With all the rain and cool temperatures of late, suburban lawns are green and lush, and that’s a good thing for lawn lovers. A healthy lawn is an attractive complement to the hard edges of a home’s exterior and its surroundings. It also offers a soft surface on which to walk, entertain and play. Lawns absorb heat, so are cooler than paved areas, by as much as 14. Grass plants filter impurities from the rainwater passing through them, release oxygen into the air and help prevent ground erosion. Lawns don’t cause problems, but improper care of them does.
So after cutting yours this season, don’t bother raking up any grass trimmings: you will reduce fertilizer requirements by 30 per cent while also encouraging a healthy soil ecosystem and helping the lawn retain needed moisture by leaving trimmings on the lawn. If your mower is equipped with a collecting bag, dump its contents into your compost pile for a nitrogen boost or if you must, with other municipal green waste for pick up.
Never dispose of grass clippings with regular garbage or you’ll be contributing to the solid waste that enters landfills, contaminating it with leachate in the process. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when caring for your lawn:
Overseeding repairs any winter-damage and fills sparse spots. Do this by first raking weed-free, sifted compost over cut grass then spreading a quality seed over the area and tamping down with the flat part of the rake. Use low-care, resilient grass seed blends, which produce lawns that are far less labour- and resource-intensive than conventional lawns. Having a diversity of lawn plants is also more likely to resist diseases, pests and drought.
The City of Montreal recommends a mix of certified seed (Canada #1) suitable for the site’s light conditions. White clover (Trifolium reptans), not a grass but a legume, makes nitrogen available to grass’ roots and even resists pet urine, so a scattering of these seeds helps lawns stay green and healthy. White clover flowers are also adored by bees, and can be cut back with every mow. Although the practice is popular in spring, lawn overseeding is most successful in autumn, when days are shorter and temperatures are cooling down, rather than in spring when days are longer and warmer.
The best way to control weeds in lawns is to have a dense, impenetrable turf to begin with, and overseeding will help. So will mowing only the top 1/3 of grass blades rather than ‘scalping’ lawns bare, which invites weeds to set seed there. Crabgrass, which reseeds without abandon in sparse, unhealthy lawns can be controlled with applications of corn gluten in early spring, which prevents crabgrass seeds, along with any other seeds, from germinating.
If turf grows poorly despite your efforts, consider replacing underused areas with perennial groundcovers, carefree plants that require no mowing, fertilizing, and no regular watering beyond the first year while roots are getting established. There are plentiful groundcovers to chose from that will usually outperform lawns in either dry, shady or acidic sites.
Canadian wild ginger (Asarum Canadense) or foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) are two excellent lawn substitutes for shady or difficult to mow areas around trees and add lovely textural variety to any landscape style.
It won’t be long before the cacophony of neighbourhood lawnmowers will be heard again and along with it, the familiar scent of freshly cut grass. Now’s the time to take steps to ensure your lawn is healthy to reap benefits this summer.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com