10 Tips for a “Green” (eco-friendly) Lawn

Here are 10 few basic tips to make sure that your lawn remains a fun and eco-friendly place for making memories:

1. Get to know your grass – As with everything in your landscape, it’s best to get to know as much as you can about the species that you are dealing with so that you can make the right choices in taking care of it. Whether you already have an established lawn or are putting in a new one, get to know your grass. Here’s a great document from the Virginia Cooperative Extension about Selecting Turfgrass.

2. Mow high for a healthy lawn - According to the University of Maryland Master Gardeners, most home lawn turf species will grow well when mower blades are set to a mowing height of 2.5 to 4 inches. Mowing tall promotes a deeper root system, puts less stress on the grass, helps prevent weeds and increases drought resistance. Since mowing high also provides better resistance to insects and diseases, and helps prevent run-off of soil, fertilizers, chemicals, and pollutants, maintaining proper mowing height, in turn, helps protect the Chesapeake Bay from harmful runoff.

3. Mulch lawn clippings for a healthy lawn – When you mow your grass, leave the grass clippings where they lay. Grass clippings provide free, natural nutrients for your lawn, reducing the need for supplemental fertilizers or the labor intensive chore of bagging and removing lawn waste. Many mowers are outfitted with mulching attachments that chop clippings into fine pieces for quick breakdown. But if you follow the 1/3rd rule, you should never produce enough clippings to cause problems with your lawn.

4. Water Efficiently – The amount of water that your lawn needs will depend on the grass species and weather conditions. But remember, overwatering can often do more damage than under watering, to both the grass itself and to the local environment. In general, applying one inch of water per week is the recommendation when there is insufficient rainfall during the spring and summer.The best rule is to water only when the lawn begins to wilt from dryness –– when the color dulls and compressed footprints stay visible when you walk across your grass.

5. Fertilize in the Fall for a Healthy Lawn and Community - Before you fertilize, test your soil to learn what, if anything, it needs. Applying too much fertilizer can damage the lawn and is a major source of water pollution. Contrary to popular practice, spring is not the time to fertilize your lawn. Fertilizing in the spring forces energy into the blades rather than the developing roots. This can lead to disease and insect problems later in the season. It will also require more frequent mowing. Fall is the best time to fertilize, when the roots that will sustain the plants through the following summer are actively growing. Slow-acting, organic fertilizer products are available which are kinder to your landscape and to the surrounding environment.

6. Keep mower blades sharpened – Another way to improve lawn quality and health is to keep your mower blades sharpened. Sharpened blades also improve mower fuel efficiency and extend mower engine life. Blades should be sharpened at least three times per growing season: start the year off with a sharp blade, sharpen it again in late spring, and then once more in mid-late summer.

7. Follow the “1/3rd rule” of mowing – Lawn experts recommend that you shouldn’t remove more than 1/3rd of the leaf blade when you mow. Removing too much of the foliage while mowing shocks the grass, forcing it to redirect its food resources from roots and stems towards new leaves. That means that if you want to mow to a 3” height, you shouldn’t mow until your grass is 4.5” high.

8. Practice Integrated Pest management – One of the first rules of eco-friendly gardening is, not all insects are bad. If you see insects in your lawn, take them to one of the local extension service offices for proper identification. Then, always select the least harmful form of insect control. Here is a list of IPM Specialists from the University of Maryland Extension.

9. Opt for Eco-Friendly Weed Control - A healthy lawn will be less susceptible to invasion by weeds. Weeds that do appear can be pulled by hand or you can follow some of our other recommended methods for organic weed control.

10. Choose an Eco-Friendly Lawn Care Company. If you decide to leave lawn care to the professionals, carefully research a company’s methods of operation. Make sure that they share your goals for creating a healthy, eco-friendly lawn.

For more information: Fall is a Crucial Time for Lawn Care, Fairfax County
The Virginia Cooperative Extension offers a number of useful publications. Look for the links under Lawn & Garden on their publications page.

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