Lawn, Yawn

weedhoundYes, I know, there’s nothing more boring than lawn care, but here’s how to do it easily and in an environmentally friendly way. Earlier this week a group of students from Caledon Countryside Alliance came to our house, thanks to a government grant, and told us, for free, how to look after our lawn while also conserving water and without using chemicals and other unnatural methods. I promised to share this with my neighbours, and I thought some readers might be interested, too. Here is what I learned:

  • Weed removal: You can buy a fairly ergonomic and efficient weed removing tool like the Weed Hound pictured at right for about $25. Here’s how you use it: Centre it over the weed. Press down on the foot step. Twist one full turn, Pull up. Use the release knob to drop the weed. Sprinkle a handful of clean topsoil over the hole (and perhaps a bit of grass seed) and press in with your shoe. If you use a wheelbarrow for the weeds and keep a bag of topsoil in it, you can cover a lot of ground quickly and painlessly — no bending. And of course you compost the weeds. It doesn’t work for spreading weeds or thistles, but works for most lawn weeds. Don’t remove clover, which is good for your lawn.
  • Weed prevention: The best way to prevent weeds in the first place is by
    • aerating the lawn each fall when it’s moist but not wet (you can rent machines, different for clay vs. sandy soils)
    • where grass is thin, overseeding (spring and/or fall — use stiff rake to dethatch first, cover seed with natural compost 1/4 inch deep and mix seed in with the back of a rake, water for 15 days thereafter); you can rent a machine that both dethatches and overseeds, and many towns and farms now sell organic, sterile compost
    • mulching and leaving glass clippings on your lawn
    • cutting lawn no shorter than 3″ and cut no more than 1/3 of grass height each time (if top of grass blades are white, sharpen mower blade)
    • watering (mornings or evenings) no more than once a week, but when you do, water well (1″ depth — put a can beside your hose to see how long that takes), and allow grass to go dormant in hot periods; use a rain-barrel (with an insect-proof cover) to capture and conserve water, and put a timer on your sprinkler
    • using hardy grass types like ryes and fescues appropriate for the soil, topography and rainfall of your area, or all-fescue ecolawn
    • these techniques should prevent the commonest weeds such as dandelion, crabgrass, dollar spot and summer patch
  • Insect infestation:
    • for chinch bugs (brown-yellow patches near paved areas) dethatch, apply diatomaceous earth (phytoplankton, available at garden stores) in recommended quantities, and apply soap and water every two weeks
    • for white grubs (spongy dead patches) dethatch, apply nematodes (available at garden stores) in early fall, overseed
  • Weeds in patios and sidewalks: Use boiling water or horticultural vinegar to get rid of them naturally
  • Hilly lawn areas: Plant drought-resistant trees and bushes to reduce erosion — use native species in your lawns and gardens (for Canada there is a great database of them here and the best trees for hills in our area are trembling aspen, sugar maples, white and paper birch, American beech, white ash, red oak, and white pine — anyone know of such a database in other countries?)
  • Wet areas: In very wet low-lying areas plant water-tolerant species like sedges, rushes, willow shrubs, dogwood and cedars to absorb some of the moisture
  • Leaf removal: Mulch leaves in the fall and leave up to 1/4 inch on lawn; rake and compost the rest
  • Soil testing: Many places will do a soil analysis for you for $10 (in Canada many Loblaws/Zehrs stores offer this service); that will tell you how often to aerate, what grass will grow best, what weeds and bugs you’ll be prone to etc.
  • Allow areas to go native: If you have a lot of lawn, consider planting native trees, shrubs and flowers in place of parts of it instead. These species require very little maintenance, since they belong in your area naturally and are less likely to be crowded out by invasive plants and exotic pests. This doesn’t mean letting whatever grows grow, because the first native species to show up when an area is allowed to return to its natural state can be pretty ugly. Choose your native plants purposefully.

Save water, save time, save your health, save the environment. And say no to toxic chemicals.

This entry was posted in Preparing for Civilization's End. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Lawn, Yawn

  1. Very cool. I’d love to see more such posts in the future. Outlines, organized, help me see the big picture and the smaller tasks within — even as a non-homeowner, I’m impressed.

  2. David says:

    Just a little warning. I used the Weed Hog for about 5 years — went through 2 of them. What I found is that the Hog digs a small hole where the weed was, but rather often left enough of the roots growing around it to then sprout from an expanded circle around the hole. Very irritating. Outside of that, you’re dead on …

  3. NOT boring! This is the important little stuff from which a revolution in sustainability emerges. Keep up the good owrk! (oops, I mean “work”, but that looked so funny I left it.)

  4. debbie says:

    Hey, this was really useful. We are trying to work our way out of “lawn” and into some less needy landscaping, but (*sigh*) we still have lawn and we still want it to look GOOD. Thanks!

  5. I’d like to add: consider planting ground cover, something like creeping thyme, in some areas. Weeds don’t like it, it’s pretty, it smells nice, and it’s soft on the feet. It also doesn’t turn brown if it hasn’t been watered in a few days :)

  6. Pearl says:

    There’s aother weed solution. Lee Valley Tools sells a water wand. It is a narrow long metal pipe you can attach to your water hose. You aim it at tap root weeds, turn on the water and turn the soil momentarily into swirling watery dirt, loosening the root, lift out, the soil settles leaving no mark.

  7. David Pratt says:

    Thanks Dave, for another great post! Here is a United States EPA site that promotes native plant landscaping.

  8. Mike Ogilvie says:

    These tips are great! The rain-barrel tip was incomplete though. I’ve been looking everywhere to figure out how I can use rain-barrel water in a lawn sprinkler system. I can’t find anything. I can certainly find plenty of information on setting up a rain-barrel (roof recovery) system. But how do I tap into that water? Do I have to buy a pump? How does it work? Of course, no one locally has a clue.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks for the additions, comments and clarifications, all. Mike, try this guy for info on rainbarrels.

  10. rita says:

    As a regular reader of your site I am disappointed. Although I live in Sydney with a very different climate, the colonial land-scaping of settlers is probably very similar in both countries.I appreciate, that an effort is made to reduce the wasteful, toxic and noisy forms of industrial gardening, but the main concern is still to impose a mono-culture, often introduced, that requires the Earth

  11. Malc says:

    The hardest thing to fight here in the south is the white grub. I thought your comments were real good. I enjoy your site.

  12. tree nursery says:

    TN Nursery is a state certified tree nursery specializing in native plants and trees, shrubs, fern, and perennials as well as pond plants and wetland mitigation.

Comments are closed.