Fall Fix-ups For the Yard, Part I

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Here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the leaves are just beginning to make their annual journey from the tree tops to the ground below.  It reminds me that Autumn is a wonderful time to get outside amongst the brilliantly-colored leaves and the crisp air, and get the yard ready for next Spring.  By following these tips, you’ll ensure that you’ll have a lush lawn, healthy trees & shrubs, and a colorful landscape.

THE LAWN

Of course, one of the greenest things you can do outdoors is to minimize lawn areas.  The lawn as we know it has many negative effects on the environment.  First, it consumes a lot of water; is typically cared for using synthetic pesticides and other chemicals that are detrimental to clean air, water, soil, and human and animal health;  and is typically composed of non-native species of grass, which affects biodiversity.  Plus, lawns are high maintenance!

Substitutions for lawns include mulch and/or flower beds of native plants, xeriscaping, and incorporating rock gardens and riverbeds of recycled glass.

Since most of us have some grassy areas in our yards, the next greenest thing we can do is use natural lawn care:

Aerating:  Fall is a great time to aerate your lawn to loosen up compacted soil where water and nutrients are unable to reach the grass’ root system.  For a small lawn, use a pitch fork to punch holes in the soil every few inches.  For larger areas, rent a walk-behind aerator at your local garden center.  Be sure to avoid any sprinkler heads.  After aerating, add a light coating of a sand-and-compost mixture to further improve drainage. The rich compost will also help feed the turf.  For a denser turf, follow by over-seeding thin areas of lawn with grass seed blends recommended for your area.

Mowing:  Mow regularly and remember that mulching mowers leave grass clippings (not clumps) on the lawn, which also helps to feed the soil.  Be sure not to mow shorter than 3″ to avoid the scorching your lawn and the invasion of crabgrass and other weeds.

Watering: Whether you have an established lawn, or newly seeded areas, watering can be done with rainwater collected in rain barrels.  Not only does this minimize the demand of our precious resource and strain on public water systems, but it also reduces your water bills.  Water deeply, but infrequently, to moisten the whole root zone.  Let the soil dry between waterings to prevent lawn disease and save water. Lawns need only about one inch of water a week in summer, including rain, to stay green.

Fertilizing / Composting:  The best method is natural and organic.  Compost goes a long way in keeping your yard nice and healthy.  It helps sandy soils hold nutrients and water, loosens clay soils, and feeds the beneficial soil life so it can feed and protect your plants.  Dig or rototill 1 – 3 inches of compost into 6 – 12 inches of top soil when planting new lawns (or making new flower beds). Top dress existing lawns with a 1/4 – 1/2 inch of compost every Spring or Fall.  Whenever possible, avoid using phosphorus fertilizers since they wreak havoc on beneficial soil life, as well as on aquatic life, when washed away by rain into waterways. If your grass is really waning, it may need a dose of nutrients.  The best way to determine exactly what your soil (and grass) needs, is to have the soil tested every few years.  You can obtain information and soil testing boxes from your local Agricultural Extension Service office.  Locate one here.

Weeding:  The best defense against weed invasions is a healthy lawn. Manually pulling, digging, or hoeing goes a long way in keeping your yard weed-free.  Also, pull weeds before they go to seed and spread.  Mowing weeds prior to flowering can reduce spreading, as long as clippings are collected.

Pesticides:  Pesticides sprayed on lawns have been banned in many countries due to the damaging effects they have on birds, beneficial insects, fish, wildlife and domesticated animals, and human beings.  By following the aforementioned tips, you’ll be doing your part to help the environment.

Sources:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cornell University, and Integrated Pest Management for Turf Managers.

photo by Ruthanne Reid

Tag(s): Green Living, Hazardous Products / Health Issues, The Great Green Outdoors

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