The Green Outdoors

Cultivating a great lawn doesn’t have to mean chemical fertilizers, exotic plants and lots and lots of watering.
An enviable emerald lawn might not be as “green” as it looks. Consider how these efforts to achieve curb appeal take a toll on the environment:

A bed of exotic plants that traveled for days to get to Ohio certainly isn’t native — or low-maintenance. Frequent fertilizer applications may green up your grass, but don’t watch as excess product makes a bee-line into the drainage system. And watering during the day is fun for the kids, who love the rainbow sprinkler, but the midday timing couldn’t be worse.

“You can have a landscape you are proud of that is not a major source of pollution,” says Alec McClennan, owner of Good Nature Organic Lawn Care in Brooklyn Heights.

In many respects, your success with an organic lawn-care program depends on your expectations. Some people don’t mind a few weeds. “Others want their lawn to look like Jacobs Field,” McClennan quips.

Your lawn probably won’t look flawless if you choose organic lawn care, but you can rest assured that the products you use won’t harm the environment, McClennan adds.

Besides turf-care, starting a compost bin and choosing appropriate plants for this region and your particular property will also save resources, notes Bill Soeder, partner in Bill Soeder Landscape.

Here, turf professionals offer some tips for a greener landscape, color aside.

If you have an available 6-by-6-foot spot on your property, you can compost. “Composting is probably one of the lost arts in our day and age,” Bill Soeder says. The trick to healthy compost is combining green and brown materials with air. “You make up a great organic matter that plants love and thrive on,” he describes.

Green can come from grass clippings, brown from leaf material or died-back perennials. Turn the material regularly — every week for smaller areas, and monthly for large compost piles, Soeder suggests.

The resulting material is great plant and turf food. “You can churn compost into your flower beds or topdress your lawn with it after fall aeration,” he notes.
Natural Care

You can prevent insects, weeds and disease with alternatives to chemicals. Alec McClennan, of Good Nature Organic Lawn Care, provides solutions to some lawn-care concerns:
Insects. Thatch, or undecomposed plant material that results from compacted soil, is a home for insects. “They love thatch,” McClennan says. The more thatch, the more disease and insects, which eventually eat brown spots out of your lawn.

Not sure if your lawn has thatch? Try driving a screw into the soil. If you feel like you’re driving metal into rock, your soil is compacted. Also, if you notice matted-down turf areas or sparse new growth, compaction could be the problem.
Don’t blame grass clippings for steel-wool turf. “Clippings decompose easily — they are mostly water,” McClennan says. “Thatch is mostly dead roots and stems that don’t decompose as well, so really, leaving clippings on your lawn is helpful.”

So is annual aeration, which basically cleans out clogged soil pores and prepares turf for new growth. When soil is packed tight, roots can’t push through and turf plants weaken. This results in insects, disease and an undesirable-looking lawn.
Worn-out turf. While fertilizers are often used to perk up a sad-looking lawn, your turf may not actually need all of the nutrients contained in fertilizers, McClennan explains. “Muriate of potash is used in a lot of chemical fertilizers, and when it reacts with metals in the soil, it releases a chlorine gas,” he says. “It is a very small amount, but it can kill soil microbes.”

Natural lawn care is dependent on encouraging soil microbial life, he notes. Generally, soil with low potassium content is less resistant to heat stress. So an alternative to strengthen turf is a mixture of green sand and natural sulfate of potash. “This is kind of a multivitamin that contains a lot of potassium and helps the soil hold water better,” McClennan explains.
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