas).
- Plant alternatives to lawn area, such as islands of trees and shrubs or a no-mow meadow.
- Bring the edge of your property closer by densely planting a mixture of native trees and shrubs. The result in a short time is a wooded area that you don’t have to mow and provides many wildlife benefits.
Creating Living Shorelines (pdf)