If you want to have a lawn by this summer that is easier to take care of, safe to play on and beautiful to look at, then follow these tips from the pros this spring.
Ditch The Chemicals
Since 1994 Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and founder of SafeLawns, has helped homeowners get beautiful lawns without harmful chemicals. Tukey became a leader in the natural lawn care industry after becoming sick himself from excessive exposure to pesticides. Tukey says in addition to keeping pets and children safer, “organic lawn care also conserves resources, saves money and ultimately saves time.”
Start with the Soil
“Get a soil test and check the most important three factors; organic matter should be five to eight percent, the Ph level should be 6.4 to 7.0 and the calcium to magnesium ratio should be 7 to 1. You can get your soil tested at your local soil lab or agriculture extension office.”
Bring in An Expert
Once you have your soil sample results, you can look for a lawn and landscape resource to help you whip that lawn back in shape. Ladd Smith has a BS in Horticulture from the University of Nevada and is co-owner of Redmond, Washington based In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes. He says the biggest problem for lawns in damp regions of the West, including the Northwest, is moss. “If moss is a persistent pest, there are probably underlining conditions that are contributing to the moss's success; soggy conditions, poor soils, shade, tree cover and debris, etc. To attack the moss, use a moss control product (iron or fatty acid based). Then the moss has to be removed, usually by using a thatching or lawn comb machine.”
For drier areas on the West Coast that need to conserve water, Ladd says consider that “out of all our garden practices, lawns use more water, fertilizers and pesticides then any other activity.” Replacing some lawn with native plants, garden beds or a patio or cedar chip covered play area can help reduce water use and require less maintenance.
Aerate and Reseed
While you are planting your garden this spring, you need to get your lawn ready for summer too says Smith. “We recommend core aeration and over seeding on lawns from April to mid June to help with soil compaction and the seed to help thicken up existing turf grass. Aerators can be rented from most equipment supply businesses or you can hire a lawn care company to do the service.”
Whack The Weeds
Spring, says Smith, “is a great time to work on weed control as we can aerate, seed and fertilize to help the existing lawn get healthier and thicker before the summer heat comes.” The best way to combat weeds, says Smith, “is a healthy, thick lawn that can help compete against weeds. Weeds are the main problem for new lawns because the grass is trying to get established and weeds are tough plants. Keeping the lawn at two to three inches height helps shade out the soil and reduce weed seed germination. Pulling and spraying weeds when they are smaller is the best action. Waiting until the weeds are out of control makes the situation a lot more difficult.”
Rethink Your Lawn
Bill Bowlus is owner of Puget Sound based Living Earth Landscapes. He says, “our perception of what a lawn is, isn’t necessarily what a lawn has to be.” What you want to create he says is “an open area that people can play on that is beautiful to look at.” In the rainy Northwest where lawns can often turn to mud and shady areas become covered with moss, Bowlus says consider, “are their other options for this area besides grass?” Options that could include a flagstone patio, play area, walkway, garden beds or cedar chip surrounded trees and shrubs. In the Northwest “native plants often do better in shaded areas then grass.”
Bowlus’s own yard has been featured on home tours, but as meticulous as he is about his own lawn and garden, he says he enjoys watching his kids gather the daisies he purposely planted in his lawn. He says, “I go with the flow and my lawn still looks good and I know it is safe for my kids to play on.”