Did you know that poor lawn care practices create pollution in our waterways? Grass clippings, leaves, fertilizer and other pollutants can wash into the streets, through the stormdrains and into nearby waterbodies.
The good news is, a healthy lawn, properly cared for, will not only protect the environment but also make for a more attractive yard.
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Mow 3 Inches or Higher
Shorter is not better when it comes to lawn care. In fact, setting your lawn mower to cut at a height of three inches or greater will promote a denser, healthier root system for your turfgrass. This will make your lawn more resistant to weeds, drought and erosion. Longer grass also helps trap potential pollutants that would otherwise blow into stormdrains.
Remember: Grass is like any other plant; it needs sunlight to grow. The longer its leaves, the more sunlight it can capture. Take a ruler or tape measure and check how high your mower is set from the ground. If it’s less than three inches, adjust it accordingly.
Cut One-Third or Less
Also, try to avoid cutting more than one-third of the length of the grass blade at a time. Doing so will stress your lawn and make it harder to re-grow. It also leaves behind clumps of grass clippings that are too big to blend back into the lawn. In addition to smothering the live grass underneath them, these clumps can end up in stormdrains, sending phosphorus, nitrogen and other excess nutrients to nearby rivers and lakes.
Don’t cut off more than one-third of the height of your grass when you mow. Instead, consider cutting more frequently, especially during spring — when grass grows more quickly than it does in the summer.
Finally, keep your lawn mower blades sharp. Dull lawn mower blades can damage grass tips and give lawns a yellowish or whitish appearance. Sharpened blades will also your mower run more efficiently. Most hardware stores can sharpen mower blades for a small fee.
If you choose to water your lawn to help keep it green, water it in the early morning so that the grass retains the moisture better. Lawns generally require about one inch of water per week, so use a rain gauge to determine how much (if any) extra watering you really need. Also, avoid sprinkling on hard surfaces so that you aren’t needlessly wasting water and washing pollution into nearby stormdrains.
If a lush, green lawn is not of critical importance to you, then try not to water more than necessary. If your lawn starts turning yellow or brown in the mid-summer heat, don’t panic. It might look like it’s dying, but it’s only going dormant. It will green up again in the fall, or after the first good rain.
Mulch and/or Compost
Grass clippings provide vital nutrients to your lawn; in fact, they provide the equivalent of one round of fertilizer every single time you cut your grass. The same goes for mulched leaves — although if the leaves cover more than 50 percent of your lawn, you may want to bag them up or compost them instead.
If you mulch, make sure not to discharge the clippings into the street. If you do, the next rainstorm will wash all those clippings right down the nearest stormdrain. It’s basically the same as dumping fertilizer into the nearest lake or river.
If you choose to use fertilizer, do it in the fall when it will be most effective. Only use zero-phosphorus fertilizers, and apply the amount directed by the manufacturer. Also, avoid combination weed-and-feed products, which might not be effective for your specific conditions. Instead, consider having the University of Minnesota run a test on the soils in your yard. It’s inexpensive, and you’ll get great information on the right kind of fertilizer combination for your yard.
Sweep up any excess fertilizer that falls on hard surfaces. Finally, as an alternative to fertilizer, consider aerating your lawn in the fall; it will strengthen your lawn naturally.
Want to be a sustainable lawn care pro? Watch our “Improved Lawn Maintenance” video series on YouTube: