Friday, April 2, 2010

My lawn

When I was raising children (including teen-agers), lawn care seemed very unimportant. I mowed mine with a non-power mower, and that was that.
I thought it probably wasn't the worst in the neighborhood, a standard that was plenty good enough. My children and career were far more important.

The summer of 1987 was my empty nest summer. That August I took my garden cart to the front yard after dinner each evening and weeded. I got better acquainted with my neighbors and felt some zen. Each evening for about three weeks I filled the garden cart with weeds from my 20' x 45' lawn. After scattering a bit of compost on the bare spots, I sowed "Lawns Alive" seeds from Gardens Alive. The lawn has looked fine for 22.5 years. Some say it is the best in the neighborhood.

The reason I went through that trouble was that TWO landscapers had told me, "If you don't have weeds, you don't get any." I had been picking up grass clippings to mulch my garden and they had proudly said, "There are no poisons on those grass clippings." Their statement about weeds was in response to my question, "Why does the lawn look so good?"

That's when I learned that you don't have to use chemicals or pesticides to have a good lawn. If I once got the weeds out, I might have a model lawn without them.
Their promise wasn't quite true. I do spend five minutes weeding my lawn by hand about six times a year. I probably spend a total of a half hour a year weeding my lawn. That's not much more than some people spend putting down chemicals, including shopping time.

A passer-by who claimed to be a part-time landscaper said that landscapers hawk fertilizers because they can charge $40 an application, for which they pay only $20 and it takes them only a few minutes to put it down. I don't know how true that is, but I do know that if you don't have weeds, pesticides are a waste of money among other problems. They are also strongly associated with dog and child cancer. One study concluded that dogs who play on a lawn with pesticides develop seven times as much cancer as those who play on a pesticide-free lawn.

If a part of my lawn looks a bit tired, I put on gloves and hand-scatter compost on that part of the lawn. That's fine fertilizer and seems to cure diseases without asking questions.

I have never used any power machinery on my lawn, which maintains the micro and worm life. Folks who care about national security or climate change will abstain from power machinery. Many of us believe that person-power lawn mowers are just as fast (or faster) than machine power lawn mowers anyway. Leaf blowers are simply unspeakable today.

Today six people came and removed over a foot-wide strip of strawberry plants that were invading my lawn. One of them asked what seeds I would sow in the empty strip. I told him that I haven't sown lawn seed since 1987. After my helpers left, I dug up the grass in the back yard that was invading my garden and transplanted it to the newly empty spot in the front yard. I hope to finish the job tomorrow. Strawberries win over grass, but grass wins over vegetables, so it's important to move things around if we are to maintain a suburban look.

My other advice in maintaining a lawn is to never water it. This is remarkably easy. Try it! Then your lawn's roots will go down deep. Your lawn will stay green when others are withering in a drought, no matter how frantically they water. After the water ban is lifted, your lawn will green up faster than the neighbors'.

Trina has converted her front yard to flowers and fruit trees, and that is nice. Another friend has shrubs surrounded by wood chips. You don't HAVE to have a lawn. When my back yard was being converted to vegetables, my mother said I had to maintain the front yard for children to play in, which made sense. Now I like having a lawn for the party-like "fairs" in the front yard during my open gardens. (The next will be Saturdays April 24 and May 22 from 9:00 to 11:00 AM.)

Also, it appeals to my educator instinct to show the world that you can have a lovely lawn with no poisons, chemicals, power machinery, or watering. Once established, it doesn't take much time. And it's fun!


P.S. Debbie responded to this with an email including the following, which I find extremely interesting. Why in the world would homeowners object to their landscapers using push mowers?
"I live on a street (in Livingston) with a sandwich shop on the corner frequented by many landscapers. A few while passing have given me the thumbs up and a few have stopped and said they wished their clients would allow them to push mow. It's much better for the grass."

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