Lazy Lawn Care

Posted by on April 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm.
KC kitty in the lawn

Fetch kitty in the lawn

Well, for us the lazy part may have to wait until next year.  You see, we got so busy in the fall that we didn’t over seed with winter rye grass and now we have weeds popping up everywhere.  But here is the basic idea of lazy lawn care.

  1. Over seed with winter rye.  Of course this is number one.  The rye grass shades the ground so that sun-loving weed seeds never get a chance to germinate in the spring and the rye grass makes a great green fertilizer.  Plus, the rye grass is gorgeous all winter long with no effort from you.  Our lawn (way back when) looked like a beautiful waving sea of green – so green that it almost hurt to look at.
  2. In the spring, as soon as you see any weeds start to appear, put out agricultural corn gluten meal.  This is NOT the corn meal that you buy at the grocery store.  You can find it at a feed mill or one the the garden centers that carries organics.  Corn gluten meal is 60% protein and 10% nitrogen (so it feeds your grass also).  It contains dipeptides (glutaminyl-glutamine, glycinyl-alanine, alaninyl-glutamine, alaninyl-asparagine and alaninyl-alanine) that inhibit root formation in seeds.  How’s that for a bit of fun science fact?  Because of the suppression of root formation, you only want to use corn gluten meal on a mature lawn and don’t use it at the same time that you try to seed your lawn or you will just waste your money.
  3. Mow high, mow often, and leave the clippings.  Set your lawn mower to the higher end of the scale for your particular grass.  This gives the grass an edge against the hot Texas summer by shading the roots.  Mow once a week to chop the heads off of those weeds that made it past the winter rye and corn gluten meal.  Grass can handle cutting, but weeds tend to not deal as well with it.  But if you have been gone for a while and the grass has gotten really tall, don’t cut it all the way back down at once because it can stress the roots.  Cut it back further a little at a time.  Leave the clippings to feed the soil unless they are big wet mats, which should be removed to the compost pile.  DON’T SCALP YOUR LAWN!  It just stresses it out and leaves you with bare spots.  Also, keep your mower  blade sharp.  Grass does much better when it is cut rather than torn.  Don’t mow wet grass because it can spread disease.
  4. Remove deep rooted weeds, like dandelions, by hand.  Dandelions, much to John’s dismay, are actually good for the plants around them because the bring needed nutrients from deep underground up to where other plants can use it.  By removing them by hand, you are also aerating the soil.
  5. If you must “kill” weeds, do it in a way that doesn’t do long term harm to the soil.  Try pouring boiling water on it.  Hot veggie water from steaming is great for this because it’s a two for one deal – dead weeds and fed plants.  Better yet, accept a few weeds.  The lawn is actually healthier with a few weeds here and there because they lure in beneficial insects that help protect your plants.  Diversity is always healthier than a monoculture.  I have actually tried to encourage the clover in our yard because it helps fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.
  6. Water seldom but deeply.  If you water too often, the roots look for water (and air!) only near the surface.  This can be a real problem when the heat kicks in.  If you let the soil dry out between watering, the roots go deeper looking for water.  In fact, don’t water at all.  Grasses are some of the most hardy plants on the planet, especially if you plant grasses that are suited for the area.  Sure it may turn a little brown, but it will green right back up when the water comes.  Water early in the morning is best.   And if you have a sprinkler system, for heaven’s sake, don’t water when there has been a down pour and the ground is water logged.  That is just wasteful.  The clay soils here really can’t deal with much more than about 1″ at a time and the runoff carries nutrients away from your lawn, where they might be need, into lakes, rivers and streams where they are not only not needed but cause a cycle called eutrophication.  That’s bad.
  7. Aerate the hard packed spots.  You can do this mechanically by renting a machine at Home Depot or Lowes (kind of expensive) or with a garden fork.  You can also do it mechanically by pulling those dandelions or by walking around with special spiked sandals that fit on to your shoes.  Mechanical aeration is easier done, especially with clay soils, right after a rain.  An even easier and lazier way to aerate your lawn is to get the earthworms and other dirt dwellers to do the work for you.  Put out compost on your lawn a couple of times a year to encourage them and to feed the soil.  Dry molasses is another great soil food.  You can find it at the feed mill along with the corn gluten meal.
  8. The easiest way to deal with lawns is to landscape them out of existence and plant drought tolerant perennials and annuals instead.  If that’s not an option though, go with the most drought tolerant grass you can find, like buffalo grass, or a grass alternative like clover and conserve the water.
  9. Apply an organic fertilizer at the beginning of March and the beginning of June, but never in the heat of July and August.  It is just too hard on it.  Have your soil tested to see what might be lacking (I know that Lowes will test for free in early spring) and then add organic amendments as needed.  Don’t use chemical fertilizers.  Most of it will just end up in our waterways and wreak havoc on those aquatic system even to the point of causing massive fish kills.
  10. Pest control – it’s just not usually a problem in organic lawns.  If you have problems with fire ants, though, try boiling water on the mound followed by a treatment of beneficial nematodes.  Nematodes are microscopic worms that infect and kill the ants.  For fleas, ants and chiggers, you can treat the lawn with agricultural (not pool) diatomaceous earth or DE.  DE  must be used on a dry lawn on a calm day and you need to wear a mask to protect your lungs.  DE is the silicon shell of microscopic organisms called diatoms and it is a powder that, to you and me, feels as soft as silk, but to a bug it feels and acts like shards of glass.  DE is obviously not discriminate and will kill good bugs as well as bad so only use it if you have to.

There.  I think that’s it.  And yes, we had to learn most of these things the hard way.  It’s OK if that’s how you learn best too.


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