Lawns are blamed for all kinds of environmental problems, from pesticide use, to wasteful use of water and even for the moss that grows in shaded lawns. But these are not faults of the lawn.
All of them are the result of unfortunate choices: situating the lawn in the wrong light conditions, and treating it like a synthetic environment.
Taking care of the lawn is easy if we think of it as an ecosystem:
Provide appropriate light conditions - situate the lawn in full sun. Remember that the natural overstorey of grasslands is the sky!
Mow as high as possible while preserving the lawn’s ability to support traffic. Just like trees, grasses preserve the delicate balance between leaf mass (photosynthetic capacity) and root mass (water and nutrient uptake ability). Taller grass results in deeper roots with improved drought tolerance, nutrient uptake, and lawn health in general. This reduces the need for fertilizing and irrigation.
Feed the soil dwelling organisms - always leave the clippings, they are the equivalent to mulch in a garden bed.
Never use synthetic fertilizers, which are highly toxic to the microbes.
If the lawn needs a nutrient boost during the transition, use an organic fertilizer such as kelp or fish meal, or rock dusts such as basalt, granite or glacial moraine dust. These can be applied without a soil nutrient analysis. This eliminates the need for regular fertilizing and liming.
Increase soil biodiversity by applying mycorrhizal fungi or fermenting microorganisms, and by topdressing with compost or applying compost tea. In the long run this won’t be necessary, but it is essential during the transition from conventional to organic practices.
The increased fungal populations reduce thatch to ideal conditions, just enough to protect the grass crowns from traffic injury. This eliminates the need for de-thatching.
Provide sufficient water for optimal ecosystem health. With a reliable food source (grass clippings), and the occasional deep watering, the increased microbial populations will begin to re-structure the soil.
As they rearrange the soil particles to build themselves homes they create the ideal mix of soil pores to increase the soil’s water holding capacity, and provide sufficient air for themselves and for plant roots. Over time, this eliminates the need for aerating and greatly reduces - or even eliminates - the need for irrigation.
And what about weeds? Turf grasses were selected for their aggressiveness, their ability to form dense mats and compete with other species. A healthy, biodiverse lawn will have very few weeds, and chances are they won’t even be noticeable.
Weeds only flourish in a lawn when the growing conditions are unsuitable for the lawn. This is always the case in low light conditions, where the only solution is to remove the source of shade, or grow something other than lawn.
Weeds can also become established when the soil nutrient balance has been impaired due to regular application of synthetic fertilizers and lime.
If - in spite of all the good organic management - the weed populations do not diminish, it’s time to call in an organic land care professional with advanced education in soil and lawn management.
We go much deeper into this topic in our online course, which you can discover here: