Greater and Greener
A well-manicured lawn doesn't just happen; it's the result of a lot of labor and, typically, a lot of water and energy. In pursuit of green grass, homeowners adopt some not-so-green practices. Case in point: Gas-powered lawn tools account for at least five percent of our nation’s carbon emissions. One hour of gas-powered mowing is the equivalent of driving a car for 300 miles! As electric mower technology improves, many homeowners are ditching gas and going electric, but there are other techniques that will help shrink your footprint, and save precious resources and ecosystems. We’ve gone straight to the experts at Troy-Bilt, Craftsman, Sunday, John Deere, and more, for the best yard care practices that contribute to greener grass—and a greener Earth.
Choose the Right Grass
Lawns require a lot of water, and the EPA estimates that 50 percent of water used for landscaping is wasted. Water waste is caused by evaporation—watering at the wrong time of day and also planting the wrong species of grass. According to grass experts at Pennington, “lawn-water conservation starts with growing the right grasses…. Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue, naturally do best in cool, northern zones, while warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass or Zoysia grass, flourish in warmer, southern climes.”
Test Your Soil
Stop indiscriminately applying fertilizer without first testing your soil. Soil testing gives you a detailed picture of the nutrients your soil already has—and what it is lacking. Brands like Sunday are doing their part to ensure soil testing and provide customized fertilizer that can halt waste and encourage stronger, greener growth. Come fall, “you can “top-dress” the soil with a layer of what it’s lacking, such as sand, peat, topsoil or compost,” shares Barbara Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager. Want free compost for your lawn care needs? Here's how to make your own.
Aerate Your Lawn
The lawn care folks at Briggs and Stratton recommend regular aeration for your lawn—perforating the soil with small holes. “[This] can be an extremely vital element to a healthy lawn because it allows air and water to penetrate built-up grass or lawn thatch.” Troy-Bilt’s Barbara Roueche explains further. “Aerating your lawn makes it easier for water, nutrients, sunlight and air to reach the roots.” The best time to aerate the lawn is during the growing season. Applying a thin layer of compost will provide nutrients and help your lawn recover.
According to Sunday’s lawn care team, “You can encourage your roots to work harder for a more self-reliant lawn. Deeper roots are more resourceful. They reach further for water and nutrients and require less care and input.” So how do you grow a self-reliant lawn? “Don’t overwater and find the highest grass height that works for your grass.” In other words, don’t give your lawn a buzz cut.
What, exactly, is the best height for a greener, more self-reliant lawn? Barbara Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager, offers a good rule of thumb: “Between two and 2.5 inches, depending on where you live and the grass type. The grass can use its extra length to absorb the sun, and longer grass doesn’t dry out as quickly.” Confirms Mark Schmidt, Principal Scientist at John Deere, “Follow the one-third rule, which is never cutting off more than one-third of the grass leaf blade during one mowing. “
Early morning watering is best, according to the lawn experts at Craftsman. This allows water to soak in before overhead sunlight causes droplets to evaporate quickly, and promotes deep hydration. You should also be watering much less than you may expect. The Sunday team suggests deep and infrequent watering, once or twice per week, rather than daily. “Watering daily makes grass weak and the weeds and moss love it. Too much water can leave your lawn more susceptible to diseases such as brown patch. Look for these signs that your grass needs water to help guide your watering schedule: Footprints that remain visible for more than 30 minutes or a blue, gray, or purple tint to the grass.”
Practice Grass Cycling
Leave grass clippings on your lawn after mowing—the organic material provides nutrients, meaning you'll use less fertilizer and have less waste overall. The experts at Sunday explain that “grass cycling works best when you cut only a third of the grass blade at a time and your mower blades are well sharpened. This will ensure grass clippings are small and will break down quickly.” Mark Schmidt, Principal Scientist at John Deere suggests using a mulching blade or kit, like John Deere’s MulchControl kit. “This produces shorter clippings that can work their way down through the turf canopy better and decompose more quickly, releasing the natural nutrients back into the turf system.”
Overdo anything and you’ll see problems—such is the case with the application of manmade fertilizers. According to Lawnstarter.com, “Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from fertilizers, particularly in their fast-release form, have caused such significant environmental damage that 25 states have limited fertilizer use. And on an individual lawn level, synthetic fertilizers actually work against natural soil health.” Shift your focus from green grass to soil health, and commit to using only fertilizers derived from plant and animal sources in your garden and lawn, like compost or manure. If opting for manmade fertilizers, choose those that are tailor-made for the unique conditions of your soil so as to deliver only the nutrients that your lawn actually needs.
Maintain Your Tools
Did you know that a dull mower blade can turn grass brown? That’s because it shreds rather than cuts the tips of grass, weakening your lawn overall. Barbara Roueche of Troy-Bilt encourages lawn enthusiasts to “vary your mowing pattern every few weeks, by mowing in horizontal stripes, diagonally, plaid, criss-cross and even circles. This not only looks great but also helps encourage growth and can prevent the soil from becoming compacted.”
Reducing the size of lawn you mow regularly can cut down on your water and energy use significantly. But how to keep up a manicured appearance? Simple. “Allow parts of large areas to grow, only mowing once or twice a season, creating a natural meadow. You can still mow areas near drives and homes to maintain the more formal manicured effects in such highly visible and high traffic areas,” encourages Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont. You may even wish to plant native wildflowers, which will typically survive without any work on your part, in no-mow areas to provide a haven for beautiful butterflies.
Whether you're a lawn care novice or a master gardener, everyone can use a little help around the yard. Subscribe to The Dirt newsletter for tips, recommendations, and problem-solving tools that can help you tame your great outdoors.