We all want a healthy lawn, but lush, green grass shouldn't mean smelly, green lakes. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your lawn, along with tools for talking to the media about lawn mowing practices.
Tips for homeowners
Lawn mowing media packet
Summer tip sheet
Watershed and Lawn Care Tip Sheet
Keep grass clippings out of the street! Leave your clippings on the lawn whenever possible. Mulching mowers and mulching attachments for mowers reduce the size of grass clippings, thus increasing the rate at which they decompose. Mowing on a regular basis with a sharp mower blade produces clippings that decompose fairly quickly. They do not contribute to thatch build-up because when they decompose they become a valuable organic source of nutrients for grass plants. In fact, yearly nitrogen applications may be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 when grass clippings are left on the lawn.
Stop running your sprinklers in the rain! If you have a timer that lets your sprinklers do the thinking for you, buy a rain sensor at your local garden center for about $20 and end the insanity.
Water the lawn, not the pavement! If you are going to use a sprinkler to water your lawn or garden, please, check to ensure that you are not watering your driveway, the road, or your neighbor’s face. For gardens, many people find that soaker hoses are more effective than sprinklers at getting the water to your plants.
Don’t let your lawn become a swimming pool! Grass is not an aquatic plant, and it does not need to be saturated in water 24 hours a day to survive. In fact, the roots of turf grass cannot absorb more than 1 inch of water at a time. Try this silly trick to keep from over-watering your lawn. Place an empty tuna can in an unobtrusive location on your lawn before you turn the sprinklers on. When it is full, the grass has had enough water. When all of the water in the can evaporates, it is time to water again. (Note that you might not have to water more than once a week, or at all if it rains!)
Avoid scorching your lawn! The roots of turf grass are generally as long as the above ground height of the lawn. That means that the taller your grass is, the better it can absorb water and the greener it will be. Taller grass also makes it harder for weeds to germinate. When you do mow the lawn, set your cut height a bit higher (2.5 – 3.5 inches) to avoid scorching.
Soften your soil! Does it seem like all the water you are dumping on your lawn is just running off into the street? It’s not your imagination! The soil beneath most residential lawns is highly compacted, almost like rock, meaning that it can absorb little water. You can reduce soil compaction and improve infiltration in your lawn by renting a lawn aerator from a local garden supply store. If you are laying new sod this summer, deeply till the soil before hand to encourage good root growth.
Apply pesticides only to areas where pests are evident rather than to an entire lawn. Proper timing of pesticide applications is crucial to their overall effectiveness against pests and to minimize adverse environmental impacts. For example, fall is the best time to control perennial broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions or creeping charlie. From mid-September to early October, these plants grow actively and more readily take up an herbicide.
For information about how to use pesticides – and alternatives to pesticides - effectively and safely, call National Pesticide Information Center from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM seven days a week (except holidays) at 1-800-858-7378.
If you see pesticide misuse (spilled product that is not cleaned up, unlabeled pesticide containers being sold in stores, pesticides applications that drift over to neighboring property and cause damage, etc.), contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 651-201-6696 Monday thru Friday from 8 AM to 4:00 PM.
After hours, complaints can be reported to the Minnesota Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 in greater Minnesota and 651-649-5451 in the metro area.
Learn more about Low Impact Lawn Care with advice from the University of Minnesota Extension.
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Grass clippings are a source of phosphorus, the nutrient that turns lakes and rivers green with algae. Homeowners and commercial groundskeepers need to take care not to direct grass clippings onto streets, driveways and other paved areas where they can wash away with stormwater runoff. Grass clippings that do find themselves on paved areas should be swept up!
Another tip is to “mow high”. Lawns mowed higher than 2.5 inches require less watering, less fertilization and resist invasion of weeds better.
Lawn mowing tips can start with the first mowing of season, and carry on to fall.
(“Mow for the flow” logo courtesy of the City of Plymouth)